Sunday, December 31, 2006


I definitely wouldn't give David Bowie or any other singer any sleepless nights with my singing ability, so I'll just type out the song hook in the subject! :)

For the readers outside the USA who are unfamiliar with the IRS - the IRS is the government body in the USA that handles taxes (similar to Inland Revenue in the UK). The IRS is also responsible for granting "corporate status" to organizations.

As we're about to start the new year (it's already the new year for some of you!), it's time for changes.

One of the goals that I have with My Mwalimu is to get not-for-profit status with the IRS, which will allow this site to grow and be involved with numerous opportunities. Right now, I am completely self-funding this project. While I don't have a problem with funding it, it limits me to what I can do with this site. I'm hesitant on accepting advertising on the site (although I do have Google AdSense on this blog) because I'd like to keep the site neutral and balanced like the American magazine publication Consumer Reports, which provides unbiased analyses on products and services. With a not-for-profit status, My Mwalimu will qualify for a number of grants, be eligible to participate in university projects, and be able to collect more contributions since the contributions (including my own financial contributions!) will be tax-deductible.

While there are a number of things that I need to do before filing for not-for-profit status, such as create financial disclosures and form a board of directors, one of the things that I can easily do now is form a brand image with My Mwalimu.

As part of the brand image process, the web site has been redesigned. If you visit the site, you will notice that it has been redesigned to be consistent with Mwalimu's Corner's design. I also made a few technical/marketing changes to make it more SEO friendly, like removing the iframes and creating a site map.

Another part of the brand image process is to use the My Mwalimu site more as a site that provides free technology tutorials. Mwalimu's Corner will be used to publish information for IT students to use that can't be categorized on the web site, such as:

  • Quick tips on various technology (like "how to do it....")

  • Reviews of technology products and publications

  • Essays on technology topics

  • Tips for navigating the post-secondary educational system

I'd like to wish all of you a very happy new year, and I hope that the new year brings you everything you've always wanted.

Best regards,

Jennifer Lewis
Founder, My Mwalimu

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Choosing the Right School - REVISITED

As we're getting ready to start a new year, it's a good time to revisit the subject of choosing a post-secondary institution. If you are a graduating senior in high school, this is the time where you are looking at your post-secondary education options. This is also a popular time of year for non-traditional students (ex: working adults returning to school) to view their options as well.
Before continuing with this article, read the post that I made in July: Choosing the Right School

I cannot stress the importance of future students to investigate all of their options before making a selection. Students have so many misconceptions that they end up making poor choices. Here are some of the biggest mistakes that I've seen students make regarding their post-secondary education choice:

  • Students quickly choose to attend a for-profit institution because they assume their grades or test scores were too poor to get accepted in a college or university.

  • Students invest too much money in a field of study when they decide, mid-way through their studies, that it's not what they wanted to do when they "grow up".

  • Students don't spend enough time with investigating their options. For example, they choose a school without interviewing the professors and existing students or without sitting in on a class to see what it's going to be like.

  • The motivation for choosing a particular school has nothing to do with the quality of education. For example, students choose to attend a particular school because it's a "party school" or "it's the same school where 3 generations of my family attended".

Regional vs. National Accreditation
If you are looking to attend a school for a short period of time and transfer to another institution (ex: you are going to go to community college for two years and transfer to a four-year institution), you want to pay attention to how the school is accredited. If a school is nationally accredited, the credits will have less chance of transferring to a "traditional" college or university than it would if the school is regionally accredited. Believe it or not, regional accreditation carries more weight with most colleges and universities than national accreditation because the standards to be regionally accredited are more stringent. The boards that provide regional accreditation are the same boards that provide accreditation to the primary (elementary) and secondary (high) schools.
If you are not interested in transferring to other schools, and you are only interested in a career education (brush up on existing skills, learn new skills for a different career path), make sure the school is either regionally or nationally accredited. Like I mentioned earlier, most employers don't care about where you got your degree. They only care if you got your degree from an accredited institution.

If you are going to invest tens of thousands of dollars in something, wouldn't you spend time investigating where you are going to get the best return on investment? Think of your post-secondary education as an investment. You need to thoroughly investigate all the options before making your choice. Here are some suggestions on what to investigate:

  1. Investigate the attrition (drop-out) rate of the school. If the attrition rate is high, that's a red flag.

  2. If you are looking at a for-profit school, investigate their job placement rating. Don't just look at a number; look at how they derive that number. For example, if you went to a school to study networking, and you are working at Best Buy, the school may marked you as "placed in your field".

  3. See if you can interview professors and other students independently. The recruiter may bring in shills that will talk positively of the school, so you want to be able to talk to a sample yourself so you can get an HONEST opinion.

  4. Talk to people that work in the field that you're interested in and get their perspective of schools. For example, if you are going to study computer programming, talk to some software engineers and computer programmers and get their opinion on schools that interest you.

  5. DO A COST COMPARISON Remember that "expensive" doesn't mean the "best", and "cheap" doesn't mean the "worst"

If you have any questions, please contact me or leave a comment. I'll be glad to help you as much as you can.

The Common Misconceptions Students Have Regarding Schools

  • My grades/SAT scores/ACT scores were too poor to get into a "regular" college
    If you have had less-than-stellar grades or testing scores, you may not have a really good chance with getting into Harvard or MIT, but you will still be able to go to a community college. Nearly all community colleges don't look at testing scores or grades for admission criteria. You may have to take some remedial classes, but this can be your opportunity to redeem yourself. If you are going to a four-year institution after you finish community college, the four-year institution will look at your record at community college for admission.

  • Community College is for losers; employers won't take that degree seriously
    First point: very few employers care about where you went to school or where you got your degree. The only thing that they care about regarding your degree is whether it came from an accredited institution. Community colleges are accredited by the same boards that accreditate the four-plus year universities. Second point: you can use that two year degree as a stepping stone to a four-year degree from a university. Here's a brain-teaser: What do you call the Harvard graduate who spent two years at a community college and finished his/her schooling at Harvard? Answer: A Harvard graduate.

  • For-profit learning institutions are a scam
    Not so fast. While I prefer community and non-profit colleges over the for-profit colleges, they are not a complete "scam". For-profit colleges are starting to act as their non-profit cousins. Some are going so far as to get accredited by the same boards that accreditate the non-profit universities, which gives a student more options should s/he decide to transfer or further his/her education. I would recommend a for-profit institution if:

    • You already work in the field in which you are studying and you need to quickly update your skillset, AND you are able to get enough funding for the school where you are able to go for almost free or free

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The (Post-Secondary Educational) Revolution Will Not Be Televised

Post-secondary education (University or trade school) in the United States is very expensive compared to a post-secondary education in other countries. In some countries, a post-secondary education is free for its citizens. There is a revolution happening in a few US cities, including the city in which I live - Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh is offering an educational plan for its citizens called The Pittsburgh Promise. If you live in the city of Pittsburgh, and you graduate from their public school system (and don't get into legal trouble), you will get a FREE post-secondary education. The idea was inspired by a plan that was launched in 2005 in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and the results in Kalamazoo were amazing (reversed attendance declines, reduction in the school dropout rate, and increased home sales in the city).

Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and Pittsburgh Public School's Superintendent Mark Roosevelt are hoping to implement this plan for the 2008 graduates of the Pittsburgh Public Schools.

If this works, I believe that this will start a trend in other cities in the United States to do the same thing because of the benefit for the city, school district, and citizens.

  • Declining cities making a comeback (like Pittsburgh) will see this as a way to increase residency, which will increase the tax base.

  • The school district will get a surge in student population, which will get them more federal funding.

  • Parents will not have to worry about how they will pay for a post-secondary education for their children, and children will be inspired to do their work.

I know what critics will say - "well, people's taxes will go up, and we're already being taxed enough!" Right now, it is too early to tell whether the existing taxes will be raised to cover this program. In Pittsburgh, Mayor Ravenstahl is currently looking for private funding from corporations to help launch this program.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Web Names are Changing

The AP is reporting that ICANN is revising standards for web names. Mostly, they are removing extensions for the former Soviet Union and for countries that do not exist anymore (such as Yugoslavia and Czechloslovakia), but they are also removing extensions that are no longer in use, such as .gb. ICANN is also looking into new name extensions as well.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Space...the Final Frontier

This morning on the news I heard a fascinating story about NASA's plans to build a colony on the moon in 2020 that will allow astronauts to stay on the moon for longer than a few days. The inspiration for this task was sprouted from the discovery of water on Mars. Not just ice and vapors - water. This discovery increases the possibility of setting up colonies on other celestial bodies, because where there's water, there's a chance to sustain life and a possibility of existing life forms (probably not little green men with three heads, but other small life forms). NASA wants to set up stations on the moon to allow astronauts to continue studying Mars and eventually set up stations and colonies on Mars.

