Monday, July 27, 2009

Harassed, Accused by Centrum Café

[Updated 7:05 PM, July 28: Added results of a virus scan of the laptop.]

Centrum Café in Springfield was winding down. It was 8:35 P.M. on Sunday, July 26. A young woman dressed in black swept up crumbs in the café, while two other women made final preparations in the kitchen.

It was about 15 minutes since she said “thank you for coming” to the last customer, and it didn’t appear any others would come before closing time at 9. Before that, the place was dense with screech of children and the exchanges of the middle-aged and elderly. I briefly considered sending a Tweet about the children running wild, but resisted, deciding not to be a curmudgeon. “Frozen custard on Sunday,” I thought, and shook the idea off.

My laptop glowed in the dim cafe with the text of E.M. Forster’s “The Machine Stops.” Next to it was the remains of an Italian soda and a picked-at brownie. The brownie was a mixture of chocolate, nuts and coconut. It wasn’t very healthy, and wasn’t very tasty, but I chipped it away as not to be wasteful. I wasn’t going to finish it - I was near ready to leave and let the employees finish cleaning in peace.

A man with salt-and-peppered hair and moustache approached me. I recognized him from before; he sometimes wore what appeared to be a chef’s uniform when he was in the kitchen.

“Are you Matthew?”

I was surprised, but it felt like the good kind of surprise. Maybe he knew my writing. Maybe I had a fan. I didn’t know how he knew me, but became cheery in an instant.

“Yeah, that’s me! Matthew [last name].”

“I’ve seen your computer on our system. You’ve been downloading music and stealing financial records.”


“I have sensors all over this café, and they’ve been showing that you’ve been hacking into our computers and stealing financial records.”

“I… I don’t know what you’re talking about, I’ve just been reading here.”

He wasn’t an instrument of the law, and he didn’t have a search warrant, but I felt compelled to show this man who accused me of very serious things that what I was doing in his restaurant. I turned my laptop in his direction to show him the E.M. Forster story. It wasn’t the smartest thing to do. Perhaps it made him feel he had the right to look. Whatever the case, it only made him more curious.

“Were you on 90?”

“Was I on what?”

“Were you on 90?”

“I don’t know what that is. I’m using ‘Centrum Café.’ I just opened my laptop and it works.”

“Show me your network connections.”

My nerves were beginning to cave. I dabbed the pad on the black IBM Lenovo laptop, and my finger began to shake. My face was turning red. Was this guy about to call the police over something I didn’t do? Would they seize my laptop and scour through my personal data to conjure up some imaginary motive for a crime I didn’t commit? What did this guy want from me?

Fumbling through a few Windows Vista screens, I found the networks he was talking about. He asked me to connect to one of them, and I tried. The computer thought for a moment before giving up. I clicked on another one, and it prompted a security code, which for obvious reasons, I didn’t have. I shrugged as the screen asked for the code, and cancelled out. He didn’t back off.

“What are your hours?”

“Hours? Just… whenever?”

“What do you do?”

“What do I do? I’m… I’m unemployed. I’m a writer… I just come in here to read and write. That’s all.”

I grabbed the copy of Raymond Carver’s “Will You Please Be Quiet, Please,” and Hunter S. Thompson’s “The Rum Diaries,” in an effort to convince him that I was the reading and writing type, not the hacking and stealing type. I half expected him to want to look at my books, too, but he turned and began walking to the kitchen.

“Do it again, and I’ll bar you from the café,” he said over his shoulder.

“I’m just here to read,” I said, stuffing Carver, Thompson and my laptop into my bag.

I headed for the door, concerned that my haste might give the wrong impression. But I didn’t feel safe there any longer, so I didn’t hang around.

“Thank you for coming!” the girl said as the door shut behind me.

Update on 7:05 PM, July 28

Some readers, rightly so, have wondered about the security of the laptop that was used in the cafe. It is not out of possibility that a virus could, without the operator's knowledge, infiltrate a network and cause all sorts of issues. I consider myself a fairly safe user, reasonably aware of the symptoms of these viruses and the ways in which a computer can become infected. For one, I always use a firewall, and this Lenovo did come with a copy of Norton, which I used periodically. But to resolve this question with more certainty, I purchased from Best Buy a new, 2009 copy of Norton Internet Security, updated it after installing, restarted, and ran a full system scan. This is the result:

The Norton scan concluded that no viruses were found, with the only possible issues being some 48 tracking cookies.

Given this result, it being the first virus scan since the incident, I'm fairly confident that there were no viruses on this computer, and it presented no security threats to Centrum Cafe, or anyone else on that network.

Read on...

Monday, July 13, 2009

What Higher Ed in IL Stands to Gain From Capital Plan

With hope dwindling for an armistice on the Illinois budget, let alone a weapon to pay down debt and finance essential services, one whopping piece of spending did make it out of Springfield alive.

Monday, July 13, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed into law SB1221, the first Capital construction plan since 1999.

The “Illinois Jobs Now!” Web site says that $31 billion will be spent in the next six years building or restoring roads and bridges, bolstering public transit, developing high-speed rail, funding economic and community development, and investing in the state’s K-12 and higher education system.

For some perspective, the budget Quinn proposed for FY2010 totaled $53 billion. If the $31 billion Capital construction plan was doled out in six equal, annual payments, the payment in 2010 would be less than 10 percent of that year’s budget.

