29 April 2003

TV Production Lighting Kits

The lighting kits used in media production subjects are now deemed safe for use under OH&S guidelines.

The electrical testing and installation of RCD (Residual Current Device) plugs to the leads of each of the lights in location kits lent out to television production students has been completed. The kits are deemed safe for use under the guidelines. The lights used in the TV Studio have yet to be done. OH&S duty of care and electrical standards are to be adhered to, as per the current policy.

Locked rooms

What to do about rooms that are locked when required for teaching or labs.

With the new regime in place with Security locking unbooked Category A spaces, there has been a marked increase in requests to TSU staff to open rooms. TSU is reluctant to take this responsibility if the request comes from someone unknown to the staff, and usually direct the request to Security.

In the past labs in Building 9 have been unlocked by TSU staff on legitimate request between 8am and 6pm Monday to Friday. With retirements and other staff on leave it has not been possible to cover all these hours, and staff have been unavailable to open labs before 9am. Security has declined to answer requests for the labs to be opened before 9am due to their staff commitments at that time, so the service has been unavailable. We expect normal service to resume next week with the return of the Help Desk Manager from leave.

Connection of private computers to the University Network

Things to consider before connecting a private computer to the University network.

TSU is often approached to aid in the connection of non-University computers to the University network. Since TSU has no control over the setup of the private computers, this can cause us some problems. As the University explores ways of getting students to supply their own computers, this issue will obviously become more of concern, as it is already with visitors to the University who bring their own computers.

Some of the issues that need to be addressed with the connection of private computers to the University network include:

  1. Knowledge and expertise required to configure the computer to conform to the technical requirements of the University;
  2. Connecting to printers, email servers and the World Wide Web; and
  3. Introduction of virus and other malicious code to the network.

The TSU already support around 500 computers on staff desks, in computer labs and resources centres, and computer bought from consultancy and other funds held off-campus in staff homes.

We do not have the resources available to manage the integration of unknown computers in addition to the University owned systems. What we can do is provide some generic advice via the Web for people wanting to connect their own computers to the University network, but it is their responsibility to configure the machines correctly. Any computer disrupting the network or being used contrary to the Network Access and Usage policy [http://www.canberra.edu.au/uc/policies/it/nap.html] will be removed from the network. Under the policy, the following applies:

By connecting a private machine to the University's network a user has acknowledged that they will be bound by the University's conditions of use of information technology services, including this statement. By so doing the user acknowledges that the network traffic generated by the private machine is generated in pursuit of University business only. While that traffic is traversing the University's network, it is subject to the same right of inspection as traffic originating from University-owned machines and servers.

The authority to inspect the machines, servers and files resides with the Executive Director, Pro Vice-Chancellor or other manager who is responsible for the network. Disclosure to an external organisation will only be considered on production of a legal authority.


Filtering email is not as simple as it may appear.

A number of staff have approached the Help Desk to help them reduce the amount of unsolicited email (spam) they receive. Some of the material being received is apparently quite offensive and is of concern to staff. Recently the National Office of the Information Economy (NOIE) submitted a report to the Commonwealth Government on spam and what measures can be taken to reduce it. NOIE's spam page is at http://www.noie.gov.au/projects/confidence/Improving/spam.htm.

[UPDATE June 2006: The NOIE pages have been removed. The Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts now maintains a spam page at http://www.dcita.gov.au/ie/spam_home with some useful material and links.]

Filtering email is fraught with difficulties: if email filters are put in place there is no guarantee that legitimate email will be blocked, or that some spam will still get through. Filters can be installed on the email servers, at a cost of up to $45 per person depending on the solution chosen. Staff can set up filters on their own clients (with varying degrees of success depending on their email client and the settings they put in place), but spammers are constantly changing their techniques to get through any filters that may be put in place: whether the filters are on the servers or in the email clients themselves.

