Tagged: Google

How I Almost Fell for the “Google Docs” Phishing Scam

Less than an hour ago, I received an email saying that a former student has invited me to view a Google Docs document. I hovered over the link and saw that URL was one at Google, beginning with https://accounts.google.com/o/oauth2/auth.

I followed the link and went to a Google login page. My Google accounts were listed there. But a suspicious feeling gave me pause, and I closed the “Google accounts” window.

Some moments ago, I learned that this wasn’t an ordinary phishing attempt. It is one of the more clever phishing attempts in recent memory.

  1. You get an email from a known contact.
  2. The “Open in Docs” link is to a google.com domain.
  3. You are taken to a Google accounts page, where you grant access to the fake “Google Docs” app.

The scam is “well designed” in that it doesn’t try to steal your credentials—username and password—but instead gets you to authorize the scammers complete access to your Google account. Even a strong unique password and two-step authentication won’t protect you.

I alerted a few colleagues earlier today, and as I did so, I felt like I was forwarding some chain mail–type warning that would have circulated twenty-odd years ago.

Late to the OCR Party

I’m embarrassed to admit that I don’t use OCR for converting documents into plain text as much as I probably should. It is a very handy utility, and it is one that computers have been doing for a long time. Indeed, I remember using OCR in college, at the computer lab where I worked, scanning a single page of print and watching the software read it and turn it into plain text with astonishing accuracy. It seemed like magic.

And what did I do with that magical text? I took that text, put it in a Word document, and printed it out.

Today, there’s many more useful things to do with OCR, particularly for scholars and academics. One example is to share the text of historical primary documents instead of an image files of the documents.1 For years, I have been sharing with my students readings as PDF files, but in the mobile-first era of the web, it makes much more sense to share a webpage that someone can easily read on a mobile device, instead of a PDF that they have to pinch-and-zoom—or even print out—to read.

Earlier this week, I began sharing with my students plain text files, instead of PDF scans, of readings not available in their textbooks. Doing this yields some benefits:

  • They can read the text on mobile devices.
  • Visually impaired students can use a screen reading device to “read” the document.
  • They can search the text.
  • They can resize the text, either bigger or smaller.
  • They can parse the text to read with a browser utility like Apple’s Safari Reader or a read-later application like Instapaper.
  • They will appreciate the much smaller file size, like 100 times smaller, especially for students using a mobile device.

If sharing readings as plain text instead of PDF files makes so much sense, what took me so long?

Honestly, I didn’t know what tool I should use. I can’t remember the software I first used in 1997, but it’s safe to assume it doesn’t exist anymore. Acrobat offers OCR, but I haven’t had a Creative Cloud license since the days of Creative Suite 3. Although I have a lot of apps that can scan and convert to text, such as the one for a Doxie scanner or PDFPen+Scan for iOS, most of these readings are in PDF already. I don’t want to print and scan them just to do OCR.

Lo and behold, Google Drive converts PDF to text. I just learned about this yesterday, and I like the results. To use Google Drive for OCR, follow these three steps:

  1. Upload your PDF file to Google Drive, if it’s not there already.
  2. Right-click on the file
  3. Select Open With > Google Docs

After a few minutes, depending on the size of your document, you can see the converted text. The results are pretty good. Obviously, the clearer and better your text, the more accurate the OCR will be. One cool feature is that it “respects” the pagination and hyphenation of your original document. If your document has page headers or page footers, those will appear. Since I’m interested in capturing only the text—not the pagination or hyphenation—of the document, I have to remove those from my final text document.

The nice thing about having a plain text document is that you can lightly format it as needed. Since I use Markdown, I recommend using a Markdown-capable text editor to parse the text. You’ll have a relatively unadulterated text file and can export it to any format you want from there. You can export to PDF, unstyled HTML, or RTF. And as I did with my first try at OCR in 1997, you can even print it.


  1. One of my big complaints about #kidstoday is that are keen to share screenshots of a website—or worse, a photos of computer display with the browser window—instead of sharing the URL of the site. 