Was Gene Roddenberry ahead of his time? Many people in technology admit that Star Trek was their inspiration, and it shows in the technology that we see today:

  • Small mobile phones

  • Electronic sensors to automatically open and close doors

  • Biometric scans (ex: fingerprints and retina scans

  • Biotechnology

This is a fascinating story to me. I never thought that this could happen in my lifetime, but it will. While fully functional colonies will not happen in my lifetime (or yours), we are still lucky to see the beginnings of this process.

Here is some information that fascinated me as a technology professional/student/teacher:

  • NASA will be going retro with the spacecraft. They are retiring the space shuttles and replacing them with the former Apollo rocket models. In order to make setting up stations and colonies on the moon feasible, NASA needs an Apollo rocket to be able to transport all the equipment and the supplies to the moon. The space shuttles cannot handle the load. Techology buffs always go for the latest ad greatest. NASA's decision is an example that the latest and greatest is not always the best solution.

  • On the other hand, the latest and greatest technology is what helped NASA make the discoveries on Mars, and it will also be used to help build the stations and colonies on the moon (and eventually Mars).

  • If the stations and colonies prove to be successful, is developing techology to perfect space travel the next step? NASA only sent manned spacecraft to the moon for a number of reasons:

    • The moon is close to the Earth.

    • NASA has enough evidence that sending manned spacecraft to Mercury and Venus wasn't feasible (both of those planets are mostly gas)

    • NASA wasn't sure if a manned spacecraft could land on Mars

    • In order to travel to celestial bodies past Mars, it would take YEARS to reach the destination with the technology that NASA currently has.

    Within the near future, perhaps in my lifetime, NASA will probably begin sending manned spacecraft to Mars (based on their further findings). If this works, will NASA begin to start studying ways to be able to travel to celestial bodies past Mars in days or weeks instead of years?

The resurrection of space exploration is an interesting topic to everyone. There are so many items to be addressed with this discovery other than technology: science, history, politics, and ethics.

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

James Kim - 1971-2006

For those of you who don't know who James Kim is, James Kim was the senior editor for C-Net magazine. He and his family have been on the (United States) national news because they have been lost in the wilderness over the past few days. His wife and his two young children were found alive yesterday. Unfortunately, authorities found the body of Mr. Kim today.

I would like to extend my sympathies to the Kim family for their loss. My thoughts and prayers are with you.

Tuesday, December 5, 2006 Site News: Looking for Volunteers

Mwalimu: Swahili word for "teacher"

When I founded My Mwalimu, my mission was to assist students and instructors in Information Technology by providing free interactive tutorials and free information such as links to other free tutorials. I chose the word Mwalimu to honor a Zambian friend of mine who used to call me that because I taught at post-secondary institutions.

Currently, the site is completely self-maintained. I'm funding the site, designing and developing the site, and designing and developing the tutorials. While I don't mind doing this, it gets difficult to frequently update the site. Therefore, I'm asking for help. I'm looking for volunteers with one or a few of the following skill sets:

  • Marketing and SEO skills

  • Training and tutorial development

    • Currently, I'm looking for tutorial development skills in IT subjects, although in the future, I would like to find tutorial development skills in mathematics and foreign language

  • Flash development skills

  • PHP skills

  • HTML and CSS skills

  • Technical writing skills

I know what you may be thinking: why should I help, and if I do help, what will I get out of it? There are a few things that you will "get out of it":

  • Your profile increases because you will have published work

  • You will have more work to add to your portfolio to help build your career

  • You will be helping other IT professionals, particularly students and teachers, enhance their education without breaking the bank

In 2007, I would really like to see this site grow. I'm currently working on getting a non-profit status so I will be able to get more funding for the site, since donations will be tax-deductible if the site has a non-profit status. I would also like to expand from the IT community by providing free tutorials to mathematics and foreign language students.

If you are interested in volunteering, please send an e-mail to Put the word "Volunteer" in the subject, and indicate what you would like to do in the body.

Thanks for your time and best regards,
Jennifer Lewis
Founder, My Mwalimu

Monday, November 27, 2006

Even Royalty Is Getting In The Act!

Photo Credit: The Prince of Wales Official Web Site.

Ever since the 1930s, the British royal family used new technology to communicate with the people. HRMs Edward VIII and George VI used the radio to broadcast their speeches. In 1954, HRM Elizabeth II allowed television crews to film and broadcast her coronation. In 2006, HRH Charles, The Prince of Wales, is also following the lead of his family by sharing information through blogging.

Prince Charles's Official Website:

Starting today, Prince Charles will be posting video blogs on his web site containing news and information about the royal family. His intent is to reach the youth with his messages by using a modern way of sharing information. According to royal watchers, Prince Charles wants to bypass the standard media (television and radio) and use the video blog for news releases about his family to make him appear more accessible to the people.

When I went to the web site, I couldn't find a direct link to the videos. However, I did a search on the web site and found this link:

Whether you are a royalist or a republican, I'm sure you will agree that this was a wise decision on the prince's part to use modern technology to communicate. This decision shows that his highness understands the Internet's growing role as a media outlet.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

What Inspired You to Study Technology?

I've been working in the industry for nearly 15 years in a variety of capacities (mostly software design and development), but I've been an adjunct instructor in Information Technology for nearly 6 years (I took a year off from teaching to complete my Master's Degree). As I worked with these students over time, I always wondered what inspired them to pursue a career in technology.

Let's be honest - while the end results of technology are exciting, such as the latest gaming consoles that are causing riots in the US or the slick robot that will help increase productivity, the "nuts and bolts" of technology is dry and boring. Don't believe me? Nearly all of the "techie shows" on TV focus on the end product, and of these shows, most of them focus on gaming. Rarely do they focus on the "behind the scenes" processes.

So if the nuts and bolts of technology is so flipping boring, then what inspires someone to go in this field? When I first started teaching, here was the breakdown of my "unofficial survey":

  • 1/2 of the students were inspired by the large paychecks that companies were paying to either prevent or fix year-2000 problems or to prevent their staff from going to the latest "dot-com" company.

  • 1/4 were inspired by the latest game creations, and many of these students were interested in developing the next big game.

  • 1/4 actually liked the field. These were the people that really enjoyed taking apart things and tinkering with them to make them better or make them suit their own needs.

Not all of the dot-com businesses failed during this time. Amazon is one of the biggest success stories of the dot-com boom. Technology had very little to do with the cause of the dot-com failures. The main reason why dot-coms failed is the people who were running the failed dot-coms were not "business people". They did not have a good, solid business model nor did they have a business plan. In addition, they did not spend their capital wisely. For more information, this article explains the reasons why the dot-coms failed.
However, when the bottom dropped out of the IT industry in about 2002 (beginning of a recession in the US, hot "dot-coms" were becoming "dot-bombs", trend of US companies to outsource IT work to countries charging 1/3 the labor costs), the number of students in IT dropped dramatically as well. When I taught a Java class in 2001, there were 18 students in the class (the college maximum), with 5 students on the waiting list. When I taught that same class in 2003, there were 6 students in the class. My "unofficial survey" results have changed dramatically:

  • 3/4 of the students were displaced IT workers who were looking to update their skill set in hopes of being more marketable.

  • 1/4 actually liked the field and were taking the classes for fun.

What fascinated me was even when the demand for IT workers dropped in 2002, why would these displaced workers continue with studying IT, and not change to a field that was a dead cert to land a job (like medicine and nursing)? Simple answer - they loved the work.

So what's so "cool" about IT? To be totally frank, IT was not my first choice. My first choice was medicine. I always liked the problem solving element of medicine where one has to think of the best answer - if Plan A is not feasible, then you need to find a Plan B. However, after my first biology class in my first year of college, I didn't have the constitution for this field. I did very well in the class, but the experiments that we had to do really didn't sit well with me. As a hobby, I played with computers. My computer teacher, Dr. Flowers, suggested that I go in computers. A lot of the elements that I did like in medicine were in computers, and I didn't have to go to school for a very long time. So I gave it a try. I really liked it, and I'm still in the field today. At this stage, I'm redefining my role in the IT industry where I'm trying to do more business-related and research work, but I still like writing a program that does something cool.