In relation to offensive material, the Vice Chancellor wrote to all staff on 11 June 2002 [Staff Notice 02/07: http://www.canberra.edu.au/uc/staffnotes/staffnotice_02-07.html] saying in part:

"... I require all staff to comply with the following directives in respect of the use of University facilities, services and systems:

    1. If you receive an email or other message from any external or internal source, that contains or attaches offensive material, you should retain that message and attachments and report the matter to your supervisor immediately.
    2. Supervisors must report any such incident immediately to the Director, Human Resources, who will arrange for a full and proper investigation of the matter. Normally, where appropriate, we will handle such matters at an institution-to-institution level."

Whether this is intended to cover offensive unsolicited email from spammers is unclear.

TSU will continue to monitor the situation and report back to Executive as there are further developments, including in the Commonwealth Government's approach to spam.

Oracle Collaborative Suite demonstration

Oracle Collaboration Suite is a recently-released package that integrates email, calendaring, voice mail, file management and other collaborative services.

Client Services Division recently organised a demonstration for IT managers of the Oracle Collaboration Suite: a recently-released package that integrates email, calendaring, voice mail, file management and collaborative services.

Based on open standards, the Suite is being investigated for its potential introduction in the University as a campus-wide service to replace the many email servers on campus, and the Netscape Calendar (which is no longer supported by its developers). The Suite would also allow the University to extend its document management system to cover all staff, and possibly students as well. The first of a new breed of integrated, open-standards based services offerings, competing products from Sun and Microsoft are not yet available for evaluation or comparison.

01 April 2003

Trinity Dead

The Trinity system in the Television Control Room as the switcher and special effects generator has been replaced.

Long live Globecaster! The Trinity system in use in the Television Control Room as the switcher and special effects generator is no more! An upgrade to the system replaces the Trinity name with Globecaster. This upgrade brings the system up to date and allows for future upgrades: without this upgrade we would have had to replace the entire system in the future should more modern features be required. Also part of the upgrade is the inclusion of Digital Video in and out functionality to more fully integrate the Television Control Room into the digital processes spreading throughout the media and journalism facilities in the Division.

Safety incident

A recent incident with the location lighting kits used by media students highlights the need for careful management of the Division’s electrical equipment.

On 20 March 2003 at around 3pm one of the Redhead lights exploded while one of the Media Assistants was inspecting it after the light was returned from loan. The explosion tripped the circuit breaker on a power circuit, and the staff member concerned was not hurt. Subsequent examination of the light by the Help Desk manager showed that the inline switch had shorted where the wiring from the plug joined the switch. Any damage that may have led to the short would not have been apparent even if the switch had been disassembled before the incident.

A qualified electrician has been contracted to inspect all the lighting kits and to repair any faults, including the damaged light. All lights will be certified before being put back into service. No lights will be loaned out until they can all be inspected and have Residual Current Devices (RCDs) permanently fitted. Parts have been ordered and the work is expected to be completed by 4 April 2003.

Lecture Recording Service

The University is replacing the audio cassette-based lecture recording service with live and on-demand streaming video and/or audio.

The University is developing and trialling a system to stream video and/or audio of lectures, live and on-demand, with a view to replacing the venerable audio cassette-based lecture recording service currently in place from around 30 Category A teaching spaces. Trials are expected to go ahead throughout the year, with the cassette-based system phased out by the beginning of Semester 1 2004.

One side effect of the trial is an increase in the demand for the existing lecture recording service, which staff now are more aware of and now understand that there are no costs to their School or Division for using the service.

Staffing during Easter-ANZAC Day period

TSU services will be limited over the coming holiday period.

Due to a number of TSU staff taking recreation leave on the three days 22-24 April 2003 between Easter and ANZAC Day, the TSU will not be able to provide our normal level of service. As a number of Divisional staff will also be away these three days, there should be no major issue with the lack of TSU staff.

Network outage 29-31 March 2003

Cause for the recent network outage related to switch problems.

Some staff and students may have noticed that network access to comedu services was unavailable from 4.45pm on Saturday, 29 March 2003 until 8am on Monday, 31 March 2003. This was due to an error in two gigabit Ethernet switches serving the Division’s 91 subnet. The same error appears to be happening a regular three monthly intervals and is being investigated by Client Services Division.

Simply restarting the switches fixes the problem, but Client Services Division was unable to access the sites of the switches: one is under the theatre and the other in the comms cupboard on the middle floor. CSD has been told that they can ask Security to let them in to these rooms out of hours. TSU staff have been shown the switches concerned and are perfectly happy to come in and cycle the power on them to bring the network back up.