Office 365 for Students at CUNY Queens College, but Not Faculty or Staff

Earlier this week, I attended a group session about Microsoft’s Office 365, the productivity software and services subscription. Of the four colleges where I have taught, the suite has been offered at only one: CUNY Queens College. However, as far as I know, Office 365 is only available to currently enrolled students and, strangely, not available to faculty or staff.

In today’s session, the session coordinator and a number of participants, including many who also teach at CUNY, insisted that faculty and staff have access to Office 365. I was a little embarrassed to have been corrected in a semi-public setting like that.

After searching various help documents on the Queens College website, it appears that I was right and everyone else was wrong. Office 365 is not available to faculty or staff at CUNY Queens College, only currently enrolled students.

A response from the IT Help Desk at Queens College also confirms this as much:

The Office 365 is for attending students only. Faulty and staff do however have the Office suite on their campus computers. They can also download a copy of Office 2016 through the CUNYPortal e-mall for home use. https://cunyportal.cuny.edu/cuny_eMall/

This I knew. I have a local version of Office 2016 for Home and Business on my Mac, but I am most interested in the Office 365 cloud functions and its apps for mobile devices.

I suspect that the participants in today’s session can’t distinguish between Office 365 as a subscription service and Office 2016 as the downloadable software that comes with Office 365. However, because the participants seem very clear on what Adobe Creative Cloud is, I suspect that it’s partly Microsoft’s problem with explaining the Office 365 product and distinguishing it from the venerable desktop apps, like Word, Excel, and Powerpoint.

But I am still puzzled as to why faculty can’t get Office 365 like the students. My sense it that has to do with students use one email system while faculty/staff are another. Students use Office 365 accounts with qmail.cuny.edu addresses, while faculty and staff use Outlook and are “grandfathered” with the older qc.cuny.edu addresses. Authorizing the site license might only allow a single domain associated with each organization.

On the other hand, both groups have access to Google Apps for Education, even if QC students, faculty, or staff are unable to use Gmail.

Understanding The Matrix

The Matrix series of films was a rare combination of complex storytelling and a financially successful film franchise, but an even more richly opaque Matrix is ITA Software’s Matrix Airfare Search.

In the right hands, the Matrix Airfare Search can be a very powerful tool for finding flights at the right price. Like the better known search engines such as Orbitz, Expedia, and Kayak, the Matrix allows you to search with a flexible date range, restrict airlines, and even select nearby airports for an origin and destination.

However, the Matrix also offers powerful tools for frequent travelers, such as restricting a search by an alliance, forcing connections at specific airports, and searching for available flights with availability in certain fare booking codes. I used it frequently during my mileage running days before earning elite status and, more recently, multi-city bookings became much more difficult.

Once you’ve used the Matrix, you might be ready to move on to the advanced functions it offers frequent flyers. Google, which owns ITA Software and its Matrix Airfare Search tool, published a guide for the advanced routing codes that will search for flights using a variety of criteria. I recommend checking it out. However, if you feel like you need a basic primer on using the advanced routing codes, the folks at Upgraded Points list tips for finding the right flight using the Matrix.

Both guides are very long and detailed, but knowing how to maximize the potential of this flight search tool could help plan the right itinerary for you. It helped me when I used to care more about flying frequently.

My First Online Course with Google Classroom

Earlier this week, I submitted the grades for my first online, winter-session class. As I wrote earlier on this site, this was my first experience with a fully online course, either as a student or as a teacher. Aside from speaking with a couple of students who have taken online classes and colleague who has taught a language class over the Internet, I developed this course in a vacuum. This was both liberating and challenging. I felt free to use whatever tools I wanted, but I was also plagued with the uncertainty of whether I was doing things The Right Way, or what technologists refer to as “best practices.”