I'm interested in hearing about what inspired you. Post a comment and let me know.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

An Open Letter to People Who Use Free Tutorial Sites

There are a number of "free" tutorial sites on the web. I put the word "free" in quotation marks because developing and operating a site is not free. It costs money (and hours of time) to create, host, and maintain a web site.

While I can't fault anyone who offers their tutorials for a price, I admire people who put up their tutorials for free. I, personally, know the cost and the hours it takes to run a tutorial site. I also know the satisfaction one feels when many students use and appreciate the information - after all, it's one less thing for them to have to purchase toward their education. However, my pet hate is when users who are able to provide support to the site fails to do so. These users don't give donations, visit advertisers, or purchase products and services offered by the site.

The main reason why people don't provide any support for the site is many of them think that "someone else will do it". Unfortunately, if the operator of the site notices that the return on investment for offering the content for free is low (because no one is donating, visiting advertisers, or purchasing products and services), the operator either changes to a different business model by charging for all the material through subscription services or the operator takes down the site because the operator doesn't have the funds to maintain the site. The amusing thing about that situation is the users who didn't do anything to support the site are the first to complain because the site is now pay-per-service or the site no longer exists.

Please don't get me wrong - I understand that most people don't have a lot of disposable income. However, I know that most people do have some disposable income. It seems that the same people who use the excuse that they don't have $10USD to purchase a product that a site is offering are the same people who can instantly come up with $10USD to buy liquor or pot for the "next big bash".

I'm making a request - if a site has provided you with useful information, you should do something within your means to show your appreciation. Make a donation to the site. Visit the advertisers on the site. Purchase products and services from the site. If you really and truly are stone broke, volunteer your time and labor to help. Your visits to the site are nice, but it doesn't pay for the upkeep and for the labor involved in making the site.

Best regards,

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Java Goes Open Source

Open Source: A practice that promotes access to the end product's source materials, usually source code

For the past two years, there's been speculation on whether Sun Microsystems will make their programming language, Java, "open source". On Tuesday, the rumor has been confirmed. Sun Microsystems announced that by March 2007, the source code for their programming language, Java, will be available under the GNU General Public License (with the exception of a few modules that aren't owned by Sun - the modules were not named).

I applaud Sun's decision to go "open-source". By opening the source code to the community, this gives programmers the chance to fix bugs quickly and to contribute new ideas. This sense of community is what made Linux the contender that it is today.

In the 1990s, Sun was a major player in the IT industry. Since 2000, Sun has lost billions of dollars and, according to business analysts, is struggling to stay afloat.

While some may critique Sun's decision to go "open-source" because of Sun's current business condition, this may help them in the long run. While Sun is looking for programmers to be able to create software to support Sun's product line, I think that Sun can easily follow the Linux manufacturers' (SuSE/Novell, Red Hat) business model to be profitable by selling support packages.

Will the My Mwalimu site still offer Java programming tutorials? Absolutely. While the tutorials will not explain how to work with the source code that created the Java programming language, the tutorials will demonstrate how to use the Java programming language to develop applications.

I'm very interested to see how this decision unfolds. Personally, I think it's a wise decision, and I think that more software manufacturers and applications developers will choose Java as their language of choice because the "open source" nature of the product will give them more flexibility on what they can develop.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Buy this's legit...honest!

It seems that there's been a rash of spam arriving in many users' e-mail accounts promising riches if the person buys their penny stock.

What's interesting is many of the e-mails appear to be able to bypass spam-blocker software, because they are arriving in my regular inbox instead of my "junk mail" inbox. From what I've seen in some of the e-mails that I've received, they are using strange word combinations in the subjects (like "sociology adjudication") and they are putting in a lot of "gibberish words" (it usually looks like a snippet from a short story) in the body of the message so it can bypass the spam-blocker software. In some cases, they are making the e-mail look like a genuine stock news feed.

From a non-technical perspective, I wonder if there are people who really buy what these messages are selling. If they wouldn't buy a "designer" scarf from a street vendor who claims that it's a genuine Hermes, why would they buy stock from a stranger who sends you an e-mail claiming that the stock is a "sure thing"? Usually, these "penny stock" spams are pump and dump schemes (Read this article from the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) if you want to know what pump and dump is).

If you are an IT professional (ex: network administrator) who is receiving questions from your user base about these messages, here is some advice to give to your base:

  • Tell them to let you know about the spam, and after they let you know about it, tell them to delete it.

  • Warn your user base on purchasing stocks from these solicitations.

  • If you receive the e-mails on your home e-mail address:

    • Report the e-mail as spam to the manufacturer of your spam-blocking software and your ISP.

    • If you are in the United States, you can report the e-mail to the SEC at

As the IT professional, you should report the e-mail as spam to the manufacturer of your spam-blocking software and your company's ISP. Time permitting, you can try to perform a trace on the e-mail to find out where the e-mail originated. However, many of these e-mails are using spoofed addresses or they have hijacked someone's e-mail address or mail sender to use to send the spams.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Beyond the Digithead: Why You Need Skills Other than I.T.

The students in my project management class inspired me to write this column. One student made some valid arguments on how some of the subjects that he had to learn in his degree program were a waste of his time because he could not see how he could apply the subjects to his career in information technology. Another student had a more colorful analogy when he was talking about his thoughts on learning about business principles. I don't want to give the exact analogy, but it has to do with a vice strategically placed on a body part. I explained to them that in order to be successful in your career, you need to know about more subjects other than I.T. Here is the explanation that I gave to my students:

I feel your pain. Believe me, when I was in school, it pained me to sit through my History of Religion class because I could not see the significance of it in relation to my career goals. To this day, I still don't see the significance, unless I've decided to work in a theological institute. There is a method to the school's madness, though.

The business climate may be changing (especially in I.T.), but business's goal remains the same - make a profit. For the sake of profitability, companies are going to choose their human resources carefully. Why should the company pay you a starting salary of $40,000 to do nothing but write programs when they can pay a more qualified, more educated individual in another country nearly 1/2 that salary to do nothing but write programs? Maybe you are a knowledgable network administrator with industry certifications, and you may think that you are virtually immune to outsourcing compared to your software programmer or technical support colleagues. So, network administrators, what can you offer the company other than "you know how networks work"? A company can outsource their network needs to a local, third-party company - a contractor is treated differently than an employee regarding taxes (to the business's advantage), and even if they pay a retainer fee, it's cheaper than hiring a human resource.

Companies view human resources as an investment because there is a lot of cost involved with hiring someone - salary, benefits, bonuses, and federal and state taxes. They want a high return on that investment. You need other skills besides I.T. to make yourself valuable to potential employers. An employer needs to know that they're not just getting a "code jockey" or "technician". An employer wants an employee that can do more, such as:

  • Write memos about I.T. issues in a way that everyone can understand.

  • Write documentation for Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) or Internation Organization for Standardization (ISO) compliance, and understand what SOX and ISO is.

  • Provide training and support to internal and external customers in a way that a layperson can understand.

  • Assist in the interview process

  • Assist with business decisions for a technology, such as: cost analysis, business justification for the expense, and impact on the current day-to-day business

  • Design the product (hardware or software) not just to "look cool", but to improve the business process

  • Assist with product sales and marketing

  • Understand the positive or negative impact on the company that a decision or decisions can cause

  • Understand a customer's culture

The non-technical classes give you the additional knowledge that you need to be competitive in the job market and to be a valuable investment to a company. It is not a requirement to like the courses, but it is a requirement for your career development to learn in those courses.

Tuesday, November 7, 2006

More on Election Day in the US

It's quite exciting to see what an impact that today's technology is having on the elections. Some points of note:

  • Nearly all national news outlets in the US are talking about the impact that technology is having this Election Day. In particular, they are focusing on the e-voting machines (see yesterday's article for an explanation on e-voting machines), since this is the first high-impact election where e-voting machines are being used more widespread across the country.
    When I voted this morning, my polling place was using one of these e-machines. To me, they were very easy to use. The concerns that I did have were:

    • Pennsylvania is one of the states in the US that doesn't have a "back up" system or paper trail in case something goes wrong. If one of the databases becomes corrupt, and there is no back-up system, those votes may get lost.

