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We have been taking steps to make the CAT+FD site more secure. Most recently, we started serving all our content over a secure connection. From this point on, anytime you're visiting our site (including this blog) you may see "https://" at the beginning of the web address in your browser's location field. You may even see a little padlock symbol.

This varies from browser to browser, but here's how it looks on Chrome:

Secure connection (Chrome)

This means that all the content that flows back and forth between your browser and our site is encrypted, encoded, making it harder for anyone else to snoop.

Of course (unless you're CAT+FD staff) you probably aren't exchanging any sensitive data with our site. Still, it's a good idea, with increasing concern in recent years over civil liberties in an age of ubiquitous surveillance.

It might also be the wave of the future. More and more sites are supporting encryption. Google already favors secure sites in its search results.

Some browsers make it easy for you to examine a site's digital certificate. Here's how that looks in Safari:

Certificate in Safari

This shows you that we are who we claim to be. DigiCert is a third party that verifies Xavier's identity.

Sounds pretty good, right? In fact, you may wonder why all your web transactions aren't secure. Well, it's the same reason why we don't all engage in good password behavior. We know it's good in theory, but in practice we defer and delay. Some sites you visit undoubtedly do support secure transactions — but only if you ask for it. You can encrypt as much as possible by using a browser extension like the Electronic Frontier Foundations's HTTPS Everywhere, available for Chrome, Firefox, Opera and Android.

Thanks to ITC for helping us to implement HTTPS.

In an attempt to make students start working on a research project long before 24 hours from the due date, as well as discuss plagiarism and the pitfalls of research on the internet, I've been researching the internet myself.

I checked into Google Alerts.  I've been experimenting with setting up the searches and verifying the results.  It's quite easy to begin using immediately.  So I suggest that at the beginning of the course when discussing the syllabus, instructors take about 5 minutes to have the students set up a Google Alert on their mobile devices for each possible research topic they may wish to explore.

For Google Alerts, there is very little to fill out and you can specify how often to receive notification that matches to your search have been found:

Google Alerts is fast and simple to use
Google Alerts is fast and simple to use.

By having the students set up weekly alerts and seeing that they can limit their searches instead of being overwhelmed with a million hits, it is hoped that at least once a week (or however often they have set up the alert), they will be thinking about their research project throughout the semester rather than at the last minute.  Happy searching!

A funny thing happened on the web yesterday. Many of the most popular sites went dark, either blocking access to their content entirely or making symbolic gestures of protest. Visitors to Wikipedia were directed to contact their Congressional representatives about certain pending legislation, but Wikipedia's actual articles were unavailable. It was in fact the largest online protest in history. And it wasn't just online; people were marching in the streets in New York, San Francisco, Las Vegas, and Seattle.

These stunts were designed to broaden awareness of SOPA and PIPA. Apparently, it worked. I was contacted by a couple of professors here at Xavier who wanted to know what it's all about. They were surprised when they couldn't access Wikipedia.

So, I thought I'd offer this brief primer. SOPA — That's the Student Oral Proficiency Assessment right?

Wrong. SOPA is actually the Stop Online Piracy Act. PIPA is the Protect Intellectual Property Act. SOPA is a bill in the House; PIPA's in the Senate. These measures have support from the entertainment industry but are generally opposed by the internet industry. Think of it as Hollywood versus Silicon Valley. However, this is not just a "Clash of the Titans." The consensus amongst advocates of free speech and the open internet is that SOPA/PIPA are highly problematic.

As writer Brian Barrett explains,

SOPA is an anti-piracy bill working its way through Congress that would grant content creators extraordinary power over the internet which would go almost comedically unchecked to the point of potentially creating an "Internet Blacklist" while exacting a huge cost from nearly every site you use daily and potentially disappearing your entire digital life while still managing to be both unnecessary and ineffective but stands a shockingly good chance of passing unless we do something about it.

That's the case against SOPA in a nutshell. Here's a short video that makes the same case:

For more facts, consider CNET's list of frequently asked questions.

See also: A typically strident statement from The Pirate Bay.

How do things stand after the protests of January 18? According to Forbes, SOPA is "unlikely to recover, at least in its present form." President Obama has all but indicated he'll use his veto power to stop the legislation. An alternative bill, OPEN, has been introduced in the House. Meanwhile, protests continue. With as much as has been invested in this legislation so far, you can bet the fight isn't over. Anyone who uses the internet should be concerned and stay informed.