29 May 2003

Creative Canberra seminar

A National Office of the Information Economy initiative to use new communications technologies to support the creative Canberra Community.

On Wednesday 28 May 2003 the Manager, TSU, attended a workshop hosted by NOIE (the National Office of the Information Economy) on Canberra community cooperation and involvement in broadband initiatives. A key focus for the project, coordinated by Karin Geiselhart, is the CreativeCanberra website. Apparently the website was developed as a student project by students from the University of Canberra in conjunction with Grey Interactive.
The project is described on the site as

"an action research experiment to encourage collaboration between the educational and cultural sectors. Another aim is to showcase 'home grown' digital content for Canberra's creative sector. The aim is a learning community and online content that reflects Canberra's vibrant social and cultural environment." (http://creativecanberra.net/ accessed 29 May 2003)

One of the main discussion points at the workshop was the development of a community television initiative through the TransACT network.
There were also opportunities for media, journalism and PR and Marketing students to become involved in community projects, especially through ArtSound FM radio. Representatives of organisations interested in involving students in their activities will contact the relevant UC staff.

Display names on Emails

A hiccup with the way names are displayed on emails from Exchange will be sorted as soon as possible.

The new email system relies on data from the Staff Directory for creating and maintaining accounts, including the display name on emails (the “from” field). The automatic process that manages this system has had a few teething problems, including the display of people’s full names rather than their preferred names in their email addresses.

Client Services Division now accepts this is an issue and is allocating resources to fix it by replacing full names with preferred names. This should now be in place.

Email Migration

Changes brought about by the move from the old email server to Exchange are proving difficult for some people to adapt to.

There is concern being expressed by some staff in the Division in relation to not being consulted on the migration of email to the Exchange server. This process has been planned for over two years, and the infrastructure was in place when the present Manager arrived in 2001. There have been progress reports through the IT & Infrastructure Committee and Executive over that time: some School representatives on the IT & Infrastructure Committee may need to take a more active role in representing their Schools.

Journalism support

Changes to the way Journalism is being taught are having an impact on the Division’s limited technical support resources.

Increasing use of technology in Journalism courses, larger numbers, changes in technical and teaching staff, and overlaps in assignments have all increased the pressure on Divisional resources (people, space and technology) this semester to unacceptable levels. Journalism, Sports Journalism and the TSU need to discuss the issues and agree on changes to the current arrangements to make more effective use of the limited resources available. Additional technical staff will be required to service the demand if current requirements continue.

Student Access to Divisional Labs

Recent issues relating to student access to the Division’s labs.

Under current arrangements, Media and Journalism student labs in the Division may be available to students enrolled in some subjects during teaching weeks from 8am to 10 pm, Monday to Thursday, and from 8 am to 6.30 pm Fridays. Prior approval to work in labs after 6pm must be obtained, and a list of student names and numbers is faxed to security before 4pm each day. This arrangement relies on Security supporting the arrangements by unlocking and locking labs as required.

On 20 May 2003, students using the NewsBoss lab delaying security for 15 minutes by refusing to leave the room at 10.15 pm. Security has informed us that it will withdraw the service of opening and locking the rooms after hours if this happens again (this is not the first time this sort of thing has happened). The Division does not have the resources to offer this service after hours, and without the support of Security we will be forced to restrict the hours of access to these labs to 9 am to 5 pm.

13 May 2003

Laptop computer policy

Executive has decided to put a moritorium on the replacement of desktop computers with portables until the University Information Systems Management Committee has considered the issue.

At its meeting on 16 May 2003, the Executive discussed providing staff with portable computers instead of desktops.

After discussing the possible Occupational Health and Safety (OH&S) impact of using portable computers, the costs involved, network connection, TSU workload and support, Executive decided to take the whole issue to the University Information Management Systems Committee (UIMSC). The Division would again consider providing portable computers to staff in place of desktops once UIMSC had considered the matter. No more portables would be provided to staff in the mean time.

