CAT Prints - the online newsletter of the Department of Computers and Telecommunication Services


December, 2007

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Dealing with unexpected I.T. events

Readers may recall that there was an interruption of email service on Tuesday, December 11th.  It actually amounted to a delay in delivery of both inbound and outbound messages that lasted into the afternoon of that day.  It was caused by an unexpected set of circumstances that resulted in tens of thousands of messages being queued up for delivery - and the mail system simply could not keep up.  It took the mail administrators a few hours to clean up the situation, but no mail was lost - just delayed.

Whenever service problems occur that have a significant impact on the normal IT operations of the College, we conduct a Post-Incident Review.  We gather together all of the technical staff that were involved in the incident, who manage systems affected by the problem, or who are just plain interested, and we go through a standard series of twelve questions that are designed to cover all aspects of the event:

How did we become aware of the problem?
How did we identify ownership of the problem?
What was the severity/scope of the problem?
Who was needed to solve the problem, and could they be reached in a timely fashion?
How did we communicate to affected users?
What was the root cause of the problem?
What was the temporary/permanent remedy for the problem?
Is this matter closed?
What follow-up actions are going to be carried out?
Are there actions that could have/should have prevented this problem?
Did we miss any signs of the incipient problem?
Who needs to know about the results of this post-incident review?

After a quiet semester, this has been a comparatively busy month for Post-Incident Reviews; there was another one recently involving a campus-wide network problem on the 26th of November that brought over a dozen people to the table, and one last week that discussed a failure of a piece of equipment that occurred on the 12th of December.  That one was short-term; you may not have even noticed the event itself, and the review only involved two of our technicians.

We do these reviews to make certain that we haven't missed any details, to make sure that action items have been assigned, and to ensure that each event can be turned into a learning experience.  The questions always generate lots of lively discussion, and sometimes reveal vulnerabilities in our systems that were previously unrecognized.  It is a transparent process where problems can be worked out collaboratively, whose results can be communicated to everyone who needs to know about them and which produces a record that can help if similar events occur later on. 

Of course, our ultimate objective is to prevent such events from occurring in the first place, but each Post-Incident Review helps us tighten up our procedures and improve our quality of service.

Using Name Connector

Are you having trouble using our automated operator voice recognition system?  Are you getting complaints that you cannot be reached or your name is not pronounced correctly?  If so, we want to know.  Please contact Deb Ost at 436-2909 or via email at and she will help you out.

By the way, if you dial 3500 to reach Name Connector and want to skip the introductory recording, just hit the * key and it will immediately ask you for the name of the person you wish to reach. 

Incidentally, we have heard that some folks entertain themselves by asking for people who clearly don't work here, just to see what names come up.  We tried it and got:

Fred Flintstone - Fred Zalatan
Scooby Doo - Sue Meador
Winnie the Pooh - Linda Fink

We don't know for sure if there is any underlying relationship between the names and the results, but we suppose that anything is possible....


Making good connections with your cellphone

Verizon Customers:

It is a good idea to update the programming on your Verizon phone periodically. This process assures the most recent connections to the newest cell towers. Press *228- Send- Select Option 2- music plays and then the phone tells you if the update was successful. There is no cost for the call and it only takes about 2 minutes. Verizon suggests doing this update once a month if possible, or whenever you travel outside your regular service area. Please contact the Office of Telecommunications at 436-2577 with any questions.

Cellular One Customers:

According to their customer service center, turning the phone off and back on again will force it to contact the best available tower(s).


Security and Portable Data Storage Devices

How many places besides your office computer do you store data?  Of course you have important files on your computer - documents, e-mails and contact lists, web pages - and they are probably being backed up to your P: drive or some other network location.

(If you have files saved to your computer and you are not sure if they are being backed up, call the IT Helpdesk and request assistance in verifying that they are)

They are also relatively secure if you are following basic security guidelines such as choosing strong passwords, not sharing passwords and locking your computer when you are away from your desk.  But what about other places where those files are stored?  Do you transfer data with a USB flash drive or on a CD?  Or do you store data on an external hard drive?  If so, you need to take some precautions to protect that information, based on its sensitivity and importance.

If the information is considered sensitive (for example, personally identifiable or protected by FERPA) you should consider finding an alternative to storing it on portable media.  For instance, if the information is saved to your P: drive, there are secure methods for accessing it from remote locations.  If you must transport or store sensitive information with portable media, it should be encrypted. Some devices come with encryption software installed or you can use a tool like TrueCrypt (  Keep in mind that the point of encryption is to prevent anyone who doesn’t have the key from accessing the encrypted data.  If you “lose the key,” that is, forget the passphrase, you will not be able to recover the data, so use such tools carefully.  If you are not sure if the information you have is considered sensitive, contact the IT Security Administrator, Lesley Bidwell, at x4457 or

So - what if the data aren’t sensitive? 

  • Is it still important? 
  • Have you put a lot of time and effort into its collection or creation? 
  • Could you do your job without it? 
  • Would you have to recreate it if it was destroyed? 

So if the data are essential to the performance of your job, then you need to protect it from loss or theft, even if it isn’t sensitive.  If that data is only stored on USB drive, CD or external hard drive, you need to schedule regular backups to a secure location.  Finally. remember that all such devices are subject to failure, loss or theft.

As always, if you have any questions contact Lesley Bidwell!


Changes in Computer Services

Computer Center Director Jim Matthews will be retiring from the College in January 2008.  There will be a reception in his honor on Thursday, January 31st from 3:00 – 4:00 PM in the President’s Conference Room, 341 Netzer.  All are invited; please join us to wish Jim well on his special occasion.  Fair winds and a following sea, Jim!

If you have a question for Computer and Telecommunication Services about:

Computer Problems or Related Issues - Call the Information Technology Help Desk at 436-4567

Telephone Service or Problems - Call the Office of Telecommunications at 436-2577

Directory Assistance - call 436-3500