Tag Archives: education

Update on Online Privacy & Security: College Students

I get a fair number of requests to post infographics here, but this one is particularly relevant to me as it pertains to online privacy and security, like this earlier infographic, but this time, focusing on college students. It illustrates points that are consistent with what I see everyday working in IT at a university every day– that college students are certainly aware and concerned about online privacy and security and while they are taking some steps to protect themselves, not enough are taking those extra little steps, especially when it comes to mobile technologies, leaving many vulnerable to something potentially innocuous like undesired people seeing your “private” social media profile (although we know this can blow up to quite the reputation killer as well) to quite serious, long-lasting troubles like identify theft.

Like most things about working at colleges and universities, in the end, our mission is all about educating and guiding these young adults in this transitional stage to being well-informed, thoughtful, responsible citizens, whether it’s the Internet or simply the world at large. Too bad we can’t go back in time and do that for everyone else that was unleashed on the Internet without any education or guidance 🙂

Source: HotspotShield.com.

This is why people hate us

This stupid hoax reminded me of a real incident/interaction with a Google employee:

Back in September, I was lucky enough to be able to go to the Oddball Comedy Festival when it came to the area, specifically at Shoreline Amphitheatre, literally a stone’s throw away from the main Google campus (or headquarters, for grown-ups and/or people outside of tech) in Mountain View. I got to sit back and just focus on laughing for several hours after what has been and continues to be an incredibly difficult year. It was great, point blank, period. (Especially Chris D’elia, whose Comedy Central special recently premiered.)

Afterwards, my friend and I calmly strolled out of the outdoor venue, along with the other 22,000+ people that were there. As we were leaving, I commented to my friend that I was impressed with how orderly and efficiently such a large number of people were emptying out into the parking lot, streets, and other surrounding areas and it reminded me of how New Yorkers made me proud on 9/11 by just starting to calmly walk north as Armageddon was practically unfolding around them. A nearby woman who apparently overheard me turned to me and said, “Well, a lot of us are from Google, so we’re really smart.”

I just ignored it and started walking away from her, pushing through the crowd a bit to hasten the process. About 10 minutes later– during which my friend and I had fallen silent– I turned to my friend to comment on how obnoxious that woman and her comment was and how I couldn’t get it out of my mind now– he concurred. Now, my friend and I are both Stanford alumni, just like the Google founders and an overwhelming percentage of their employees, with him also having been a star NCAA athlete and me having been plenty recruited by Google, but both of us were just disgusted by the whole exchange. We still can’t get it out of brains.

So FYI, to anybody who has ever been lucky enough to be part of any type of “elite” group– this is why people hate us. Stop being assholes about it.

2014-01-07 UPDATE: I realize that potential future employers, including Google, may find this post and other tweets and such where I lament the “tech dude/brogrammer asshole” culture that has become somewhat of an epidemic in Silicon Valley. Whether you’re a recruiter, engineering team manager, or CTO of the hot new startup, if you’re turned off by this post and think I’m being overly negative, then we probably wouldn’t work well together anyway. When you are lucky enough to become part of any “elite” group, there will always be people with a chip on their shoulder for whatever reason and therefore find some excuse to hate on you. However, perpetuating whatever negative perception people already have by intentionally boasting about your elite status and/or even just encouraging a mindset that would result in thinking the above comment is a natural and appropriate thing to say, especially to strangers, is definitely NOT something of which I want to be a part. If you work hard and get the word out while still exercising humility, your work should be able to stand on it’s own– you shouldn’t have to get on a soapbox to tell everyone how great you are. Believe it or not, you can be confident and proud of your accomplishments without being an asshole.

Help Wanted: President

Stanford Magazine Ad (March/April 2011, page 36) Flipping through the March/April issue of Stanford Magazine (the alumni magazine), I came across this strange ad on page 36 (click on the image to view a larger version or flip through the digital edition). This must be either an April Fool’s Day joke (very possible, like The Stanford Chaparral’s fake Daily) or the print media is really hard up for ad revenue.

This ad reads (and looks) like the occasional, but still very annoying job post on craigslist where someone’s got some stealth company/product/service or just an idea and sends out an open call for business partners, often for engineers to actually do the heavy lifting (for equity instead of money, of course). In this case, they’re looking for an already successful Internet company executive to help break down their only barrier to success– lack of marketing skills and the right connections– therefore, plucking this company and product out of obscurity and launching them into the Fortune 500.