Since I have taught this class face-to-face for several semesters, I adopted the course into twelve media technologies. Each media technology constitutes a learning unit. The structure is basically as follows:

  1. Manual to Mechanical Media
    1. Writing
    2. Early Print
    3. Mass Print
    4. Photography
  2. Electromechanical Media
    1. Telegraph
    2. Telephone
    3. Motion Pictures
    4. Sound Recording
  3. Electromagnetic and Digital Media
    1. Radio
    2. Television
    3. Computers
    4. Internet

My colleague, who I’ll refer to as Claudine, suggested that I divide the class into a series learning units, each consisting of objectives, assignments, and assessments. I took her advice and, for each media technology, I assigned students to…

  1. audition a short introductory lecture that explains the media technology and emphasizes impacts of that technology on the society that adopted it,
  2. read a chapter from Irving Fang’s textbook Alphabet to Internet and a condensed version of an article from the fifth edition of the anthology Communication in History,
  3. take a quiz on the material.

After studying four media technologies, I assigned students a midterm exam consisting of essays.

The course was mostly asynchronous. Because the course was online, I wanted to provide students with some flexibility. Nothing about the course was live. They did not have to “tune in” to a lecture. Everything was designed to be completed at his or her own pace. However, because the winter session schedule was so compressed and had to “squeeze in” an entire semester’s work in three weeks, I did require students to complete four learning units per week to keep apace.

Here’s how I set up each learning unit of the course:

Google Classroom Ate My Students’ Homework

Google Classroom labels this teacher a "hero" because it will take a superuser to restore these students' deleted work.

Google Classroom labels this teacher a “hero,” presumably because it will take a superuser to restore students’ deleted work.

Starting a year ago this month, Google offered its Apps for Education clients Google Classroom, a free-to-use, stripped-down learning management system. I became intrigued with the offering, especially after both Queens College and Fordham adopted it and began offering workshops to train faculty on how to use it. I adopted it in the middle of this current spring semester, and it did what I wanted…except when it deleted all of my Fordham students’ work.

LMS No More

After teaching university-level classes for more than a decade, I’ve had it with bloated Learning Management Systems. A couple of years ago, I swore off Blackboard and Moodle because, as an adjunct professor, it was too much work to manage three or four courses on multiple learning management platforms. It was much easier to launch a static, public-facing website that all my students could find with an easy-to-remember URL or a web search. They could get a particular week’s readings, for example, in as little as two clicks and usually without ever entering a password.

However, going with a static web site instead of an LMS meant I would lose two key features: a gradebook and a platform to collect assignments electronically.

Rolling-Your-Own Gradebook

The gradebooks on Moodle and Blackboard both suck. Even when I used an LMS, I resorted to recording and calculating my grades on a spreadsheet: first Excel, then Numbers, and now Google Sheets. The added benefit of using a spreadsheet program is that I can upload grades with a tab-delimited or comma-separated values (CSV) file. It not only cuts down on the tedium of inputting grades using slow-responding pull-down menus, it also cuts down on errors.1

Collecting Assignments

Collecting assignments, on the other hand, remained tricky and offered no perfect solution. Having students email me resulted in an alphabet soup of attachments—PDF, RTF, DOCX, ODT, you name it—that I would have to convert, organize, and maybe even print to grade. Google Drive seemed to offer a better solution: students could compose or upload their assignment and then share the document with me. But then I would end up with a ton of files in my own Drive that I would have to organize, too. I also would get annoying email notifications for each student alerting me that I have been invited to view, comment, or edit someone’s document. And, at Queens College, students would have to share their document with jmonroy@qc.cuny.edu but not my more official email address of juan.monroy@qc.cuny.edu. That’s because QC doesn’t use Google Mail, and Google Apps doesn’t know that jmonroy@qc.cuny.edu is the same user as juan.monroy@qc.cuny.edu.

The most basic solution appeared to be having students bring paper copies to class. But as Steve Jobs said about using a stylus for smartphones, nobody wants that: “You have to get them and put them away, and then you lose them.”

Yuck, indeed!