    • The way that the polling place arranged the machines, I was able to see for whom my neighbor was voting!

  • The use of technology sites and tools, such as Youtube, blogs, and instant messaging (IM), can make or break a candidate. For example:

    • IM and e-mail messages to a 17-year old male page caused the downfall of Rep. Mark Foley, who happened to lead a task force against child pornography.

    • Bloggers are exposing inaccuracies or missing information being reported in the US national news about politicians. In one instance, bloggers were able to prove that a story on the CBS news program 60 Minutes about President Bush's service record was a hoax, which caused veteran news anchor Dan Rather to step down one year before his retirement.

    • A video of Sen. George Allen's campaign rally when Sen. Allen made racist remarks was published on Youtube.

Sunday, November 5, 2006

Election Day in the US

Do you remember the US presidential election in 2000? If you do, you will remember that the US did not know who was going to be the next president for a few months. What was causing the hold-up? The problems that occurred with the paper ballots in Florida. The election was so close that the US had to wait for the results from Florida to determine who would be the next president. To help prevent this problem from happening again, electronic voting machines were introduced in the US in 2002, and their use is increasing.

Electronic voting ("e-voting") machines are not new. Other countries, such as Belgium, Australia, and the UK, have been using e-voting machines before 2002.

The use of E-voting machines have caused debate in the US. Supporters state that e-voting machines make the voting process easier and faster. Critics state that e-voting machines can be easily hacked. The example used by the critics is Princeton University's Professor Edward Felton's experiment to show that machine tampering could occur and how tampering can dramatically affect an election outcome.

Other problems reported with the voting machines include: miscounts, frozen machines, and missing memory cards. (Note: Diebold Incorporated, the largest manufacturer of e-voting machines, reports that these problems have been fixed).

The Technology Perspective
The IEEE wrote a white paper on a security analysis on e-voting machines. The paper highlights the security problems with e-voting machines, and it devises a solution to the security problems with e-voting machines. It is a recommmended read, especially for IT students who are specializing in system security. Please note that this white paper was written in 2004.

Source: Sisco, Paul. Electronic voting machines under scrutiny Voice of America. 3 November 2006. Retrieved from on 5 November 2006.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Google Docs & Spreadsheets - a review

This post has been updated with some corrections


When I first read the article in the Associated Press (October 15th) about Google releasing its word processing and spreadsheet programs for free on their web site, it piqued my interest. I was happy that there would be a free tool for students to use to write their research papers and resumes. Even with the student discount programs, Microsoft Office is still expensive for cash-strapped students. While OpenOffice is a very good option for free word processors, it can be a task to download (except for Linux users, sinc OpenOffice comes with most distros of Linux). I was also happy that there was an easy tool to allow teams to easily collaborate on one document. On the other hand, I was concerned about security since this package was on the Web, and the documents are initially published on the Web. Plus, certain people, such as professors and future employers, demand that the documents that they receive are in Microsoft Word format.

So I decided to try Google Docs and Spreadsheets for myself.

The Test

In order to use Google Docs & Spreadsheets, you have to sign up for Google services, which is free to do. Sign-up is very easy - it took me about 5 minutes to do.

I focused my test with the word processor. It was very easy to use. If you are used to using Web text editors when you are publishing blogs or writing messages to a board, you will be able to use the word processor easily. It took me about 10 seconds (yes - 10 seconds) to get used to the interface. It was very intuitive.

One of my concerns was that future employers, as well as professors, usually accept documents in Word format only. No worries - Google Docs and Spreadsheets has added capability to download your document to your local machine in Word, OpenOffice, or RTF format! Plus, you can upload your own OpenOffice or Word documents to Google Docs and Spreadsheets.

Another concern that I had was security, since with Google Docs and Spreadsheets, you are working on the Internet. The good news is that Google Docs and Spreadsheets has features to allow you to control who can view and modify your documents.

I had two "cons" with this package:

  • If I wanted to develop a graphically robust document with fancy layouts, I couldn't do it with Google Docs and Spreadsheets.

  • There is no way to download the document in PDF format - I have to download the document to my machine in Word format, and use my Adobe Acrobat plug-in to convert the document from Word to PDF. Note: I understand that there may be some "hoops" that Google may need to jump in order to be able to convert the documents to PDF.

    Correction: I have just noticed that the Google Docs and Spreadsheets package does allow you to download to PDF format - hooray!

However, these are very small "cons" that won't prevent me from using this package.

The Verdict

Based on what I've tried, I really liked the package. It was very easy to use. The package gives me the ability to download my work to my local machine in case I needed my document in Word or OpenOffice format. I also like the portability of the tool. If I'm working on a paper, I don't need to haul my laptop or my flash stick everywhere. However, this tool won't cause me to get rid of Word or Acrobat yet. I still need Word for more complex (fancier) publications, and I need Acrobat to publish my tutorial documents in PDF format. (Not anymore! Google Docs and Spreadsheets package does allow you to download to PDF format.)

If you need a word processor to write papers and create resumes, give this package a try.

Monday, October 9, 2006

Phone Number Validation - The Next Level

If you are computer programmer or an aspiring computer programmer, more often than not, you will be required to write some kind of application or web page which requires a phone number. There are a number of code snippets on the web in the language of your choice on how to verify whether the number entered by your end user is actually in the correct format (for North American standards, it's nnn-nnn-nnnn, where n is a number). Some snippets are even clever enough to translate letters into numbers based on their placement on a phone pad.

While this method of phone number validation is good enough for most business cases, this method is not enough in other business cases. For example, what if you are writing a call center application or a web site which collects information for sales people to contact as a potential client/customer? If I entered 111-111-1111, it is in a valid format (North American standards), but it is NOT a valid phone number according to the North American standards. (Sales people get really annoyed when they get a lead for the lad himself, Mr. Hunt, at phone number 111-111-1111.) It's a good idea to familiarize yourself with the telephone number standards while writing your program.

If you are writing for one market in mind (ex: the US or Canada), it's relatively simple to do. In that case, you only need to familiarize yourself with North American standards. However, if you are writing for an international market, it can get tricky. For example, according to the North American phone standards, area and city codes cannot start with a 0, but according to the UK phone standards, area and city codes can start with a 0, which can be dialed within the UK.

Learning about the telephone plans will give you information about:

  • The valid format for an area code (a.k.a. the numbering plan code) and city code (a.k.a. the Central Office code).

  • Valid area codes

  • Reserved codes used only by the phone company

  • Valid codes for toll-free numbers

How you code the validation is up to do. Here are some ideas:

  • If you are using an object-oriented language, you can create a class that performs this action, since the validation code can vary depending on what standards you are using.

  • If you are not using an object-oriented language, create a routine that can be "included" or "referenced" in your program.

  • In North American, some companies offer a free file download of the valid area codes used in North America. You can download this file and store in a database table. Then, validate the area code against the table.

Would you like to read more? Here are links to the UK and the North American phone plans:

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The Legal Issues of a Cyberprank

Warning: This topic contains material and links to material that may offend some readers. Reader discretion is advised.

Just as the invention of the telephone spawned prank calls, the Internet spawned cyberpranks. Some of them are harmless, like the one going around a few years ago about the "built-in camera" in the computer. Others are illegal, like posing as someone else (usually a celebrity) for personal financial gain.

While some cyberpranks are obviously libelous (ex: if I open a MySpace account posing as some celebrity, and I post images of that celebrity without his/her consent, and I post information that isn't true about that celebrity, I can face civil action) or illegal (ex: the 419 Nigerian scam), there is a recently reported cyberprank that's causing ambiguity of what's illegal or libelous.

A web developer decided to play a prank. He wanted to know how many responses he could receive in 24-hours to a classified ad for sex. He posed as a "submissive woman looking for an agressive dom" and posted a sexually explicit photo on classified-ad site craigslist. Then, he publicly posted all of the unexpurgated responses, including all the personal information and the photos, on Encyclopedia Dramatica.

(For more information on the prank, here's the full story: Craigslist prank. Let me know if the link is broken by the time you read this.)

This prank opens up a number of legal issues:

  • Is your privacy being violated if you voluntarily give personal information and the person uses it for his/her purposes?

  • Are you open to civil or criminal litigation by misrepresenting yourself?

  • Are you open to civil action for posting personal information about someone else which could cause damage to the person's livelihood?

  • Is craigslist liable for the fallout from this prank?