Access to NAS

The Division is moving to using Network Attached Storage rather than individual hard disks, Zips and floppies.

The Division's Vision for Information and Communication Technologies is for a Virtual Campus: access to any service, at any time, from anywhere. Part of the solution is to provide Network Attached Storage, NAS, where staff and students can store their work and access it, securely, from their office, laboratory, teaching space, home or Internet café anywhere in the world.

There are a number of positive and negative aspects to moving from local and removable storage to more central storage of files. On the positive side:

  • Increased security and reliability is possible;
  • Files can be accessed easily from anywhere on the network
  • Backup is more likely to be done; and
  • Work can be separated from a particular machine, so if the computer becomes unavailable or is updated, work can continue with little interruption.

On the negative side:

  • Failure of the NAS, although less likely than failure of an individual computer, affects everyone;
  • Network outages prevent people from accessing their stores; and
  • Privacy concerns: the perception that storing files in a single place is more likely to provide opportunities for inappropriate access to data.

Student access to their dcenas resources from Building 10 labs is under investigation at the moment and it appears there is no barrier in place preventing students from accessing dcenas: there have been some network and protocol failures over the last week or so but in principle with the correct information students should have no trouble accessing network storage from Building 10. Some work is being done, both in the Division and in Client Services Division, to simplify the process and communicate the information on connecting to the service to students.

Unfortunately for our plans in relation to staff accessing their network storage from category A spaces, security concerns have led Client Services Division to remove this access. This means that for staff wishing to create their PowerPoint presentations in their office, and present them in Category A spaces, they must transfer their presentations to removable media like floppy diskette, Zip cartridge or CD R, take the media to the classroom and either load the files on to the local computer or run the presentation from the media.

Removable media drives are either of low capacity, unreliable, expensive or inconvenient to use: sometimes all of the above. The standard computer issued to the Division has a CD RW drive (for writing and sometimes rewriting to CD), but no floppy disk drive or Zip drive. While it is possible to purchase, at additional cost, such drives for the computers, the inconvenience and expense of the drives and media have led the industry generally to move away for using them.

There are a number of options available to us at the moment to facilitate staff access to their work from Category A spaces. It may be appropriate to provide for a number of these options to suit most staff affected. The options include:

  1. Convincing Client Services Division to reinstate access to network storage.

    Probably our best option, but may take some time to develop a system that satisfies CSD's security concerns. [Subsequently Client Services Division has reinstated access to home drives from Category A spaces: see the report.]
  2. Using CD R media to transfer files.

    Slow and less than intuitive.
  3. Providing Zip and floppy transfer stations throughout the Division.

    Inconvenient and a security risk, lack of network access ports, expensive.
  4. Providing more reliable and cheaper transportable media like USB Flash drives.

    Costly, although cheaper than floppies or Zips; access to USB ports in Category A spaces may be a problem; small devices more easily mislaid.
  5. Not upgrading computers for staff who rely on floppy or Zip access.

    Older machines are less reliable and efficient.
  6. FTP server for staff to transfer files to the local Category A computer

    Complex process requiring training for most staff.
  7. Developing a system that allows staff to use a browser to transfer files via HTTP

    Like the Division's public_documents service.
  8. Email files to own account, access from Category A spaces via Web Mail.

    More secure, provides a backup of the files as well. Works best with IMAP email services.
  9. Develop a 'drop-box' service for Category A spaces

    From UCSTAFF or SLIE-DOMAIN domains, staff could drop files into a 'drop box' that is visible but read-only from Category A spaces.

These options will be discussed with Client Services Division to see what can be done.

In order to provide for access to network storage from off-campus, some of these options will work, but the best solution would be to develop a facility for staff and students to be able to mount network storage wherever they are. Such technology exists (WebDAV, or Web-based Distributed Authoring and Versioning) and is part of the server software we currently run, but Client Services Division has concerns about the security of the system. The Division should investigate the introduction of WebDAV-based network file storage as a viable service for the Division to provide for staff and students.