The same goes for hard copies. Students inevitably have printer issues, forget or neglect to staple their pages, or simply don’t bring their assignment to class and then ask, “can I bring it to your mailbox?” For an adjunct who comes to campus only once a week, that’s not practical. I’ve also had it with shuttling student papers from one place to another and organizing them into piles across the floor of my home office. There has to be a better way!

Google Does Homework

Because they each use Google Apps for Education, Google Classroom is available at Queens College and at Fordham University. The platform offers two compelling features. First, it allows you to post announcements to your students, and second, it allows you collect assignments—nicely organized into a Classroom folder in my Google Drive—and respond to each student’s work. I could care less for the announcements feature, but the assignments function seemed to address my quibbles over using Google Drive. Students submit their assignments and they go to a folder in my Google Drive. I can grade an assignment for each student, comment on their document, and “return” it with feedback.

When I went to grade an assignment, I noticed that a particular student, let’s call her Allison, had attached a file from her Drive. When I followed the link, labelled “Drive File,” I got a Not Found: 404 Error message.

I see that Allison attached a "Drive File."

I see that Allison attached a “Drive File.”

But following the "Drive File" link yields this 404-error page.

But following the “Drive File” link yields this 404-error page.

That was odd. I wrote Allison and explained that she must have done something wrong to improperly submit her assignment. I proceeded to grade the next student’s assignment. Brandon also had a “Drive File” link and following it took me to the same 404-error page. The same thing happened for Charlene, for Dmitri, for Evelyn, and for Federico.

Dammit! All the work was gone.

A few panicked web searches led me to a Google Classroom support forum. Having not found a topic relevant to my problem, I started a new one. A tech support forum moderator promptly responded and suggested a puzzling course of action: that we check our Trash. It was basically a case of Classroom moving our files to my Trash, and I should expect to find them there.

I reflexively like to keep my Trash empty because I’m old and remember when hard drive storage was a scarce resource. Keeping the trash empty ensured you had liberated some drive sectors for more important files.

Apparently, because the student’s work ended up mysteriously in my Trash, all the student files were now gone because I emptied the Trash on my Google Drive. Moreover, when I asked a few students to resubmit their assignments, they told me that they couldn’t find their documents. Not only did Classroom delete the files from my Drive, it also deleted it from their Drives too.

I reported that this “new information had come to light,” and the same support forum moderator suggested that we do some workaround to recover our work. Despite suspecting that this workaround didn’t apply to our situation, I had the students try it anyway: unsubmitting and resubmitting their assignments didn’t work. The files were still gone!

And That’s Why We Back Up Our Work

After realizing that the Google support staff could not help us, I called the support staff at Fordham. The Google Apps administrators there were able to restore the Classroom files from a backup and bring back my students’ work.

Compared to other learning management systems, Google Classroom is really limited, but it touts one worthwhile feature that I liked: collecting and grading student work. But after deleting my students’ assignments, it looks like I will have to revert to collecting papers in class. I simply can’t trust Google Classroom to do the one thing it was supposed to do.

It was also a wake up to my students: the cloud is not a backup.


  1. My colleagues at CUNY have warned me to submit my grades on time, otherwise I would have to fill out grade changes for each student on multiple slips of paper. I joked that I would rather do that, using a mail merge or something similar, than deal with those slow-responding pull-down menus on CUNY First. 

Who in Long Island City Has Been Googling Me?

The other day, I received a letter in the mail from Google. I wasn’t sure if it was related to my Google Apps account, all the unflattering things I say about them, or the fact that I’ve been circulating an image of “street art” that is critical of their surveillance over our online activities.

Google is Watching

It turned out that it was none of those things. Once I opened it, I learned that people in my neighborhood of Long Island City have been searching Google for me, and they were just trying to sell me on AdWords.

Googling myself has led to Google thinking I want to buy ads on my own name.

Your current customers likely search for your business by name (e.g., “Juan Monroy”) and, as a result, your Google listing shows up in their search results.