Here is my take:

Is your privacy being violated if you voluntarily give personal information and the person uses it for his/her purposes?
A general answer regarding a "violation of privacy" - if you did not willingly reveal personal information to the person who received it (ex: someone ran a stealth program on a site to collect information), the answer is yes. However, if you willingly reveal your private information, the answer is no, your privacy is not being violated. If I want something to remain private, I don't reveal the information.

However, what if the person who is collecting the information is misrepresenting the reason why he's collecting the information? Usually, many sites who are collecting your information explicitly tell you (in their privacy policies) what they are going to do with your information, and they explicity warn you about revealing your public information on their public forums. I think that it still stands that if you willingly reveal the information, your privacy is not being violated.

Are you open to civil or criminal litigation by misrepresenting yourself?
This really is a tough question. In some cases, it's obvious. If I pretend to be a disaster victim to collect donations, I am going to face criminal charges if I get caught. In some cases, misrepresentation is legal. For example, the TV show
Dateline (on US TV network NBC) does a show with the cooperation with legal authorities where the investigative reporters pose as 12 and 13 year old children on the Internet to catch sexual predators.

However, what about this cyberprank case? From a criminal standpoint, there doesn't appear to be any laws being broken. From a civil standpoint, it's pretty ambiguous (see the next question).

Are you open to civil action for posting personal information about someone else which could cause damage to the person's life?
Another tough question that I have a very hard time answering. This prank can cause some serious damage to a person's life. It could wreck marriages, and it could wreck careers. Plus, since the personal information (e-mails, phone numbers, IM accounts) was also published, it opens that person up to harassment.

I wouldn't be surprised if someone sues the prankster because of damage caused by the prank, but could the complainant win? I don't know. On one side, the prankster misrepresented himself, and the mark thought that he was dealing with a potential partner. The prankster used the information for his own gain (his amusement). On the other side, the action could have been used as grounds for divorce, or the person was involved in an occupation where the person must observe "morals clauses" (ex: clergy).

What about physical harm that happens to the person because of this action? For example, the person may attempt suicide over the reprocussions of the prank, or some zealot decides to physically attack the person over his indecent behavior. Is the prankster open to civil action then?

Is craigslist liable for the fallout from this prank?
I took a look at craigslist's terms of use, and they do warn the user about answering the classified ads with caution. They also state that you may encounter ads that are "misleading" because "you acknowledge that craigslist does not pre-screen or approve Content".

Is craigslist liable for the fallout of this prank? NO! Is craigslist irresponsible for not monitoring the ads more closely? YES!

I think that the fallout from this prank may cause the webmasters of craigslist to reconsider their policy of not pre-screening the ads before they are published.

I would love to hear your responses and opinions of this issue, especially from those of you with a legal background.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Cybertainment: A Sign of the Times

YouTube's popularity has exploded over the past year, coining the phrase cybertainment. Good Morning America frequently features a YouTube video as part of their human interest stories. The mainstream press covered the story about user LonelyGirl15. US television station NBC used YouTube to promote its fall lineup. The most recent development that demonstrates the popularity of the cybertainment boom is the news about Warner Music agreeing to distribute and license its copyrighted songs and other material through YouTube (Liedtke).

Another interesting thing that I spotted in the AP story was that YouTube has developed a system to detect when homemade videos are using copyrighted material, which will allow Warner's to review the material and decide whether to accept or reject it (Liedtke). I think that this is a good thing.

Lately, it appears that YouTube has been overzealous about determining what is a violation of copyrighted material. In YouTube's defense, they were being threatened with legal action by Universal, and I think that they would rather be safe than sorry. This new technology will allow YouTube to let the owner know about videos using the owner's material, and the owner of the copyrighted material can review the material and determine whether it is fair use or not.

Source: Michael Liedtke. Warner to Issue Music Through YouTube. Associated Press, 18 September 2006. Retrieved 18 September 2006 from

Thursday, September 7, 2006

The DRAM Cartel Get Their Due

From 1992 to 2002, the US Justice Department investigated four companies that manufactured dynamic-access memory (DRAM) chips. These companies were accused of price-fixing the DRAM chips. The companies are:

  • Samsung Electronics Co, South Korea

  • Infineon Technologies, Germany

  • Elpida Memory Inc, Japan

  • Hynix Semiconductor Inc, South Korea

In a nutshell, price fixing is when business competitors who make the same product make an agreement regarding pricing. Usually, the cartel agrees to set a high price so all the companies can collect a high profit margin. (For a more detailed explanation of price fixing, view the Wikipedia explanation). The problem with price fixing is it is illegal in most countries.

Over the past year in various court cases, all four companies pled guilty to felony price fixing charges brought by the Justice Department and had to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in fines. In some cases, executives also had to serve jail time.

Now that the criminal trials are over, the civil trials have begun. Sun Microsystems, based in Santa Clara, California, and Unisys, based in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania, have filed a civil suit against Hynix Semiconductor Inc. Sun and Unisys are seeking damages related into the federal probe into price-fixing chips. (JRL - more than likely, the damages are for lost sales on their servers using DRAM) Hynix is seeking to settle out-of-court.

Source: Associated Press. Sun Microsystems, Unisys sue Hynix Semiconductor in US court, Hynix says. Associated Press, 06 September 2006. Retrieved 07 September 2006 from

Friday, September 1, 2006

An OS Revolution in India

On August 31st, the government of the state of Kerala in India has announced that it plans on switching all of its schools computers from Microsoft Windows to the free Linux operating system. This change affects 12,500 high schools in the state, and the teachers are currently being trained on the new software.

One of the motivating factors in this decision is the state's top official, Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan, is a major supporter of free software and a detractor of Microsoft's dominance in the industry. Another factor may also be cost - Microsoft Windows XP software costs around 6,400 rupees, or $139USD, per copy.

However, this decision does have its detractors. M.A. Shahnawaz, the opposition leader in the state, believes that the decision was solely based on the bias against Microsoft and other corporate giants (Kerala also banned sales of Coca Cola and Pepsi in the state). Mr. Shahnawaz believes that schools should be given a choice of which OS the school would like to use.

What is your position on this decision? Do you applaud the Chief Minister's decision? Do you agree with Mr. Shahnawaz? Do you see points in both gentlemen's arguments? Post your thoughts.

Source: Thomas, V.M. Indian state switching all school computers from Windows to Linux. Associated Press, 01 September 2006. Retrieved from on 01 September 2006.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Teacher Don't Teach Nonsense: A Post for IT Teachers

A few years ago, a fellow professor remarked that a "good teacher can teach anything". He then arrogantly remarked, "give me the material, and in 48 hours, I'll be able to teach it like an expert". I had to laugh to myself, because he
had a reputation with the students as one of the worst professors in the program.

Don't get me wrong - his statement, "a good teacher can teach anything", is true to a point. The problem is when the professor only has "book experience" in the subject. In other words, the only thing that the professor knows about the subject is what s/he learned in the textbook used for the course. While this is acceptable for certain subjects like history, this is NOT applicable to subjects that require "hands-on" learning, such as information technology. Students can easily spot an instructor who knows only what's in the the textbook. How will you, as the instructor, find out?

One of these things may occur:
a) The students will skewer you during course evaluations
b) The student or students will go to your department chair and complain about you
c) The student or students may boldly tell you that you are full of $@#!&

Speaking as someone who is an IT instructor, I can sympathize with the instructors. We may end up having to teach a topic in which we has no practical experience. I know the scenario - a professor/instructor scheduled to teach a particular class bows out at the last minute or while the course is in progress, and the school is not in the position to cancel the course because the course is a requirement for graduation, so they need an instructor ASAP. The department chair then assigns you as the instructor because you are either the closest skill set match with the subject or you have the lightest course load.

On the other hand, speaking as someone who is also a grad student, I know how students feel. We view the instructors as the knowledgable people who can help us understand the particular subject. If instructors only teach what's in the textbook, and the only thing that they know about the subject is what's in the textbook, we feel cheated. We're thinking, "Why spend $X per credit taking this class when I could have bought the book and done it myself for considerably less money?"