Maybe this whole thing is legit, they really do have a great product, some accomplished Internet all-star will answer their call, and they will become The Next Big Thing, but the following points give me pause:

  1. The ad’s design/look– plain, black and white ad consisting completely of plain text with the occasional key word or phase appearing in bold– could have been posted in nearly identical form to craigslist for $75 instead of over $4000 for a full-page black and white ad in Stanford. Granted, then they wouldn’t be targeting Stanford alumni, but a) everybody checks craigslist and b) I have the feeling qualified, experienced, accomplished executives aren’t exactly flipping through the classifieds to find a job as president/CEO.
  2. The title– “Have You Run a Top Internet Company? or Held a Top Position At Such a Company?” sets up the tone: we’re looking for senior staff from an already successful Internet company. Okay… good to aim high, I guess… but if you want to attract that kind of talent, you’ll need to give a little…
  3. While you have to have the right experience and contacts, they basically say everyone in the entire world (maybe universe) is eligible– as long as you’re between 25 and 55 (which most candidates probably fall into, but why flat out discriminate by age?).
  4. They have “some of the world’s most talented people,” unknown and unrecognized genius just waiting for the right person (see #1) with “marketing skills” (admittedly, maybe this ad proves the truth in this) and “important contacts.”
  5. They have been working (presumably in stealth mode) for three years not on the product, but the “website to make and sell this product.” Their secret, but “great product” with “huge potential demand” that, despite reading the description several times, I still can’t seem to even narrow down what kind of product it is. Is it software, a website? Is it some type of health or beauty product (they mention that it can be an add-on for AVON)? Or is it some type of wireless media since they mention Verizon and AT&T as well as digital TV? Sounds more like a random list of key words and phrases for SEO. Or like the confusing rhetoric from IdeaFarm.
  6. They also say their product is an “annual fee based item,” but don’t worry, there’s a “very, very high expected renewal rate.” Hmm, annual fee based product or service related to the Internet… yeah, because people can’t possibly expect to use a website or other Internet service for free…
  7. Rolodex? Really? I assume they just mean a contact list because the only time I hear about Rolodexes lately is in old “Law & Order” episodes and it’s usually the dead guy’s Rolodex.
  8. Position available: President. Since when do startups, especially one that claims to have such a great product with so much potential, just place open calls for not just any C-level executive, but President! Although, to be fair, apparently “Paul”– the man behind the ad– can give you that “role and title” because he’s actually already the president!
  9. Oh, one last thing: you have to be “financially secure” because they can’t pay you anything, at all, until “the profits come in.” But you get “significant interest in the company” and the revenue will be rolling in soon after, okay? Because not only do they project “revenues of $50 million by the end of the second year,” but there will be “exponential growth thereafter.” Forever.

Seems too good to be true, eh?


During my masters program, we had to keep track of how much time we spent on various tasks– reading, development, testing, team meetings, etc.– and submit weekly “effort logs.” We would either just keep track of the time by looking at the clock, using a spreadsheet with VB Script voodoo where you could hit a start button, work, and then hit stop to record the elapsed time, or just plain guesstimation. Effort logs were submitted as spreadsheets and team coaches or mentors (faculty/staff) would have to tally up each team’s total hours by wading through spreadsheet after spreadsheet for each student and team.

Because of the challenges and general annoyances the above caused, when it came time to develop our own software product as part of our curriculum, our team decided to build an effort logger– namely, the “Surreal Effort Logger,” or SEL for short– to better address the above need. (Our team was called “Team Surreal.” From what I remember, when faced with the always troublesome task of coming up with a team name, we used a random word generator, stumbled across the word “surreal” and went with it.) SEL was built as a webapp where you could hit a button to start the clock, work, hit a button to stop the clock, and then enter what you had worked on– the “task”– and the webapp would log the amount of time spent. SEL let you see the totals for individual and team effort for a given period of time.

As it turns out, somebody actually went ahead and built a “real” version of SEL called “Toggl, It’s complete with a timer, start/stop button (rendered as a shiny red power button), task, project and client tracking, and reports. I think the need to track software development time was the impetus, but the system can be used for any type of work that needs easy and accurate time tracking, especially when having to calculate billable hours and generate reports to be used as invoices.

