Feb. 24, 2020

#AskOIT circuit graphic

Technology can be intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. Nicole and Jesse from the Office of Information Technology are here to help answer your lingering tech Qs. 

Q: How do I get my phone to stop spying on me? I feel like every time I talk about something, suddenly Instagram and Twitter and everything have ads for that same thing. It’s legit creepy.

A: Unfortunately, this is the peril of our current everything’s-connected lifestyle. Free services like Instagram or Snapchat are free because, well, you’re the product. By logging your activity and then harvesting that data, they’re able to make money through their corporate partners.

That’s why you’ll see ads follow you across your digital accounts. Learning what you want and then showing you where to buy it is the business model. 

This is the tradeoff of having a vibrant social life online: It’s hard to maintain a certain amount of privacy while doing it. How do you make it stop? The only foolproof way is to delete your accounts, turn off your phone and take to the woods. (Which doesn’t sound so bad right now, if we’re being honest.) 

Really, though, just be aware that the more devices and services you use, the more chances of this kind of “spying” will happen. Be judicious in what you use. 

Q. So what exactly is an API? I literally do not know. 

A. So API stands for application programming interface, but that’s probably not super helpful. We asked Catherine Yoes, OIT’s software application lead, to give us a better definition. 

According to Catherine, think of APIs like the Accio spell from the Harry Potter novels. There are different kinds of APIs, but when you get down to it, they’re summoning charms. As the user of a piece of software, you enter data (an ID number, date or account info) and an API can pull related information from a database or another piece of software. 

For a clearer example, allow us to introduce you to the PokéAPI. With this simple site, you can “call” all sorts of information about Pokémon. All you have to do is type the parameters in the search bar. Say you want to see information about a specific Pokémon; you’d use parameters like “pokemon/ditto” in your call. Whatever you want to see, the API will return database information about it. 

You can make APIs do more than just show you information, depending on the maturity of the software and API. But improving your PokéKnowledge is a valid enough use case. 

Q. I live on campus and can’t use BitTorrent. Why can’t I download files with it?

A. So here’s the thing: BitTorrent is most often used to download copyrighted content illegally, so we block those kinds of direct connections on campus for legal purposes. That’s not to say everything on BitTorrent is illegal or that it’s entirely prohibited on campus. In fact, many legitimate services you may have used are built on torrenting. If you’ve ever downloaded updates for games like Hearthstone, Destiny 2 or World of Warcraft, these are distributed in the same way as that movie you tried to download. 

Long story short: We trust you, of course. But if you can’t download files with BitTorrent, that’s the system working as intended. 

Q. I lost one of my bookmark folders in Chrome. I’m having to rebuild it, but is there a faster way to find lost bookmarks? 

A. Not to be frustrating, but the answer to your question is: yes and no. If you weren’t signed in to your browser, then no, lost bookmarks are gone for good. 

The solution is to sign in to your browser. In the Google Chrome browser, you can sync your bookmarks with your St. Edward’s Google account, so you 1) won’t ever have to worry about losing them and 2) be able to see them across your devices, so long as you’re logged in to Google. 

Firefox, our other favorite browser, also offers this sync option

Got Another Question? 

Each month, we’ll be posting answers to a handful of questions submitted by members of the St. Edward’s community. You can submit a question any time (and anonymously) through our simple submission form.