Executive noted that portable computers are available for short-term loan from the Curriculum Resources Centre (CRC).

Update 29 July 2005: The Division’s new laptop policy has come into effect.

Apple Computer’s World Wide Developer Conference

Manager, TSU, is off to Apple’s World Wide Developer Conference in San Francisco courtesy of the Apple University Consortium.

TSU Manager James Steele has been successful in an application for a scholarship to attend Apple Computer's World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC). The scholarship covers airfares, conference fees, and accommodation up to a total of $5,000.

This year WWDC is being held in San Francisco from 22 to 27 June (22 June is a workshop day). In the past up to 6,000 programmers, IT managers, system administrators, content creators and Apple employees from around the world have been at the event, although this year the Conference will probably be somewhat smaller.

Of particular interest to the Manager is the QuickTime Media track, for people who create media, or produce or deliver content. He will also be following the Enterprise IT track designed specifically for enterprise developers, system administrators, and IT managers. These sessions provide in-depth information and expert guidance on developing, deploying, and managing enterprise applications.

More details on the conference can be found at http://developer.apple.com/wwdc/

Access to the Division’s Media and IT resources

Rules for borrowing equipment bought for Media, Journalism and Education subjects requiring students.

The TSU and now the CRC often receive requests from students and staff to borrow the equipment the Division has purchased to service the needs of the Media, Journalism and Education subjects requiring students have access to such equipment. This equipment is normally only available for loan to students for the purposes of completing assessments in subjects where the Media Facilities Users Group (MFUG) has agreed that the equipment will be available. Divisional staff and students may be able to borrow equipment for University business or for assessable work if students in approved subjects do not require the equipment.

Equipment, resources and facilities are not available to staff or students outside the Division.

Postgraduate students should negotiate their resource requirements, including access to media equipment and facilities, IT facilities, and TSU staff, with the Division before the Division takes them on as students. The Manager, TSU, needs to agree to provide Divisional media equipment and facilities, IT facilities, and access to TSU staff beyond the usual desktop equipment, applications and support.

Of course, requirements change over time, and it is entirely appropriate for the Division to reconsider a postgraduate student's resource requirements during their course.

Central Help Desk Proposal

Little progress on a proposal for centralising helpdesks across campus.

With BLIS deciding to go its own way on help desk software, and the lack of a suitable proposal to fit the needs of the Division of Communication and Education, the prospect for a centralised helpdesk seems to be receding. TSU is therefore looking at improving its own helpdesk software.

ICT Productivity Group

Progress report from the ICT Productivity Group relating to student printing and photocopying; coordinated purchasing of equipment; and a proposed response to the Fuji Xerox report on printing services on campus.

The ICT Productivity Group has made a number of recommendations to VCAC relating to student printing and photocopying; coordinated purchasing of equipment; and a proposed response to the Fuji Xerox report on printing services on campus.

Printing/Photocopying Services for Students

The costs of student printing and photocopying is different in different areas of the university: in some area it is free, while in others students need to have a credit balance in an account before they can print: at a cost of 25c per page. The Group recommends that there be a uniform cost to students across the University by Semester 2, 2003 or as soon as logistically possible.

The Group seeks VCAC endorsement to investigate whether it is possible to reduce charges for student printing; to see what other Universities are charging; and if the charges cover the costs of providing the service. It also seeks endorsement for a proposal to implement a printing quota system (like the current Internet quota system).