Toggl is a “use anywhere” tool since you use it to track time for projects,There’s also a desktop version so you don’t have to have a browser window open to keep the timer going– you don’t even have to worry about logging out. and for Mac OS X users, a dashboard widget for greater convenience. (The widget was developed by a Toggl user– not by Apprise, the Estonian company behind Toggl– and was released today, which is eerie, considering I was thinking of developing a widget myself today.) You can even embed it as a gadget in iGoogle or GMail.

More things that are great about Toggl: there is a free version that has “minimal limits”; for example, you can have as many projects and tasks that you want. The “premium” (for pay) versions also include features like support for planning ahead, avoid having to end tasks before your session

I couldn’t find the exact date, but Toggl was created some time before 2007, so it was out before my CMU team built it, probably even conceived of the idea! Now, if only Team Surreal had thought to take SEL to the next level…

University of Phoenix Commencement Speech

It’s really not nice to make fun of University of Phoenix like this, but I can’t help it:

Tosh.0 Thurs, 10pm / 9c
Congrats, Phoenix Online Graduates
Daniel Tosh Miss Teen South Carolina Demi Moore Picture

Disclaimer: I actually know a really smart and talented engineer who, after so many years in the industry, but no official degree, did his undergraduate degree through them so he could move on to a Master’s and I can’t blame him. Good for him.

Helicopter Parents and Gender-Neutral Housing

Here’s an unfortunate situation: Karin Morin, a Stanford student’s mother, goes to the helicopter parent extreme, writing a National Review article, complaining about her daughter’s gender neutral housing assignment. Sadly, as her daughter Daisy Morin comments herself in this New York Times blog comment and covered in this Daily article, a family argument has turned into national news. Interestingly, although gender-neutral housing is a new housing option introduced to several campus residences, gender neutral room assignments have been a part of co-op life for decades through the consensus decision-making process practiced in these houses– one of which is Columbae, where Daisy lived in a quad with another female and two males (FYI, the quad is a very large, but single room). Daisy was completely aware going into the house (or even submitting the house as a choice during the housing draw process) that a co-ed rooming situation was a possibility and knowing this, was comfortable not only living in the house, but being assigned such a room even though she was not even present at the meeting where the decision was made.

Here’s one of the most troubling paragraphs from the National Review article:

By its own terms, Stanford is failing to live up to its housing contract. As parents, Stanford holds us responsible for payment of our daughter’s bill. We, in turn, expected Stanford to enforce the terms of its own housing contract. It should not be acceptable for any group of students to alter the conditions of that contract. Furthermore, it should not be up to individual students to determine whether to protest a housing arrangement which so obviously violates this contract. There would clearly be social difficulties for any student who protested. Thus, it is Stanford that should rectify the situation.

In reality, Stanford holds the student responsible for payment of her bill, not her parents. And why shouldn’t it be up the individual student to make a complaint? If a student is unhappy with her housing assignment or feels that the housing contract has been violated, it’s up to that student to speak up. Social difficulties are a part of life and especially part of speaking your voice– if you’re not willing to endure the possible social difficulties, then you’re saying the issue is not important enough to you.

In any case, the article is riddled with unfortunate comments– when you read Daisy’s various responses to the article and if you know anything about co-op housing, which I’m sure Daisy did before choosing to live in Columbae– you’ll see that this is a parent blaming Stanford for the differences between her daughter and herself. Karin didn’t even find out about the rooming situation until the end (during winter break) and makes it sound like her daughter was unhappy with the room assignment, saying “she didn’t ask for this room arrangement” and that “she doesn’t want to upset everyone’s consensus arrangements.” She didn’t even get the reason why her daughter wasn’t at the meeting right (she appointed a proxy because she was on a plane, not because she had a friend visiting). In general, Karin expresses a sense of entitlement, that she had the right to know everything about her daughter’s life at Stanford. Unfortunately, that’s not the way it works– while FERPA provides students with access and control over their education records, it also specifically limits to what parents have access. Specifically, when the child turns eighteen, the child takes responsibility of her education records and schools are not required to notify parents of general information that does not directly apply to the student or even answer questions about the student. At the end of the day, it is a rights and privacy act, with the student at the center.

