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A fond farewell to an OTS friend

Brenda Yarema and Alex

Brenda Yarema with her husband Alex.

OTS Network Project Engineer Brenda Yarema will be retiring from TU as of April 1, taking with her decades of institutional knowledge and insight. Though her retirement is well-deserved, she will be greatly missed.

Brenda started working at TU more than 20 years ago spending much of her time in Academic Computing and the Office of Technology Services (formerly known as CANS). Her work has contributed to the success of many OTS projects including, but certainly not limited to, the installation of the original TU network, the refresh of the current campus data network, wireless network installations and the development of TU’s current VoIP phone system.

Active in the Council of University System Staff (CUSS) and the Towson University Staff Council (TUSC), which she chaired for three years, Brenda unabashedly participated in important shared governance issues pertinent to staff on campus and across the state.  Brenda can also be credited with co-creating and implementing (alongside other dedicated TU staff) the first Staff Development Conference.  She has been a tireless advocate at the Maryland State Legislature and has worked on several state and national political campaigns.

Brenda’s future plans involve a trip to Poznan, Poland to teach English as a Second Language (ESL) this summer. Brenda and her husband Alex spent part of last summer there and loved the experience so much that they signed up for a second trip. In the short term, the couple plans to pack the car and hit the road, touring states they didn’t have time to visit when they were working full time.  They look forward to being free spirits for a while—traveling with no plans and no agendas.

“It has been a pleasure to work these past twenty plus years at Towson University,” Brenda said. “I am truly grateful to have worked with many professional people, for the many personal friendships I have made, and the numerous favorable opportunities I have encountered. It has been a great place to work.”

Best wishes to Brenda in her retirement and many thanks for 20 years of great work.

Did you work with Brenda? Leave her well-wishes for retirement in the comments section below!

Written by Joanne Bracken

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Business travel becoming easier for campus

byline photo of Brian Starkloff

By Brian Starkloff

Business travel is getting an upgrade. With the help of consulting firm Gideon Taylor, Financial Services and OTS are developing a new business travel system that will move the current paper-based process online. The project has been years in the making.

“I saw a demo of a similar system at the University of Maryland, Baltimore about two years ago and liked the software,” said Associate Director of Financial Services Sue Brodie, who initiated the project. “I knew it would work well for Towson. I spoke to [Comptroller] Debbie Asbury and [CIO] Jeff Schmidt and they were onboard for the joint project.”

The project moved into high gear this fall with the support of executive management and the Enterprise Information Technology Committee (EITC). The project team started out by convening focus groups with representatives from across campus who are involved in business travel. Together, they helped to shape the new system, which includes an online interface with electronic forms and routing to make the entire process simpler and faster for TU’s business travelers.

The project aims to help travelers plan their trips, with easy access to authorization requests for approval, expense reporting and more. In the new system, travelers will even be able to track how far along they are in each approval process, giving them a better understanding of when to anticipate approval and reimbursement.

Project leads Mardette Wetzelberger and Karen Michalak expect to launch the new system this summer with the help of team members Cyndi Zile, Ella Watts, Raza Hasan and Jay Amballa. Feedback and guidance from campus representatives will also play a key part in the development and implementation of the system.

For updates on the project, stay tuned to T3 and the business travel website.

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What’s ‛APPening in OTS?

by Bob Cave

Apps, apps, apps!  There are camera apps, music apps, cooking apps, and productivity apps. We may not all have washboard “apps,” but we do have apps for laps on maps. And, afterward, we’ve apps for naps. We’ll use an app to buy a cap, or just to find another app. The rapping, tapping, yapping apps might lead us all to drinking schnapps (or those less spirited to making frappes). But apps have got us and there’ll be no relapse.

If you are a smartphone user, you probably rely on a number of favorite apps to stay informed, organized, and entertained.  And, if you’re like me, your mind is bursting with important questions, such as “is there an app out there of which I am not yet aware that is perfectly suited to my needs?” (Yes, yes, I will get a life. But first, let me finish this article.) It is that question which compels me to read anything titled “Top __ Apps” and has me thinking about my own professional backyard.

So, what apps are favored by the “tappers and swipers” of OTS? Well, I asked – and here’s what I learned:

Among the 19 OTS staffers who kindly responded, there was no clear Top 10, or even Top 5. But considering that the number of available apps is in the high hundreds of thousands and that users are rarely without them, it probably shouldn’t surprise us that app collections are as varied and personal as their owners. But you, fine reader, want names and numbers.