Co-ordinated Purchasing of Equipment at UC

The Group has recommended that VCAC endorse its principles for co-ordinated purchasing of equipment at UC. The principles are:

  1. Cheaper prices can be demonstrated and/or access to special offers on maintenance and consumables
  2. Choice of product/system configuration is available
  3. Choice of brand within an agreed list of suppliers is available
  4. Single point for ordering, invoicing and payment processes is in place
  5. Centralise asset management is in place
  6. Delivery of equipment to multiple sites
  7. Service agreement with penalties and bonuses to ensure responsive and timely delivery and follow-up customer service
  8. Integration with University financial systems is a pre-requisite
  9. Right to purchase outside the agreement for specialist needs is preserved, undertaking own ordering within University guidelines for ordering, invoicing and payment processes

The Group also recommends that

  1. VCAC invite Harris Technology to give VCAC and interested parties throughout the University a presentation outlining what is possible with co-ordinated purchasing.
  2. Adrian Westerman be asked to provide a progress report on AVCC plans for co-ordinated purchasing.
  3. Adrian Westerman be asked to initiate appropriate University processes for establishing a preferred supplier agreement and to provide advice on the Corporate Services Division's capacity to staff co-ordinated purchasing.

Fuji Xerox Report

Last year Fuji Xerox did a survey of printing in the University and provided Adrian Westerman with a report on how the University might make better use of its resources in relation to printing. The Group has suggested Mr Westerman respond to Fuji Xerox thanking the company for its report and advising that the University is now developing a document management strategy and a plan to co-ordinate purchasing. Any future role for Fuji Xerox will be explored once the strategies and plans are formulated.

Portable Computers Vs Desktops

Use of portable computers rather than desktops is becoming more common. There are some issues that need to be considered before portables are issued.

Traditionally, the Division has supplied staff with desktop computers. On application some staff with specialist needs for a portable computer have had their desktop computer swapped for a portable. Lately there has been an increase in the number of requests for portable computers in place of desktops, and the following comparisons may help Executive decide whether to make portables more widely available in place of desktops.

The standard configuration for the Division's computers currently is:

  • Dell PC or Apple Macintosh
  • 256MB RAM
  • CD RW Drive*
  • Flat Panel Display

* The Macintosh computers come with Combo drives: they play CDs, CD ROMs and DVDs; and record CD Rs and CD RWs.

The Hard disk size is not really a consideration for desktops since it is expected that desktops will use Network Attached Storage for saving data. 20GB is usually the minimum available, which is generally more than enough for most users in the Division. No floppy or Zip drives are supplied.

Monitor size for Desktops is 15", giving a display usually of 1024x768 pixels.

Monitor sizes for portables are either 12" or 14", although either size can display the screen resolution at 1024x768 pixels.

Prices range from around $2,100 for desktops to $2,600 for portables.

Note that some PC and Macintosh portables are available for short term loan from the CRC for conferences and other uses.

Some points to consider in comparing portables to desktops:

  1. Our experience with users who are using portables is that they often request additional mice, keyboards, monitors, risers and sometimes docks for their office so they can more comfortably use the portable at work. Normally we will also purchase a carry case of some sort to better protect the computer when it is being transported. Each such item increases the cost of the portable over the standard desktop.
  2. The ergonomics of using portables compared with desktop computers may also have OH&S implications that need to be considered.
  3. Connecting computers outside the campus to the campus network is currently the responsibility of the user, so any staff member with a portable (as with any computer they want to use from home or anywhere off-campus) will have to make their own arrangements with a private ISP if they wanted to connect to the Internet from outside the campus.
  4. Portable computers are also by their nature less secure than desktops, although so far none of the Division's portables has gone missing.
  5. Using a portable is also more technically complex for the user, coping for example with online vs offline access to email and web browsing, printer connections, proxy settings and so forth which vary depending on whether the computer is on the university network or not. We have a number of helpdesk requests from users of portables for support for issues of this sort, and given the immediate need these users have for assistance it is often stressful for the staff of the helpdesk to be able to respond in a timely manner.

Update 29 July 2005: The Division’s new laptop policy has come into effect.

08 May 2003

CeBIT Expo

Visit to the CeBIT trade show in Sydney.

The TSU Media Officer and Manager, IT & Media Services travelled to Sydney on 8 May 2003 to visit the CeBIT IT Trade Show in the Darling Harbour Exhibition halls. The main task was looking into the Videoconferencing options available, but also took the opportunity to look at wireless networking products, video streaming, flat panel displays and generally at what is available.