So, how can an instructor gain practical experience in a subject short of getting a job working in that technology? After all, s/he may either be a full-time professor or instructor with a full course load, or s/he may not work in the technology that s/he has to teach (ex: a Visual Basic programmer who's been asked to teach C++). Here are three things to do to gain practical experience and stronger knowledge in the subject {Students - you can follow these steps as well to help strengthen your knowledge and gain valuable experience for the job market. ;)}:

1) Make your own projects.
This is the most important thing to do to gain experience. For example, if you are asked to teach a networking course, set up a small network in your home or your office. If you are asked to teach a programming course, design and develop a usable application (like a contacts list or an order management system) in that programming languages. Do more than one project! This will give you some experience with the ups and downs of the subject. For example, if you ran into a pitfall with your projects (ex: your
program caused a memory leak or your wireless network did not work right because of the walls in your house), you can relay that experience with the students. If time permits, volunteer your time with IT projects for non-profits, like building a network or building a web site.

2) Find other documentation besides the textbook on the subject you are about to teach.
For example, if you are asked to teach C#, find other tutorials and books (besides the textbook) to help supplement your learning. You will also be able to make recommendations to your students for supplemental learning on the subject, which will help your credibility.

3) Find an expert in the subject and make him or her your "teacher".
Since you are learning the subject yourself, you will also need a teacher. Pick a person that is very proficient in the subject that you are going to teach. Preferably, find someone who actually does it in their day-to-day activities. For example, if you are a Linux administrator, and you are asked to teach Windows 2003 administration, find someone who is proficient in Windows 2003 administration.
Note: Before doing this, please make sure that you actually put effort in your learning! Most people are flattered to be chosen as an "expert" to provide information and advice. However, most people get annoyed when the person asking the questions is only using the person to do his or her work rather than to actually learn something.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Beating the Catch-22 of Aspiring Digitheads(and a site update)

Note: I know that the site has been slow with updates. I apologize for that - I have a lot going on right now. I will start updating it again soon.

New, fresh-faced IT students, affectionately known by me as "aspiring digitheads" face the inevitable catch-22 once they finish their studies and are ready to tackle the "real world" (gosh, I hate that term!). The catch-22 is "you can't get a job without experience, and you can't get experience without a job".

Before I get into detail on beating the catch-22, allow me to share a situation that recently happened to me. One of my closest friends since college called me asking for my help. Her brother has been out of school (college) for about 2 years, and he still can't find a job in the IT field. She asked for my help with finding somewhere that will hire him. I wanted to talk to him first to get an idea of what he knows how to do. So, I talked to him as if I was a potential employer. Here is a snippet of the conversation between me and my friend's brother, who is aspiring to be a web developer.

Me: So, in your programming classes, did your instructors give you a lot of programming exercises to do?
Friend's Brother: Yes, we had a ton!
Me: Okay, that's good. Do you have your own web site that has a portfolio of your projects or the work that you have done?
FB: Websites cost too much money, and besides, I don't really have a lot of time to design a web site and keep it up.
Me: Okay. Do you participate or have you participated in any open-source development projects? Did you program, or test, or do any documentation, or anything like that?
FB: No. I don't know of any open source projects that are out there. Nobody told me about that.
Me: Okay. Did you ever do voluteer work with your IT skills, such as develop a web site for your church or a friend or some friend's small business?
FB: No. Nobody ever asked me to do anything like that for them. Besides, I don't have time to volunteer.
Me: Okay. Would you be willing to do another IT job to get your foot in the door, like a help desk technician or a different kind of developer?
FB: Eww, no! I want to be a web programmer because that's what I like to do.
Me: Okay. Did you do any internships while you were in school?
FB: Not really. The only internships that were available were ones that didn't pay, and I don't have time to work for free.
Me: Okay. Are you willing to relocated to get a job?
FB: I don't really want to, but if I have to, I will.
Me: That's good. Do you have money saved to start freelancing?
FB: A little bit, but I don't want to chase after business.

You have probably spotted throughout this conversation that my friend's brother is doing everything possible to REMAIN in the catch-22! If he keeps doing what he's been doing, he'll continue to toil at the dead-end job that he's currently working in and he'll never get a chance to use his education.

Believe it or not, it is easy for an aspiring digithead to break the catch-22. So how do you do it? Basically it all sums up to "make your own opportunities". Here are some ideas on making your own opportunities:

  • Get involved with internships in your field while you are in school: As a mentor of mine once said when I was talking about a colleague who got really good grades, "You are a student with a 3.5 GPA and two years experience with internships. Colleague has a 4.0 GPA and no industry experience except her classwork. Guess who employers are going to hire? I'll give you a hint - not Colleague!" My mentor was right - I was able to get a job immediately after graduating during a time when the country was in a recession while many of my fellow graduates (including Colleague) were still toiling in dead-end jobs while looking for jobs in the industry.
    To find out about internships (paid and unpaid), see your careers counselor, or check out your school newspaper's classified section, or check out the careers section for your local technology organization's web site. Note that it is more difficult to get a paid internship versus an unpaid internship. Paid internships usually have stricter requirements, such as a high grade point average (3.5 GPA or above) or a legal ability to work in the United States (US Citizenship, legal resident or "green card", or an H-1B Visa). Even if your financial situation makes it difficult for you to accept an unpaid internship, find one that will fit in with your school and work schedule and consider it like a "class".

  • Volunteer for organizations: Volunteer work, especially performing the type of work related to the IT industry, counts as experience. Volunteer to do work for your religious organization or other non-profit organizations, such as: develop a web site, set up their network, or write a program. Not only does this give you more experience, you are also performing a good service for organizations that need your help.
    You don't have to limit the organization to a non-profit. You can even volunteer your time for a small start-up corporation that has very little funds. This could get you a position with the company when they grow, or it could get you a partnership.

  • Make your own web site: In today's technology age, this is the easiest way to create a portfolio of your work, and it is the most accessible way for potential employers to see what you can actually do. You can either have your web site on a free hosting site, or you can pay a small amount of money (approximately $75-150 USD/year) to get your own domain name and rent space from a hosting company. You do NOT need a dedicated server (which is somewhat expensive) unless you expect a lot of traffic and a lot of bandwidth usage.
    In my opinion, your best bet is to get your own domain name and rent space from a hosting company. Many hosting companies offer great deals that include: free databases; free e-mail accounts that can be used with your Outlook Express or other e-mail tools; free tools, such as forums and chat rooms; a sizeable amount of disk space and bandwidth usage; and free 24x7 technical support. The one that I use is Host For Web ( Host For Web offers many hosting options, as well as domain name ordering services. There are other good hosting sites that charge reasonable fees, such as Go Daddy and Yahoo!. Find out what you need for your web site, and do some research to find out which site offers the best for the price.

  • Participate in open source projects: In my friend's brother's defense, this is a little more difficult to do because many of the projects require a specific skill set and a very high technical level. If you fit this requirement, then this is a fantastic opportunity for you. For example, an intern that worked with me at a company had an impressive background in open source contribution. He was contributing code to Red Hat Linux since he was 14 years old!
    The best thing to do is research open source projects and find out what they are looking for in contributors. Note that it does not necessarily have to be development. You can contribute in other ways, such as testing and documentation.
    You don't necessarily have to participate in an existing open source project. You can make an open source project on your own by creating a general application for users. There are many sites that host open source projects, such as SourceForge (, the Open Source Initiative (, FreshMeat (, and Open Source for Apple ( If you have your own web site, you can host the project yourself!

  • Start freelancing: Again, in my friend's brother's defense, this is easier said than done because this does require a certain personality type to be able to do this. In order to garner freelance work, you do need to knock on businesses' doors, and you do require the "sales person's personality" (lots of moxie, "some will, some won't, so what? next!" mentality). I can relate - I don't have the "sales person's personality" myself.
    However, you can form a partnership with a colleague or friend who DOES have the "sales person's personality". That person can gather the business and you can do the technical work. Who knows? Maybe you and your friend can be the next Microsoft?

Sunday, July 2, 2006

Choosing the Right School

Note: This post focuses on the post-secondary education system in the United States.


Most positions in the information technology field require some sort of advanced degree and, in some cases, additional industry certification. For example, the minimum requirements for an entry level PC technician is industry certifications, while the minimum requirements for an entry level software engineer is a Master's degree. In nearly all cases, post-secondary education is required.