Of the 89 distinct apps identified in this not-even-remotely-scientific survey, here is a rundown of those mentioned more than once:

Apps identified by at least two respondents comprise our third place category; they are “CamScanner,” “Evernote,” “Facebook,” “Google Drive,” “Google Maps,” “Instagram,” “LastPass,” “Mint,” “OneNote,” “Remember the Milk,” “Shazam,” “The Simpsons Tapped Out,” “Waze,” “Yelp!,” and “YouTube.”

Identified by three respondents, “GasBuddy” took second place. And, with five fans each, “Flashlight” and “TowsonU” tied for first. Interestingly enough, these top apps are both well suited for those seeking illumination, albeit in different contexts. If you’re unfamiliar with the “TowsonU” app, why not give it try? It really is useful.

Finally, the also-ran “Fart Studio” deserves honorable mention owing to its high-ranking source, but don’t expect me to divulge that source any time soon.

If you want to learn more about these titles, run them through your favorite web search engine or install a few on your smartphone and give them a spin—every title mentioned here is free. Enjoy your apps!

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Microsoft Lync, a Great New Program for Everyone

The digital age is a fascinating era; computer and Internet technologies allow unprecedented new ways to share and get information and communicate. As a university, we here at Towson are lucky enough to use this technology for learning, teaching, conducting business, growing and evolving, and generally sharing and extending the Towson experience – in short, we get to take full advantage of the digital age.

Unfortunately, there are disadvantages to technology – as we all know. For all the benefits, technology also creates new problems to be solved. The numerous programs, passwords, websites and so on can quickly stir up a headache – to say nothing of “efail,” as Michael Bachman, OTS, has termed the overwhelming tangle of emails we all know so well.

Enter Microsoft Lync, a new program available free of charge to all TU faculty and staff. Students can attend faculty/staff hosted meetings.. Lync is a one-stop shop for communications. It offers video chats, video conferences, telecommuting and instant messenger. Do you want to make sure so-and-so knows that you received their last email, but don’t want to send another email? Send them a quick instant message! Voila, less inbox clutter! Do you need to walk to a meeting across campus, but it’s raining outside? Video Conference! (Admittedly, you should probably use an umbrella instead of Lync, but the point is that you could use Lync.)

But wait! There’s more! (This is turning into an infomercial) You can set up online meetings with invites that sync directly to Outlook calendars. You now have an alternative to acquiring a WebEx host account and passwords. Multiple users can collaborate and work on the same document, at the same time. Tired of holding a telephone? Lync can do conference calls!

But wait, that’s not all it does! Lync has more features than I have time to tell you about, and its versatility means the possibilities are ENDLESS!

Lync is like everything Billy Mayes ever sold combined into the ultimate, most awesome thing ever, and then you called in the next 10 minutes for twice as much awesomeness at no extra cost (except separate S&H)…
… BUT BETTER!!

So call in the next 10 minutes!

But really, go online and take the Lync tutorial NOW to be entered to win a prize. Seriously, I’m not joking about the prize drawing.

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TU Innovation: OTS & TechHelp

By Eric VanLieshout & Michael Bachman

In August 2012, OTS began phasing in a new Web-based service called TechHelp. The key goals were to better manage and track technology-related service requests, solve problems faster, and deliver service more efficiently and effectively. TechHelp is now in full production, and while the implementation stage is complete, the system will continue to evolve and expand to meet campus needs. To say that the goals were met would be an understatement – the new TechHelp system has exceeded all initial expectations. So far, this system has handled 14,457 requests.

The TechHelp project was headed-up by Mark Addy, Director of Enterprise Services and Michael Bachman, Director of Information Technology Client Services. Both report to Jeff Schmidt, AVP/CIO. Bachman recently explained in an interview that TechHelp is more than an issue reporting and tracking tool. The system has powerful features that facilitate communication between solution providers in OTS and their faculty, staff, and student users. “TechHelp empowers our clients through features like self-service problem reporting, ability to check progress of requests, and dynamic FAQs that can answer common questions without having to wait for a response” according to Bachman.

If anyone is unfamiliar with using the TechHelp system, here is an overview of how the self-service feature works. Towson faculty, staff and students log into the system at http://techhelp.towson.edu with their NetID, then select the role associated with the “Request Type” (either employee or student). Successive drop down menus present options that help the user narrow down and pinpoint the specific problem or topic. A problem report from a faculty member in a classroom can be tracked right down to the building, room number, and specific device.