Polycom is the dominant supplier in the H.320 and H.323 Videoconferencing market. Polycom bought out its main rival, PictureTel, about a year ago and has subsumed PictureTel's products into its own lines. The only other serious supplier in the market seems to be Sony, although its products aren't due for release for another few months.

H.320 is the (proprietary) standard for sharing video, audio and data over ISDN (digital telephone lines) for videoconferencing. H.323 is another (again proprietary) standard for videoconferencing using the Internet rather than ISDN. The University has two PictureTel systems that can be used with either standard, as can most commercially available "appliance" (as opposed to computer-based) videoconferencing systems.

Executive will be involved in a demonstration videoconference using the facilities of the University during the next Executive meeting. More precise pricing details from the two major suppliers by that time.

From discussion so far it appears that videoconferencing with China will be better done using the H.323 IP standard rather than ISDN, since the IP infrastructure in China appears to be better than ISDN. IP is cheaper than ISDN, but quality can suffer. We will be doing some testing to check the reality of using the two standards.

Wireless Networking

With the release by Intel of Centrino (its technology to integrate wireless networking with portable computers), there is growing interest in wireless. As always with new systems there are differing standards and competing systems, but there is some consensus emerging to support the 802.11b and 802.11g standards. These two standards differ only in the speed of the connection: b limits the connection to 11MBits/sec, g to 54MBits/sec. By comparison, most network ports to the desktops in the University operate theoretically at 100MBits/sec. In practice, network speed is determined by a number of factors like the amount of traffic on the network and the number of intersections (hubs, routers, switches) between the desktop and the source or destination of the data. 802.11b and 802.11g are interoperable, which means computers with 802.11b connectivity can connect to 802.11g access points, and vice versa.

TSU is currently trialling 802.11b for 9C26, and will be trialling 802.11g soon. The trial network is now available reliably in 9C26, and is also accessible from 9A2, 9C25, and the offices along the eastern corridor of Building 9. From initial testing it should be possible to cover the entire building with four wireless access points, at a cost of around $1,600.

People must register their wireless access card with the TSU before they can join the network. The network is "hidden", in the sense that users must know the name of the network before they can log on. There is a (common) password needed as well, and the wireless signal is encrypted so that the signal can't easily be intercepted.

Wireless networking is on the agenda for the next Network & IT Services Co-ordination Committee (NITSCC), and on the agenda for the next ICT Productivity group meeting.

Flat Panel Displays

These displays are coming down in price, up in size, and more popular that the older-style CRT (Cathode Ray Tube) monitors. Most electronics manufacturers are offering flat panel displays, with Samsung being the standout supplier at the show in terms of quality of the image.
Flat panel displays have no flicker, use only 40% or less of the power used by CRTs, emit no radiation, take up far less desk space than CRTs for the same screen size, are brighter, and are technically simpler which in theory means less can go wrong with them. The downside is that flat panel displays are not quite so capable as CRTs in displaying the full range of colours, making then less attractive for high-end graphics work. They are also more expensive to buy than CRTs, but the advantages outweigh the price difference.

Video streaming

Another part of the system required to stream directly from the Television Studio to the Internet will be put in place as a result of seeing the solution demonstrated at CeBIT by TechMedia, the distributors of the GlobeCaster system in place in the Television Control Room. We should then be able to feed the signal to Client Services Division for streaming in Windows Media Player format alongside the Lecture Recording Service, and also through our servers in QuickTime format.

Other items

Apart from the coffee-table plasma display (a flat panel video screen about a metre long and half a metre wide, lying on its back with a piece of thick glass over it), the coolest thing at the show was a small video camera that can be used with a single computer for videoconferencing that followed you about as you moved, panning and tilting to keep your face framed properly. Great possibility for Category A spaces where there is video of the lecturer streaming along with the audio, but no operator to keep the lecturer in frame.