In the US, there are many post-secondary schools available, and it can be very confusing as to which school to choose. The objective of this post is to help you make a decision on choosing the right school by:

  • Showing you the differences between a "for-profit" and "non-profit" institution

  • Showing you the pros and cons of each institution

  • Giving you some advice on the best option to take

For-Profit Institution

For-profit institutions are sometimes called "proprietary" or "private" institutions, but these are not to be confused with private non-profit colleges and universities. For-profit institutions are corporates that provide education services to either assist its customers with obtaining industry certifications or to grant its customers a degree upon completion of the program. One of the selling points of the for-profit institution is the "job placement" program, which actually provides job leads to the students. Some for-profit institutions are nationally known (ITT Technical Institute, University of Phoenix, DeVry University), while others are locally or regionally known (Pittsburgh Institute of Technology). These institutions are usually accredited by the ACICS (Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools). Since these institutions are for-profit corporations, the primary source of funding is from tuition paid by the customers (students).

Pros and Cons of a For-Profit Institution

  • The education that you'll receive from these institutions is relevant to the degree or certification that you are pursuing. For example, if you are pursuing an Associates degree in network administration, you will probably take networking classes, a communications class, a writing class, math classes, and a programming class. You won't have to take "The Analytical Comparisons of the Roman Architecture and Greek Architecture".

  • You will get your degree or certification much faster than you would if you attend a traditional college or university. For example, the programs are set up to allow the student to complete a Bachelor's degree in three years (if the school offers this degree). Traditional colleges and universities are set up to allow the student to complete a Bachelor's degree in four years.

  • Enrollment requirements are not as strict as for a traditional university. In most cases, the only requirements are a high-school diploma or GED and to pass a writing and math skills test.


  • Since it is a for-profit institution, the bottom line is to get you in the door. The recruiters may not have your best interests at heart because they need your enrollment, so they may guide you into a program that may not interest you, or may be beyond your abilities. Note: while a school can lose accreditation and lose the ability to accept federal student loans for tuition payment if the school gives recruiters a commission based on the students they enroll, schools can fire recruiters if they don't make their quota (the number of students they have to get enrolled per enrollment period).

  • For-profit institutions are very expensive, compared to most traditional colleges and universities. For example, it costs approximately $35,000 plus additional costs to obtain a two-year degree from ITT Technical Institution. It costs about $8,000 to obtain a two-year degree from the Community College of Allegheny County.

  • There is a limited transferability of credits. For example, if you decide, after one year, that you no longer want to attend a particular for-profit institution, and you want to attend a traditional college or university, you may find that very little to none of your credits will transfer, and you will have to start all over again.

  • In order to attend these schools, you have to sign up for an entire program. For example, if you are only interested in taking Linux classes, you cannot take a Linux class (unless you were a previous student at the school). You would be required to sign up for the Network Administration program.

Non-Profit Institution

Non-profit institutions are your traditional colleges or universities. The college or university can fall under one of three categories:

  • State-owned institutions are colleges and universities that are owned by the state in which they are located. For example, Penn State University and UCLA are state-owned universities.

  • Private institutions are colleges and universities that are owned by an organization, usually a religious group. For example, Harvard University and Notre Dame University are private institutions.

  • Community Colleges are colleges owned by the county in which they are located. Community colleges offer industry certifications and Associates degrees.

These institutions are usually accredited by a regional accreditation agency that specializes in not only accrediting colleges and universities, but it also accredites the school systems (elementary and high school) in the region. Since these institutions are non-profit corporations, they receive other funding sources besides the students' tuition, such as donations from alumni and organizations, and federal and state grants.

Pros and Cons of a Non-Profit Institution

  • Credits are transferable throughout most institutions. For example, if you go to Pitt, and you decide that you would rather go to Duquesne University, your credits will transfer.

  • Your degree will hold more prestige and be more recognized in the industry than a degree from a for-profit institution. The main reason is because there are stricter guidelines on accreditation for a non-profit institution than there are for a for-profit institution. If you decide to pursue an advanced degree, you have a bigger selection of schools at your disposal if you received a degree from a traditional college or university. If you received a bachelor's degree from a for-profit institution, and you decide to pursue a Master's degree, you would be limited to choosing only for-profit institutions for your advanced degree because most traditional institutions do not recognize degrees from for-profit institutions.

  • You do not have to sign up for a degree program. If you are only interested in taking a Linux class, you are allowed to take only a Linux class at a school without pursuing a degree.

  • The tuition for community colleges and state-run institutions is considerably cheaper than a for-profit institution. For example, for the same price that you would pay at ITT Technical Institute for an Associates degree, you can get a Bachelors degree from the University of Pittsburgh.

  • Community colleges have open enrollment, which means the only requirement is you have a high school diploma or a GED in order to sign up for their degree or industry certification programs.


  • For state-run and private institutions, the admissions process is very selective. You may have the best grades and the best SAT/ACT scores, but the program may accept only so many new students per year, or they may use other judging criteria for who has a better shot at getting admitted, such as alumni programs and community service that the potential students have performed. You may end up either turned down for their program or put on a waiting list.

  • Most classes at universities are very large, especially at the freshman and sophomore level. You may end up in a class with 200 (yes, two hundred) other people.

  • Some classes at a university are not taught by a professor. Rather, the class is taught by either a research assistant or a graduate student. This happens more often in state-run universities.

  • In order to get your degree, you will be required to take course that have absolutely nothing to do with your career or you will not get your degree.

Best Option to Take

Before choosing your school, research all of the schools that you are interested in attending. Ask the following questions:

  1. What is the tuition?

  2. What is the refund policy if I decide to drop a class?

  3. Are there additional costs, like lab fees?

  4. What is the attrition ("dropout") rate?

  5. For a for-profit institution: What is your job placement rate, and of those jobs placed, what percentage are in positions for which the student was actually trained?

  6. For a non-profit institution: What percentage of the classes are actually taught by a research assistant or graduate student?

  7. What is your average student-teacher ratio in the classes?

  8. When was the last time you had a tuition hike?

  9. Are my credits and/or degree transferable to any school?

  10. For a for-profit institution: when was the last time the school lost its accreditation?

  11. What is the crime rate for the campus?

  12. Do you offer tutoring services for the students?

  13. Do you offer scholarships or tuition discounts?

  14. If you are disabled: Does the institution offer special services or amendments for disabled students?

The best option, in my opinion, is to attend a community college for your industry certification or your degree for the following reasons:

  • Community colleges have open enrollment, which means that you won't be turned down from the degree program unless you do not have your high-school diploma or GED.

  • Community colleges are the cheapest option. If you decide that IT is not for you after 1 or 2 semesters, you are only "out" a small amount of money.

  • The degrees are transferrable should you decide to pursue your Bachelor's degree. Plus, the non-profit colleges and universities offer discount programs or scholarships for community college graduates.

  • The credits are transferrable should you decide to attend another college or university.

  • You can pursue the degree or certification at your own pace. You're not required to take X amount of classes per semester.

Friday, June 16, 2006

The End Of An Era

An announcement was made today that Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft, will be giving up the day-to-day duties at Microsoft within the next two years to concentrate on his philanthropic efforts. He will, however, remain the chairman of Microsoft.

Bill Gates was a controversial figure in the IT world. Anyone who watched the docudrama The Pirates of Silicon Valley learned about how he made Microsoft a major player in the software world - some of the things that he has done was not necessarily ethical. However, one has to applaud his vision of "a PC in every home".

One thing that can be admired is his and his wife's foundation is the biggest non-profit in the country, giving away nearly 1 billion dollars per year to charitable causes. I'm impressed that he will be spending his time and money for a good cause.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Net neutrality - It's nothing like Switzerland

Note:If you have your own web site, or if you have a blog, you may want to pay attention to this article...

One of the hottest debates that's going on in the U.S. Senate is net neutrality. Net neutrality, in a nutshell, means that all Internet sites must be treated equally.

The issue is that major providers, such as the telephone and cable industries, want to be able to manage their networks as they see fit. One of the things that they want to do is charge more money for users that use more bandwidth, rather than the flat fee for Internet connectivity. The concern that opponents have is the providers will be able to do the following: block content that providers find to be offensive, downgrade the quality of services that competing Internet providers have to offer, and reduce the time it takes for a page to load from a company that doesn't pay the provider as much money.

The "Internet Freedom Preservation Act", a bill introduced in Congress by Senators Olympia Snow (R-ME) and Byron Dorgan (D-ND), basically will make it illegal for Internet providers to "block, interfere with, discriminate against, impair, or degrade" access to content or to prevent users from attaching devices of their choosing to the network. They would also be barred from making special deals with content providers to ensure speedier delivery or improved quality of service;all material would be offered on an equal basis.

