COMSOL workshop on HMC campus

A: “Dude, where’s my car? I need to drive to L.A. to attend the COMSOL workshop.”
B: “What car? And for what? Dude, did you miss the COMSOL workshop in the Learning Studio classroom last month?”
A: “Doh!” 

That’s right. CIS brought the COMSOL workshop to our campus on Friday, January 28th. It attracted a large turnout: 28 participants from Harvey Mudd (22), CMC (2), Pomona (1), CGU (1) and Keck (2). We were especially excited to see the majority of the participants were from HMC.

The workshop was led by Dr. Mina Sierou from COMSOL, Inc..  During the first half of the workshop, she covered an overview of COMSOL Multiphysics Version 4.1 by creating a simple model to explain its capabilities, basic usages and new user interface. And for the rest of the workshop, participants tried the new COMSOL 4.1 on their own laptops and asked a lot of questions they had had for a COMSOL expert.

This event was successful not only in CIS’ point of view but also in faculty participants’ perspectives. “I thought the workshop was quite effective.  …  I would recommend it to students as an time-effective way to get up to speed on the basics of COMSOL.” said Prof. David Harris from Engineering Department. We are working to offer another on-campus COMSOL workshop in Fall. So, Dude A, please stay tuned!

Visit for more information on free/non-free COMSOL seminars and training sessions.

Paper or Plastic? Reader or Acrobat?

Your Help Desk team has responded to several Adobe inquiries recently, specifically Adobe’s Reader and Acrobat programs.  There can be some confusion when working with these two programs… so with my first issue of Keith’s Tech Tips, I’d like to help demystify these programs so users understand when to use one versus the other.  

Adobe Reader:
The Adobe Reader program is a free, limited-feature program originally designed to simply view (or “read”, hence the name) PDF files.  Nowadays, it can do a bit more than view PDFs but it is still used primarily for reading existing PDF documents.  Because of the popularity of the PDF format, the Adobe Reader program is a “must have” on both Macs and PCs.

Adobe Acrobat:
Many folks mistakenly think Adobe’s Acrobat it is a word processing program for creating/editing PDF files. In reality, Acrobat is a conversion program designed to take an existing document, such as a Word document… and “convert it” into a PDF document.

Although you can edit existing PDFs using Acrobat, I wouldn’t recommend it and here’s why:

  • It wasn’t originally designed with editing functionality in mind
  • Editing features are very clunky, as if an afterthought and difficult to learn
  • The learning curve is steep and most users will run out of patience before mastery

Since most users are already familiar with Word… you can save yourself some frustration by simply editing the existing Word document using “Word” first… then converting it again into another PDF using Acrobat. However, if you’re not already well organized, this process can lead to multiple iterations of the same document. Hey, there’s fodder for a future issue! (Hello Mudder, Hello Fodder… sing along if you know the lyrics… all together now!)

What’s Next?
Many times when you’re wanting to just view a PDF file and you double-click on the PDF icon… it opens up inside Acrobat (the conversion program) when you’re expecting (or wanting) it to open up inside Reader (the viewing program). This has to do with “file association” and I will cover that (and the easy fix) in detail in next month’s issue.

Stay tuned:
For more of Keith’s Tech Tips
Tnology! (Technology with the “ech” taken out!)

Chem4Word – chemistry plugin for MS Word

Microsoft Research and the University of Cambridge have released a free open source plug-in for Microsoft Word  which “aims to simplify the authoring of chemical information in Microsoft Word, specifically the inclusion of chemical structures, and demonstrate how scientific information can be captured at the authoring stage to more accurately represent the chemical content, create high-quality depictions, contribute to simpler prepublication processes and richer information discovery scenarios, and preserve chemical information for archival purposes.”

Read more about it here.  Get the Chem4Word plugin here:

Facebook of Science?

Fascinating article in the Chronicle ( about Vitek Tracz, who founded Biomed Central publications (and sold it to Springer).  His latest idea:

Now, the man described by his colleagues as one of the most innovative and mercurial forces in publishing wants to reinvent the basics of scholarly communication. Mr. Tracz plans to turn his latest Internet experiment, a large network of leading scientists called the Faculty of 1000, into what some call “the Facebook of science” and a force that will change the nature of peer review. His vision is to transform papers from one-shot events owned by publishers into evolving discussions among those researchers, authors, and readers.