Once the Request Type is complete, users can type in additional notes and information, if necessary, attach a file, and then click Save to send the report directly to OTS. Once submitted, users can view the entire conversation or email thread and not only track but also interact with the processing of their request. This also does away with fractured, incomplete and disjointed email threads and the miscommunications that go with them, a troublesome phenomenon Bachman has termed “efail.”

The system is available 24/7. During business hours, staff members in the Faculty/Staff Help Center, Student Computing Services, and other intake points in OTS use the system to record telephone and email requests, providing a comprehensive history from initial report to resolution to client satisfaction. The ultimate use of TechHelp, in Bachman’s view, is to collect incident data that can then be used to identify recurring problems and patterns—then, using this information, develop solutions that prevent problems before they arise. OTS can create reports with TechHelp that sort requests by type, building, location and other criteria; this allows OTS to pinpoint a problematic room or building, or discover another specific pervasive issue and address the overarching problem, instead of responding to numerous individual service requests about the same classroom or building.

The TechHelp system is also astoundingly user-friendly for those without much knowledge of computers and technology. Bachman, Addy and the OTS team are serious about service excellence and effective communication and with the campus community; all the menus and options in TechHelp are expressed in layman’s terms, in plain English. You don’t have to know the entire OTS organizational chart to use the system. For example, “Enterprise Systems Engineering” is not on the menu, but you will find “Email, Outlook, Exchange, Calendars, etc.” which most people can relate to.

Classroom and Computer Lab Technologies (CCLT) was one of the first areas of TechHelp to go live. OTS administers the $3+ million Student Technology Fee budget which funds an enormous amount of the audiovisual and computer technology that students and faculty use daily in any of Towson University’s 400+ smart classrooms and computer labs. Maintaining the innovative CCLT program is paramount in facilitating the academic pursuits at the university, and teachers and students need the full advantage of this technology to provide the modern education expected at TU.

Recently, TechHelp allowed OTS to work with a TU Biology professor on a way to capture his in-class audio descriptions of the slides in his PowerPoint presentations so students could review and study class material. He plans to link the presentations through Blackboard. He submitted his original request through TechHelp as a general question on what type of microphone he should buy. OTS met with him shortly afterwards, reviewed his needs and goals, and then identified a small USB microphone to use with Microsoft Lync. The microphone is on order, and within a week or so, OTS plans to turn it over to the instructor to try in his classes. If it works, it could solve not just the professor’s capture need but also provide a solution for people with medical conditions or disabilities who need an easy-to-use portable amplification solution in the classroom.

The success of TechHelp lies in the way it facilitates collaborative solutions. As they planned and ran the project, Bachman and Addy worked to get people from all areas of OTS involved in developing the TechHelp system. The implementation project, originally given the codename iTraq, was an extensive in-house effort, instead of relying on outside development companies. This allowed Bachman and Addy to designate project teams that took advantage of their colleagues’ unique skills and apply them to the greatest effect. For example, those with a background or interest in English worked on communication, etc. etc.

To put it simply, Bachman and Addy let their OTS colleagues shine and work to their full potential. Perhaps, Bachman admits, an outside developer could have launched the system in less time; TechHelp was huge, sprawling effort. But faced with the task again, he says, “I wouldn’t change a thing. Sure, there are things we could improve as a project, but the distribution of work, ownership, teamwork, and collaboration throughout the process was a unifying exercise that brought people together from diverse areas for a common goal.” In the end, TechHelp is by Towson, for Towson, and those who built it understand the needs of the university as only an insider can.

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OTS Team Steps Out

By Samantha Knight

By Samantha Knight

The OTS Information Technology Support Centers Team (OTS Training, Web Team, CIAT, Multimedia Services, Instructional Design, and Blackboard groups) has made an effort to step out of the office and become more familiar with the people and places around Towson University.  Recently, we were fortunate to visit two different sites in one week.

The week started with a tour of the redesigned television studio located in the Media Center.  The studio is used for Electronic Media and Film classes, as well as for production of WMJF-TV.com shows.  David Reiss, associate professor in the Electronic Media and Film Department and technical coordinator of WMJF-TV.com, explained the updated control room and was able to demonstrate to us the virtual sets that are now available.  Some of us tried out the set while others stayed back in the control room to see the magic happen.  It was very exciting, especially for all the video people on our team! 2012-11-16 15.38.49

Later in the week, we had a private tour with Mike Harris from Athletics around the new Tiger Arena.  We took an hour out of the day and ventured over to the new building to see the seats being installed, walls being built, and many other projects that were going on during that time.  Mike explained where they were in the timeline and what will be built over the next few months. We’re very excited to go back at the beginning of May to see the finished product!