Karin, in response to her daughter’s decision to live in the co-ed room during fall and winter quarter, pulled financial support for her daughter’s final quarter at Stanford, making Daisy take $3,000 in loans (in addition to the loans her original financial aid package included). Given that her daughter is, being well over eighteen, an adult, that’s certainly Karin’s prerogative, but at the same time– again, as an adult– Daisy should be free to make her own decisions. In the course of a lifetime, those few thousand dollars is a small price for Daisy to pay for her freedom and an ultimately trivial amount over which her mother is making a gesture simply to prove a point. (Ironically, her parents pulled financial support for the current spring quarter during which Daisy is actually living in a single-gender room. Co-ops often switch around room assignments each quarter as part of the consensus decision-making process.) I completely empathize and sympathize with Daisy as a member of a sometimes overbearing family and while I hope she works out this disagreement with her parents, I also hope she stays confident that she had and has the right to make her own choices.

The Stanford Copyright Integrity Initiative

If you follow my blog, you’ll know that I’ve commented often on file-sharing, copyright, and universities certainly more than a few times and while my blogging has been sparse lately, today’s announcement of “The Stanford Copyright Integrity Initiative” deserved spending some time on a blog post. The initiative was apparently “introduced by Stanford University to demonstrate the university’s leadership in efforts to strengthen the integrity of copyrights and intellectual property.” As early as a little before 10am this morning, my department (Student Computing/Residential Computing) received an email from a worried student– after reading the announcement on the front page of The Daily, the University’s student newspaper, the student visited riaa.stanford.edu (as directed in the article) and after entering his name, found that Stanford “has likely reported” his name to the RIAA, MPAA, or ESA. The student was both confused and worried– you see, after receiving his first copyright complaint a little while back, he hasn’t illegally downloaded a single song, movie or anything else! Has his computer been hacked? Did file-sharing somehow get accidentally enabled on his computer?

This truth is that this clever little stunt was part of the annual fake Daily published by the Stanford Chaparral (or the “Chappie” as it’s affectionately called), Stanford’s student humor magazine. The article is actually quite well-researched and well-written, including references to actual facts, such as the highly publicized “three strikes” policy” in which students not only face increasingly severe disciplinary actions for repeated DMCA violations and complaints, but are also charged increasing amounts of money through associated “reconnection fees.” The article also says that over thirty students have reached their third strike in the past year with settlements with the complaining record companies totaling over $100,000. While the numbers are about right– over thirty students and settlements totaling about $100,000 in the past year– they actually apply to the results of the record companies’ “pre-litigation letter” campaign that started in 2007 and in which they target college students all over the country with the threat of lawsuits. As part of the new “integrity initiative,” the article explains, Stanford is now scanning its network for DMCA violations and actively reports the culprits to the “RIAA and other appropriate authorities.” In the first day alone, the article continues, “78 unnamed students” have already been reported and the University’s IT organization “predicts that approximately 34% of Stanford undergraduates will be contacted by the end of Wednesday.” (That’s approximately 2,274 students.) The article goes on to direct students on how to find out if they’ve been flagged (via riaa.stanford.edu) and in turn, find legal help (the EFF gets a nod).

The article itself was pretty funny– Stanford, like other universities, has been spending increasing amounts of resources dealing with illegal file-sharing and copyright and personally, I think it was a good jab at how ludicrous the effects of the DMCA and intimidation tactics of the entertainment industry have become.* Just last week, I was summarizing the results from the annual undergraduate computing survey and many students commented on their dissatisfaction with the University’s handling of file-sharing and copyright issues, wishing Stanford would take a stronger stance against the RIAA and the MPAA’s efforts.

The website though… I don’t want to be a spoilsport, but aside from probably breaking some basic network usage policies (for setting up riaa.stanford.edu, use of the Stanford seal, etc.), the website took it a little too far. The reality is that since the first lawsuits targeting students (circa 2003), the University really has been stepping up their efforts to stop illegal file-sharing and punish repeat offenders and something like this initiative isn’t completely impossible. The reality is that over thirty Stanford students– peers and perhaps even friends of the Chappie staff members– really have been sent pre-litigation letters and really have had to pay approximately $100,000 in settlement deals. The reality is that the entertainment industry really is targeting college students– people who have little knowledge of their legal options and/or resources to defend themselves. When you enter your name and hit submit at riaa.stanford.edu, it looks like they use your name to randomly** give you either a thumbs up (you haven’t been reported) or thumbs down (you’ve already been reported and look forward to a letter in the next three to four weeks). I would hate to think that a student who’s already paid out thousands of dollars because of a pre-litigation letter was tricked into going to the website and got a thumbs down.

I don’t know how long the site will stay up and working, so if you’re curious, here are some screenshots, etc.:


* If you’re curious about Stanford’s actual policies on file-sharing and copyright, check out my department’s FAQ on File-Sharing & Copyright (also used by the General Counsel’s Office as well as the Information Security Office as the University’s “official” FAQ on the issue).