Supporters of this bill want to continue to support the freedom of the Internet, while opponents claim that they are not compelled to promote speech they are against, and that the government should not impose rules on the free market.

Who is in support of this bill?

  • IAC/InterActiveCorp

  • Ebay

  • Amazon

  • Yahoo!

  • Earthlink

  • Google

  • Microsoft


  • Christian Coalition

  • AARP

  • Consumer Federation of America

  • American Library Association

  • Free Press

  • Tech Net

  • Celebrities such as Moby and Alyssa Milano

Who is against the bill?

  • Bell

  • Verizon

  • National Black Chamber of Commerce

  • Progress and Freedom Foundation

  • Ludwig von Mises Institute

Where do you stand on this bill? Do you need more information before you can decide? This article talks about the net neutrality debate in more detail.

If you already have a position, be sure to contact your senators and let them know where you stand.

Sunday, June 4, 2006

Is it fun to stay at the D-M-C-A?

I apologize for the bad disco reference for this topic. :)

The Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) of 1998 was enacted to update the copyright Law in response to the advancement of technology. This is a law in the United States. (In Europe, the EU Copyright Directive (EUCD) was passed in 2001, and the law is similar to the DMCA.)

If you are in the United States, and if you are involved in software development or if you are a webmaster, you need to be aware of the DMCA. For the webmaster, if you create content for your web site, it is automatically copyrighted. In the same vein, you may be in violation of the DMCA if you host content that is copyrighted, such as programs and MP3s. As a software developer, you may have to implement Digital Rights Management (DRM) technology, which is code that prevents the media (such as software) to be copied. In the same vein, you may have to be more alert about how you get your code assistance. For example, if you reverse-engineer software, even if it's free, to get an idea of how an action works, you are in violation of the DMCA.

There are supporters and detractors of the DMCA. Supporters applaud the act because it prevents piracy of digital media (such as software and music) by imposing strict punishments on those who violate the act. Detractors complain that the act is impeding innovative development and free speech.

For more information about the act, as well as arguments for and against the act, read the following:

* - Re-printed with permission from Ms. Elizabeth Pruszko

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

What does THAT have to do with technology?

This topic doesn't necessarily have to do with technology, but it is "six degrees of separation" from technology. The company that belongs to the subject of this post was the first to do Internet animation. His name is John Kricfalusi, and he is the creator of "Ren and Stimpy".

Most digitheads I know are either fans of animation, or they are amateur animators. If you have artisitic talent, John K. (as he is known), in conjunction with the AFISA, is conducting animation lessons for budding animators for FREE. All you need to do is purchase a book from Preston Blair (which is mentioned on his blog).

John K. has also entered the art world. His sketches are being displayed at the Every Picture Tells a Story gallery in California, and he also displays his caricature work on this blog. You can also purchase his sketches or have him do a custom sketch for you.

If you are interested in taking FREE lessons from a master, and/or if you are interested in commissioning him for a sketch, visit his blog at

P.S. I've purchased one of his caricatures, and I'm very pleased with it, especially with the "exquisite detail" on Bugs! Here is the picture that I purchased:

Monday, May 29, 2006

Number, please...

If you have a mathematical background along with your IT background, you probably won't have to read this post, because you will already understand the subject of this topic.

One of the best advantages to have as an IT professional, particularly if you are a network administrator/engineer or a software engineer, is to have an understanding of the numeral systems that are represented in computers.

I wrote and published a document called Number Systems in Computers that gives a high-level overview about the number systems used in computer science. The document also contains some links and references to more material that will give you more information about the number systems.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Section 508 - it won't get you out of the military.

If you work on IT projects that has the federal government as its customer, or if you would like the government to be a future IT customer, then it's imperative that you know what Section 508 is. Even if you don't work on government projects, it's a good thing to understand.

What is Section 508?
In 1998, Congress amended the Rehabilitation Act to require Federal agencies to make their electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities. According to the official web site on Section 508:
Section 508 was enacted to eliminate barriers in information technology, to make available new opportunities for people with disabilities, and to encourage development of technologies that will help achieve these goals. The law applies to all Federal agencies when they develop, procure, maintain, or use electronic and information technology. Under Section 508 (29 U.S.C. ‘ 794d), agencies must give disabled employees and members of the public access to information that is comparable to the access available to others.

What are some examples of Section 508?
Anything that will grant disabled users more access to IT products. Some examples of Section 508 implementation include:

  • Text-to-speech for deaf users

  • Braille for blind users

  • Reduced use of color and flashing graphics for colorblind users

Section 508 Compliance
For various standards and compliance for information technology products (hardware, software, documentation), visit the Electronic and Information Technology (Section 508) Homepage

You can also view the Accessibility Forum, which supplies tools and gives tips on making web sites Section 508 compliant.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Keeping Up with the Poindexters

In 2003, I taught a Java class. Usually, my classes had a diverse mix of students. The students varied in age, career points, and IT knowledge. This class was different. Nearly all the students in the class were around the same age, and all of them were IT workers. What made this class more interesting is all the students were displaced workers. The reason why they were in my class was the same for all the students - "I was laid off a year ago, and I'm having a hard time finding a job in my field because my skills are out-of-date. So, I'm in your class to learn new skills so I can get a job." Nearly all the workers in the class worked with "dinosaur technology" (ex: mainframes, COBOL), and they got caught up in the Year-2000 frenzy that was occurring in IT a few years back. During that frenzy, their skills were extremely valuable. Now that the frenzy was over, they were no longer needed. The problem was that they rested on their laurels, and they didn't prepare for the future.

If you are involved in the IT industry in some way (professional, student, instructor), you understand that the field changes often, and it is very important to keep up with the latest technology. If you don't keep up, you may end up like my students in my 2003 Java class. So how can one easily keep one's skills current? After all, it seems like there is not enough hours in the day, and it seems that there is too much information.

Here are some tips to help keep up-to-date in this ever-changing field, or as I put it affectionately, "keep up with the Poindexters":

  • Take classes It is a fact of life that in order to survive in the IT world, continuing education is a must. Don't feel like you're being singled out - other professionals, such as doctors and teachers, have to participate in continuing education in order to maintain their licenses. For those who are located in the US, the most economical solution is taking the class at a community college, if there is one in your area. The class, including your books and lab fees, can run between $250 - $400 USD, depending on where you live in the US. Classes conducted by private, for-profit institutions are significantly more expensive, and the pace is sometimes too intense for someone who is relatively new to IT.

  • Attend Seminars and Conferences If money is an issue, this may not be the best solution. However, if your university or employer is sponsoring a conference or seminar, you may be able to go for a low cost or for free. Seminars and conferences allows you to get the latest information from professionals who are either working with these technologies or are the inventors of these technologies. Seminars and conferences are also a good way to build your professional and social network.
  • Join a Professional Technical Organization This is a way to "kill two birds in one stone", so they say. Not only will this help with building your professional and social network, but it will also help you keep current with the latest trends in technology. Plus, membership to some technical organizations can have its privileges. You may be able to get discounts at events or on products just for being a member of a particular technical organization. If you are a student, you can join at a significant discount. For example, the American Society for Quality (, a professional organization focusing on quality, offers a significant discount on membership fees for students. The American Society for Quality and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (a.k.a. IEEE) ( are two national organizations. For local organizations, the best thing to do is do some research and find out about the technical organizations that are available in your area.
  • Subscribe to E-Mail Newsletters This is an easy way to keep up with the latest information on a variety of technologies. Usually the E-Mail Newsletters provide a summary of the topics being discussed, along with a link to a more detailed article. It allows you to filter what you need to know. It is a time-saver in the long run. You don't have to filter through 20 web sites to get the latest technology information. This can also be an economic solution, since most sites offer this service for free.
  • Use a News Aggregator Many sites offer RSS (rich site summary) feeds with the latest updates and news. A news aggregator allows you keep up with the latest news from your desktop without having to go to a number of sites. No, this blog does not offer an RSS yet. :)
  • Talk to Other "Digitheads" "Digitheads" is my term of endearment for fellow IT professionals. Sometimes talking to your colleagues can give you some insight to the latest technologies. While this is a good way to get some information, you need to be careful of personal bias or misinformation from your colleague.

  • Subscribe to technical magazines (on-line or print) Like the newsletters, this is another way to get the latest information. However, with some publications, be careful on the quality of the information. Some of the articles may be slanted because of the author's or publisher's bias.