What do you think about this?

Spring 2011 A Bite of Learning Series

The Spring 2011 A Bite of Learning series will be starting up next week on Tuesday, February 8th at 12:15-1:00 in the Hoch Shanahan Aviation Room. We’ve got a great line up for A Bite of Learning this spring. At the first session next week I’ll be talking about Sakai 3, also known as the Sakai Open Academic Environment (OAE). This is a brand new version of Sakai that is under development by the Sakai community. I’ll talk about some of the concepts underlying the new design and do a demo on the Sakai 3 sandbox site. Other topics this spring include Prof. Katherine Maloney and Eric Ditwiler talking about their experiences using the iClickers for assessment purposes and Prof. Jeff Groves, Prof. Bob Borrelli and Prof. Bill Alves presenting the projects that were funded by our Faculty Technology Innovation grants last summer. Sam Kome from Honnold/Mudd Library will speak about Sherlock Search and other new services at the Library and Prof. Vatche Sahakian will talk about his experiences with lecture capture. We also have a special presentation by Prof. Tim Tangherlini from UCLA, who will present on Tools & Techniques for Automated Literary Analysis.

You can view the full schedule on the CIS web site at:

January 2011 update from the CIO

Here is the January update from CIS.

Trees in Winter (flickr photo by fdtate)

We currently have three open positions at CIS:

  • Director, Systems and Network
  • Database, Workflow and Reporting Developer
  • Director, Administration and Budget (not yet advertised)

For the first two positions, we are doing some initial phone screening interviews.  I am extremely happy with the quality of candidates that are applying.  And thanks to all those who referred candidates to us.  Watch for news of hires in the next two months.

The winter break always provides us with an opportunity to upgrade systems and make improvements.  We’ve made a number of improvements in the Audiovisual systems, which Elizabeth wrote about at

We let you know in the Fall about our plans to purchase new copiers and printers.  Those plans are now well under way, and some new systems have been deployed around campus.   We are grateful to the many people who gave us feedback during the selection process, and to staff at CUC for giving us information about their systems.  Calvin has written an article about the new copiers and printers at

Unfortunately, we experienced a compromise of some servers in early January.  I wrote a brief article about it at This was a very sobering experience and we were lucky to have avoided serious problems.   Coincidentally, I had been in discussions with security companies that provide vulnerability scanning services.  I have speeded up those discussions. If you run a server and are interested in validating your security measures by having a vulnerability scan conducted, please get in touch with me.

The LabSTOR project has gone live!  I wrote about this at  This multi-college national collaboration has slowly been bearing fruit and we are now within sight of the day when people can get remote access to specialized software from anywhere they have a network connection.

I have mentioned in previous posts that we are taking an experimental approach to finding applications, processes and systems that work for Harvey Mudd College.  In that vein, we are anticipating two small pilot projects during the Spring.  One will look at the use of LiveScribe pens to create Lab Notebooks.  We’ll also be conducting some research and testing of approaches to streaming video for instructional use (eg. if an instructor wants students to have access to a movie). Contact Elizabeth Hodas if you are interested in either of these pilots.

We recently added the early decision students to the Harvey Mudd on  Facebook Application. The Communications department, Admission and DOS are currently working on a new “landing page” for incoming students and are planning to make even more use of the Facebook App in the process.  It’s a great way to welcome new students into the Mudd community, so we hope you’ll visit at

Upcoming news items, which you should watch for in February, include:

  • Bite of Learning for Spring — Elizabeth has put together an impressive roster of Bite sessions.
  • More notes on Cloud Computing
  • Identity Management update
  • Email and Calendar update
  • Tech Tips from Keith Lawton
  • News from CUC about the Payroll system

We are well into the semester now.  On behalf of everyone at CIS, I wish you a successful Spring.

Joseph Vaughan

CIO/VP for Computing and Information Services