** It’s pseudorandom– the algorithm they’re using is deterministic. Unfortunately, no matter what Leland Stanford, Jr. does, he will always show up reported to the authorities.

Weirdest SWAG Ever: Ragtotes Tampon Holder

Ragtotes Tampon Holder
Originally uploaded by sindy

In the bag full of stuff at GHC, from Northwestern University Female Researchers in EECS– “At the Bleeding Edge.” We jokingly said it was a tampon holder, then we thought it was a pencil holder and then… we realized it’s right there on the box. It really is a tampon holder.


At first I thought, a) “what corporate gift catalog do you find that in?” and b) “isn’t there collective agreement that we shouldn’t be referring to menstruation as ‘the rag’? Or is this some kind of female empowerment thing where we’re trying to claim that word back?”

Anyway, check it out: ragtotes.com.

“Sindy is graduating” (Part 1)

Bill Cosby giving the Keynote
Originally uploaded by sindy.

That’s what I updated my Facebook status to via Blackberry as I waited in the Processional. So, in additional to being a Cardinal alum, I’m a Tartan alum now too. How did I end up going to two universities that used “colors” as their mascots? (Although, CMU has just adopted a Scottish Terrier as their official mascot similar to the way Stanford has the Tree.)

In any case, I have more to say in terms of reflecting on the last two years at CMU and what I think of the program now that I’ve come out the other side, but just a few thoughts on Commencement itself:

  1. First, two years of juggling work and school plus $50,000+ later: totally worth it to get to wear the special gown (with nifty Harry Potter-esque sleeves) and gold hood as a Masters candidate at graduation.
  2. Also kind of a novelty: to participate in a semi-orderly Processional. Masters and Doctoral candidates at Stanford enter the stadium with an orderly Processional, but Bachelors candidates enter with the famous Wacky Walk.
  3. Just in case you forgot how Scottish Andrew Carnegie and Andrew Mellon were, there was plenty of bagpipe action and Tartan plaid around to remind you. In fact, you can actually get a BFA in Instrumental Performance in Bagpipes.
  4. Gold– really a bright yellow– is the hood color for the School of Computer Science. I’m sure the color was chosen a thousand years ago and not to feed into stereotypes, but it’s not a particularly flattering color for Asian people. The irony.
  5. Instead of receiving my diploma on Sunday, I had it mailed to me. Why? Because a) CMU West graduates have their departmental ceremony in August out here on the Moffett Field campus and b) the diploma itself is apparently ginormous and it would have been too unwieldy to carry back on the plane with me. Why does it have to be so big? Are we trying to compensate for something?
  6. Sorry, Pittsburgh, but I see why they call it “the Pitt.” Getting a CMU education while also getting to stay in northern California was definitely worth it.

Otherwise, graduation was fun– there were a few showers early in the morning, but the weather cleared up in time for the Processional and Ceremony and I walked and sat with two of my former teammates. As I had mentioned before and as you can see from the photo, Bill Cosby was the keynote speaker as well as recipient of an Honorary Degree (Doctorate of Humane Letters). You might think it weird that a comedian and man who spent many years selling Jell-O pudding pops would be the keynote speaker at a college commencement ceremony, but what people don’t know or forget is that Cosby, aside from being a particularly influential and brilliant comedian and entertainer, is Dr. Cosby. He earned his BA from Temple University and then his MA (1972) and Ed.D. (1977) from the University of Massachusetts. Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids were an integral part of his Ed.D. dissertation and a commitment to education has always been reflected in his work. Definitely a recurring theme in The Cosby Show: remember all the college t-shirts and sweatshirts? Remember the episode where Theo thought that college wasn’t for him– that maybe he just wanted to be a “regular person?”

My point is that Cosby was an apt choice on a number of levels and in short, here’s a summary of the his address:

  • You are nerds. Embrace it. When high school ended and everybody else quit, you went on because you’re nerds. That’s a good thing.
  • Graduations, weddings, funerals– these are big events in your lives, but graduations are special in that there are less likely to be fights.
  • Now that you have graduated, don’t go back home. Get a job.
  • Cosby told an anecdote about when he was rising as a young comedian and was given a big opportunity, he lost his confidence and bombed. In the end, the lesson: be yourself.

All in all, pretty sound advice.