Prospective customers however tend to search by topic and city (e.g., Flowers “Long Island City”), in which case it’s likely your business won’t show up…

I wonder what business they are referencing. Because I certainly don’t sell flowers! T-shirts, maybe, but not flowers.

Winners at Product Placement

Product Placements are on Target in *Josie and the Pussycats*

With Sunday’s Academy Awards marking the end of the award season, Brandcameo announced its 2014 Product Placement Awards.

I used to find product placements tasteless, but my thinking has evolved. Years ago I read an interview with a respected TV writer and producer[1] who said that if done properly product placements can add to the character and setting of the story. If memory serves, he said something like “if there’s a character who drinks whiskey, and Bushmill will pay us for placement, let’s monetize that.”

There’s a nuanced difference between a Johnny Walker drinker (someone who tries too hard) and a Bulleit rye drinker (a straight-shooter). That changed my thinking. Nevertheless, there is no shortage of bean counters in media studies for whom each time a logo or product appears on screen, creativity has died by one point.

Free as in beer signs.
Free as in beer signs.

Winning and placing in this year’s Brandcameo Awards are Budweiser and Apple, respectively. I’ve always hated when a character ask for a generic “beer” on television or in a movie so I guess it’s a little more realistic that someone asks for a “Bud.” It’s the same number of syllables as “beer,” and the set designer will probably get a neon sign or painted mirror to hang in the bar set.

As for computers, according to worlds of films and TV shows I watch, seemingly everyone uses a Mac or an iPhone. Apparently, Apple products also appear on movies or TV shows I don’t watch:

Between 2001 and 2011, 129 of the 374 No. 1 films (34.4 percent) had Apple product placement. But Apple is still a product placement power, with 2013 films like Drinking Buddies and We’re the Millers both featuring the brand, as did China’s Midnight Weibo. Then there is TV, where Apple has upped its presence in hit series like House of Cards and Ray Donovan and overseas in the BBC’s Sherlock Holmes and China’s knock-off of The Apprentice.

Speaking of House of Cards, the product placement of computers and smartphones in that series is pretty systematic. The government apparatchiks use Blackberry phones, presumably for their rock solid security, and a unremarkable brand of desktop computers. But everyone’s personal phone is an iPhone. Men usually carry a black phone, and women sport a white one. The rich and powerful Frank and Claire Underwood both carry gleamingly new iPhones, in the new iPhone 5/5S form factor. By contrast, Zoe Barnes, a symbol of youthful enthusiasm and early–20s poverty, is still using a stumpy iPhone 4/4S. I’m surprised it doesn’t have a cracked screen.

Zoe Barnes has apparently not finished her contract and is still stuck with an iPhone 4 in 2013
Zoe Barnes has apparently not finished her contract and is still stuck with an iPhone 4 in 2013

And speaking of personal computing, does anyone take a computer, that is not a MacBook Pro or Air, to bed?

It’s hard not to get caught up in the Apple vs. Google debate, and the Brandcameo Awards also fall prey to this polemic. They point to a film that is entirely about Google:

More than one movie plot this year was knitted together with a brand name…. The Internship is the clear winner in the category with nearly the entire film’s shenanigans set inside the search engine behemoth’s campus and revolving around Google.

*The Internship* searches for a product placement contract.

The Internship had its moments, but I really preferred House of Cards.


  1. I’m pretty certain that it was David Simon, the creative force behind Homicide: Life on the Street and The Wire, but I didn’t bookmark the article nor did I find it through a bunch of web searches. Maybe it was Matthew Weiner.  ↩

Did Google Authenticator Lock You Out of Your WordPress.org Account?

I can’t remember when I turned on two-step authentication for my Google accounts, but I’ve adopted it for every other account that supports it, including Twitter, Facebook, Dropbox, and WordPress. For those who are not familiar with two-step authentication, it is an extra layer of security that requires you to provide two keys: something you know and something you have in your possession. Accessing a protected account requires two steps, hence the name: entering your account password (something you know) and entering a random code from your phone (something you have).