The “Illinois Jobs Now!” Web site says that projects will be funded via motor vehicle title fees, license plate fees, drivers' license fees, video gaming terminals ($300 million), and new taxes on sweets, sweetened tea, coffee, grooming and hygiene products and alcohol. Those taxes actually will go to pay down the $13 billion in 20-year bonds the state will issue.

The site says federal and local-matching funds will bridge the gap to $31 billion.

Included in the construction plan is $1.5 billion for higher education, going to 32 institutions.

Illinois State University President Al Bowman in a statement Monday said the passage of the bill was "encouraging" for ISU, but cautioned "it may be quite some time before any capital funds are actually released for use," due to the economy.

Bowman added "We must also remember that a fiscal year 2010 operating budget is still not in place, and that the Governor’s current proposal calls for more than $1 billion in cuts, thousands of state employee layoffs and furlough days for employees of some state agencies."

$54 million will be going to rehabilitate ISU's Fine Arts Complex, which would be used to demolish antiquated buildings and replace them with facilities having modern mechanical and electrical systems, thus consolidating nine buildings into one.

Below are those institutions and the projects that will be funded, in alphabetical order. Click “Read on…” to go to the page, and hit Ctrl+F to access your browser’s search function, if you wish to find a particular institution.

Chicago State University
$40 million to Chicago State University for a west side campus

City College of Chicago
$31 million to City College of Chicago - Olive Harvey College to construct academic building

College of Du Page
$25 million to College of DuPage - Glen Ellyn to replace temporary facilities

College of Lake County
$36 million to College of Lake County to construct the student services building

Eastern Illinois University
$4.8 million to EIU to upgrade HVAC/plumbing systems in Coleman Hall and the Life Sciences Building

Harper College
$41 million to Harper College to construct one stop admissions and campus/student center

Illinois Central College
$2.6 million to Illinois Central College to renovate/expand Dirksen Hall

Illinois Eastern Community Colleges Wabash Valley
$4 million to IECC - Wabash Valley to construct a student center

Illinois Math and Science Academy
$6.3 million to the Illinois Math and Science Academy to renovate residence halls

Illinois State University
$54.3 million to Illinois State University to renovate the Visual Arts Center Complex

Illinois Valley Community College
$22.8 million to Illinois Valley Community College to construct a community technology center

Kaskaskia College
$5.6 million to Kaskaskia College for infrastructure improvements at the Vandalia Campus

Lake Land College
$9.9 million to Lake Land College to construct a workforce relocation center
$7.5 million to Lake Land College to construct a rural development technology center

Lewis and Clark Community College
$16.3 million to Lewis and Clark Community College for construction/infrastructure improvements - National Great Rivers Research and Educational Center

Lincoln Land Community College
$3 million to Lincoln Land Community College to renovate Logan and Mason Halls

McHenry County College
$672,000 to McHenry County College to construct a greenhouse

Northeastern Illinois University
$73 million to Northeastern Illinois University to construct an education building

Northern Illinois University
$22.5 million to Northern Illinois University to expand/renovate the Stevens Building
$8 million to Northern Illinois University to renovate Cole Hall

Parkland College
$15.4 million to Parkland College to construct a student services addition

Rend Lake College
$451,000 to Rend Lake College to construct art program addition

Richland Community College
$3.5 million to Richland Community College to Renovate/Expand Student Success Center

Rock Valley College
$26.7 million to Rock Valley College to construct an Arts Instructional Center

Southern Illinois University Carbondale

$56.7 million to SIU – Carbondale to construct a transportation education center
$4.3 million to Southern Illinois University – Carbondale for a communication center

Southern Illinois University Edwardsville
$78.9 million to SIU Edwardsville to construct/renovate the Science Laboratory

Southwestern Illinois Community College

$19 million to Southwestern Illinois Community College for campus improvements

Spoon River College

$4 million to Spoon River College to construct a multi-purpose building

University of Illinois Chicago

$21 million to UIC for upgrades to campus infrastructure and renovate campus buildings

University of Illinois College of Medicine at Rockford
$14.8 million to University of Illinois – Rockford to construct the National Rural Health Center

University of Illinois Springfield
$4 million to the University of Illinois – Springfield to Renovate/Construct a Public Safety Building

University of Illinois Urbana Champaign

$57.3 million to U of I - Urbana/Champaign to renovate Lincoln Hall
$44.5 million to U of I - Urbana/Champaign for an electrical and computer engineering building

Western Illinois University Macomb

$67.8 million to WIU – Macomb to Construct a Performing Arts Center
$3.2 million for capital renewal at WIU-Macomb

Western Illinois University Moline
$15.8 million to WIU – Moline to renovate and construct Riverfront Campus - Phase I
$42 million to WIU – Moline to renovate and construct Riverfront Campus - Phase II

Read on...

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Photos and Footage - July 4 in Springfield

Springfield, Illinois' July 4 fireworks display went on as planned, despite low cloud cover and high probability of precipitation.

This year's display cost about $20,000, according to the State Journal-Register.

Crowd reaction was much stronger and more positive than last year's event - a "low-level" display which was encumbered by foliage and buildings, leaving many spectators disappointed.

In other news, The Horseshoe now has a YouTube channel, which features video taken of the display. You can take a look at the clip here, in this post, or by visiting the YouTube channel.

Read on...