2012-11-16 15.52.08

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A Seasonal Favorite with an SCS Twist

By Bob Cave

Grateful for this first opportunity to address A&F staff through this blog, my inclination was to share some information about my own unit: Student Computing Services (SCS). After all, who doesn’t enjoy settling into a squashy armchair by a frosted window pain, hot beverage in hand, to read about technology services?

But, before you scroll away, consider that this review of services has been liberally seasoned for the upcoming holidays. So, find your note and sing along to the tune of “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” If you memorize this, you will never be at a loss to extol the benefits of SCS in an exceedingly entertaining fashion. We’ll call it our gift to you. No thanks are necessary (or for that matter, warranted).

The Twelve Days of Service
A High-spirited Holiday Ode to Student Computing Services

On the first day of service
Gave SCS to me
a fixed laptop with USB

On the second day of service
Gave SCS to me
two awesome labs
and a fixed laptop with USB

On the third day of service
Gave SCS to me
three forms scanned[i]
two awesome labs
and a fixed laptop with USB

On the fourth day of service
Gave SCS to me
four camera loans[ii]
three forms scanned
two awesome labs
and a fixed laptop with USB

On the fifth day of service
Gave SCS to me
five puzzles solved!
four camera loans
three forms scanned
two awesome labs
and a fixed laptop with USB

On the sixth day of service
Gave SCS to me
six nerves a’fraying
five puzzles solved!
four camera loans
three forms scanned
two awesome labs
and a fixed laptop with USB

On the seventh day of service
Gave SCS to me
seven posters printing
six nerves a’fraying
five puzzles solved!
four camera loans
three forms scanned
two awesome labs
and a fixed laptop with USB

On the eighth day of service
Gave SCS to me
eight techs consulting
seven posters printing
six nerves a’fraying
five puzzles solved!
four camera loans
three forms scanned
two awesome labs
and a fixed laptop with USB

On the ninth day of service
Gave SCS to me
nine green screen sessions[iii]
eight techs consulting
seven posters printing
six nerves a’fraying
five puzzles solved!
four camera loans
three forms scanned
two awesome labs
and a fixed laptop with USB

On the tenth day of service
Gave SCS to me
ten Lynda[iv] lessons
nine green screen sessions
eight techs consulting
seven posters printing
six nerves a’fraying
five puzzles solved!
four camera loans
three forms scanned
two awesome labs
and a fixed laptop with USB

On the eleventh day of service
Gave SCS to me
eleven ResNet rescues
ten Lynda lessons
nine green screen sessions
eight techs consulting
seven posters printing
six nerves a’fraying
five puzzles solved!
four camera loans
three forms scanned
two awesome labs
and a fixed laptop with USB

On the twelth day of service
Gave SCS to me
twelve Wi-Fi setups
eleven green screen sessions
ten Lynda lessons
nine ResNet rescues
eight techs consulting
seven posters printing
six nerves a’fraying
five puzzles solved!
four camera loans
three forms scanned
two awesome labs
and a fixed laptop with USB


[i] SCS offers optical form scanning for academic purposes.

[ii] SCS offers Gear2Go equipment loans for students, staff and faculty.

[iii] SCS offers media production space and assistance in the SCS Studio.

[iv] SCS manages a set of Lynda.com online learning accounts for student use.

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OTS TechHelp System Coming this Fall

by Mark Addy

So what’s the buzz coming out of the Office of Technology Services (OTS) this summer?  It’s all about TechHelp, the new service request tracking system that is being readied for fall implementation, with the goals of standardizing the intake and tracking of client requests throughout OTS, while providing clients improvements in logging, monitoring and interacting with their service requests.

The project was announced to OTS staff by CIO Jeff Schmitt in late May.  “My goal,” he said, “is to improve customer service by simplifying our intake process and becoming more efficient at how we conduct business behind the scenes in OTS.”  He identified specific goals involving the handling of service requests, the development of clear metrics and consistent reporting, and the procedures for maintaining TechHelp over the long haul.  He also named OTS directors Mark Addy and Michael Bachman as project managers.

Addy and Bachman established eight project teams to facilitate specific aspects of TechHelp implementation, including the development of OTS-wide standards and practices, a comprehensive understanding of the workflow associated with resolving all service requests, system configuration and installation, testing, reporting, and ongoing quality assurance.  Work on the project ensued quickly, and many OTS employees have contributed their efforts throughout the summer.  Now TechHelp is nearing readiness for a phased-in launch later this month.