Google Updates Authenticator

A popular and widely supported iPhone app for generating these codes is Google Authenticator. Earlier this week, Google updated Authenticator, which was a surprise to me. It hadn’t been updated in over a year and had an annoying bug that prevented you from editing your existing accounts. I feared Google had abandoned it because it also didn’t support the nearly-year-old 1136 x 640 iPhone 5 display.

Google Breaks Authenticator

As welcomed as the update was for me, it turned out to be a hot mess. When I updated the app, it deleted all of my existing accounts. Without those codes, I could not access them because I need both the account password and the Authenticator code to log in to those protected accounts. Once the app was wiped, I couldn’t get any of those precious codes.

Fortunately, for me, it was more of an inconvenience than a disaster because I accessed my accounts using the emergency backup codes that I had safely stashed away.

WordPress and Google Authenticator Plug-In

There was however one account that doesn’t have emergency codes. It is the Google Authenticator plugin that adds two-step authentication for this self-hosted WordPress site. I’m unsure if you can add this plugin to hosted WordPress.com sites, but I suspect you cannot since there’s no plugin area for those hosted blogs.

To regain access to a self-hosted WordPress account that has been locked due to two-factor authentication, it requires you to have SFTP or SSH access to your web hosting account.

  1. Log in to your SSH or SFTP account.
  2. Navigate to the wp-content directory.
  3. Create a directory called disabled or something else that won’t interfere with WordPress. This will be a temporary measure.
  4. Navigate to the wp-content/plugins directory.
  5. Rename (or move) the google-authenticator directory to the wp-content/disabled directory. Type something like…
    mv google-authenticator ../disabled
  6. On your web browser, load your wp-admin page. You’ll see that you will not be prompted for a Google Authenticator code.
  7. Using SSH or SFTP, move the google-authenticator directory back to the plugins directory. If you are still in the plugins folder, type something like…
    mv ../disabled/google-authenticator .
  8. Delete the disabled directory.
    rm -rf disabled
  9. With your web browser, go to your Dashboard and then to the Plugins area. Reactivate the Google Authenticator plugin.
  10. On your Profile page, scan the barcode to add this WordPress account to your Google Authenticator app.

Or you could stop at step five, delete the plugin, and be done with two-step authentication altogether.

Google’s Lost Social Network

Rob Fishman, writing for BuzzFeed on Google’s Lost Social Network, describes the situation when Google killed the sharing features of Google Reader, its RSS aggregator. Convinced that it needed to compete with Facebook in the social networking realm, Google envisioned these features would exist in Google Plus, the maligned social networking platform it launched in 2011 at the expense of an already vibrant, if not super-sized social, community.

There is a business lesson to be learned here. That Google shot themselves in the foot by integrating rather than innovating an existing social network. Google could have refined its own network rather than reproduced the social network. But there’s a cultural lesson, too, surrounding the nature of oligopolies in the digital realm.

The problem with oligopolies — markets dominated by a handful of outsized players — is not only that they quash the little guys, but that they tend to fixate on one another. In its most benign form, that makes for a lot of copycatting; Facebook releases “cover photos,” so Twitter introduces “header photos.” The dark side is a rancorous string of patent wars among smartphone makers and social networking giants, squabbling like litigious heirs to a disputed fortune.

The mentality that one big player has to eclipse another big player might make sense in traditional businesses, but the bottom-up nature of digital networks negates this rule when it comes to governing the Internet. While Google successfully killed off the Reader community by taking away its networking tools, it could not force them to migrate to Google Plus. By contrast, consider how quickly landline telephone users have been migrated to wireless cellular networks for their voice telephony needs.

At the moment, I don’t have a definitive answer for whether the Internet and the social networks it enables can be controlled as easily as they might be with other monopolies and oligopolies. But while it’s discouraging to see the big players wipe them out, it’s encouraging to see that they can’t be completely controlled, either.