Addy is enthusiastic about the benefits of TechHelp within OTS; he said, “Good service organizations are friendly, fast, detail oriented, and more than anything, extremely consistent. In addition, successful service organizations have methods for measuring and reporting on how they’re doing, and can easily identify areas where process improvement will result in quicker issue resolution for the customer or where the same service can be performed with less effort.”

Later this fall, OTS will deploy new client-side TechHelp features to the campus.  TechHelp will include a self-service portal for University employees to submit and monitor their own service requests, and the ability to interact with those requests via email updates.  Bachman states, “it will allow people to report problems or initiate support requests 24/7 – or even better, not have to submit a request at all since the system will provide immediate answers to frequently asked questions. The system will be made available to college and departmental technology service providers, too. They are a valued and critical part of the overall campus technology support network and we’re delighted to extend the system’s capabilities to make their jobs easier.”

Additional information about TechHelp will appear in Daily Digest articles as the implementation proceeds.

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Tip of the Month: How to Use Screen Capture Tool

Word 2010 features a built in screen capture tool. You can quickly and easily add a screenshot to your Office file to enhance the readability or capture information without leaving the program that you are working in. You can use it to take a picture of all or part of the windows open on your computer.

  1. Open the program, browser session or workspace that you want to take the screenshot from.
  2. Open the Microsoft Office application that you want to add the screenshot to.
  3. Place your cursor in the section of the Office document you want the screenshot to be added to
  4. On the Insert tab, in the Illustrations group (Images Group in PowerPoint), click Screenshot.
  5. The Available Windows menu appears. To add the whole window, click the thumbnail in the Available Windows gallery.
  6. To add part of the window, click Screen Clipping.
  7. The Microsoft program will minimize and the screen will become grey. The mouse pointer will become a cross.
  8. Press and hold the left mouse button and drag to select the area of your screen that you want to capture.
  9. Release the mouse button and the image will be automatically inserted into Word.
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Meet the Staff: Nisar Ahmad Khan

By Nisar Ahmad Khan

I was born in Abbottabad, Pakistan, and I was educated as a mechanical engineer there. Well known as one of Pakistan’s best hill resorts, Abbottabad lies along the Karakoram Highway (also known as the Silk Route) to China. Many tourists come here because of the beauty, but also because Abbottabad is a gateway to China, India, and the Himalayas.

After getting a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, I worked for my  family’s business for about eight months.  We built hotels, food courts, restaurants, and a family park, and offered mountain biking for our guests. After that, I wanted to get a master’s degree in the U.S. and asked my family for financial help to do this.  In exchange for their support, I wanted to give back and expressed interest in building a scenic lift for them in Abbottabad which would provide jobs for the town people and attract tourists to our businesses. 

After graduation from Oklahoma City University, I jumped into the lift project, which included setting up the ground profile and terrain. Then I bought a ski lift from Aspen, Colorado, and shipped thirteen 40-foot containers to Pakistan. On my own and through on-line classes, I learned the engineering software program, Autocad, to design the ground profile.

Because of my mechanical engineering background, I did all preliminary designs before passing the project on to an engineering firm in Spokane, Washington.  They did the final design, and the scenic lift is now under construction in Abbottabad.  If all goes according to plan, the lift will open at the end of the year.  I will be there to participate in the opening when I return to Pakistan over the holiday break in December 2012.

With my interest in engineering and design, I decided to take on another project in Pakistan:  completely renovating my family’s home.  I learned chief architect software, teaching me how to design new houses and renovate old ones.  I wanted to significantly enlarge the home, increasing the square footage from 3,000 to 10,000, and create a more open, airy design. I developed my own multilevel architectural style, combining split level and colonial styles. 

A third project of mine back home in Pakistan is the creation of a water turbine, or duct tunnel, to carry water from a nearby river to the family compound.  The turbine produces 200 kilowatts of electricity to supply all homes in the compound, as well as the family flour mill. 

While these projects are underway in Pakistan, I support the TU Office of Technology Services as senior lead application developer, making Baltimore my U.S. home.  This past winter, I became a U.S. citizen, something I am very proud of.  I love to travel the world in my “spare time,” and have visited several places in Canada, as well as Dubai, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia.  Because I enjoy helping people, I have assisted flood and earthquake victims in Pakistan.  As you can probably tell, I like to have my hands in many projects at one time.

Oh, one more thing: I play a mean game of racquetball with my TU colleagues!

Interior of the home Nisar helped remodel on his family’s compound in Pakistan.

The water turbine Nisar designed generates 200 kilowatts of electricity for his family’s compound.

 

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