30 April 2004

Support for non-TSU Projects

Ground rules for student projects and individual staff developing computer-based systems are being discussed.

It is a time-honoured practice in Universities, including this one, for students to develop projects of all sorts as some part of their assessable work. For example each year IT students put out a call to UC staff for expressions of interest in having suitable projects developed for them by the students. Design students are also sometimes available to develop websites for clients who otherwise don't have the resources to develop them themselves.

In our own Division the Scribe website was originally developed as a student project and has now become a permanent service used in subsequent semesters for teaching: third year students maintain the site as part of their Professional writing course.

While such projects must be encouraged as a critical part of students' learning, they can provide some difficulties once the student has completed a project and moves on: often IT units are expected to host, support, maintain and upgrade the "project" as time goes by and the project becomes an important service that is relied upon.

In the case of the Scribe website, it was developed in a temporary student directory that in the normal course of events would have been deleted at the end of the semester: it was only the invitation from the Vice Chancellor to the launch of the website (with the student url) that alerted us to the fact that the service was expected to be continued. It had to be transferred to a different, permanent address (rendering the marketing materials developed to promote the site unusable), and is now another service that needs to be maintained technically by the TSU.

There are also other systems developed by end-users to support their own activities that become mission-critical systems. From time to time these systems require some support from IT sections, especially when the original developer moves on and the system needs to be supported, maintained, updated and sometimes developed further.

ICT Services is currently looking at a number of possible support mechanisms and guidelines to provide a framework within which these projects can expect to sit. In the meantime, student projects and end-user developed applications must be seen as 'proof of concept' applications that could become corporate application projects after re-development, but clients should not think that a such projects would become supported UC systems. Any proposals for these projects to become permanent services must be discussed with ICT Managers or ICT Services to avoid unnecessary or duplicate proposals or the development of systems not able to be integrated with current environments or supported long-term.

Download limits for postgraduate students

University Information Management Systems Committee examines the possibility of increasing download limits for some postgraduate students.

The University is generally charged for Internet traffic coming into the University from outside: the cost can vary depending on the source of the data coming in. Traffic from the Local Regional Network (including UC, ANU, ADFA and now CIT) is free, and all other traffic costs the University 2.25 cents per megabyte (as of February 2002).

All students at the University, undergraduate or postgraduate, have a $25 allocation per year (starting in February) of "free" downloads to computers they use within the University network, which means they can access something like a gigabyte of data from outside the Local Regional Network, and unlimited amounts of data from the Local Regional Network, each year at no cost to them. Students who exceed their limit can purchase additional allocations from the ICT Services helpdesk at what it costs the University. Download charges are expected to drop over time rather than increase.

At its meeting on 15 April 2004, the University Information Management Systems Committee (UIMSC) asked the Academic Divisions to nominate research students who should has increased download limits.

Payments to particular students’ download accounts could also be made from other University cost centres.

Student storage limits

Increasing demands for storage of larger files is addressed by the Division of Communication and Education.

At a recent meeting of the University Information Management Systems Committee (UIMSC), the Committee agreed that the general student file storage allocation should be maintained at 20 megabytes, noting that Academic Divisions could consider providing additional storage if they thought it necessary.

Academic staff in the Division of Communication and Education requiring their students to access greater storage can contact the cehelpdesk with a request for more storage for their students. The subject or unit number, name of the course, ID numbers of the students requiring the extra space, type of data to be stored (eg. sound files, video files, graphics) and the amountof space required must be included with the request.

Supervisors of postgraduate students requiring additional space for any student should send the same type of request, with the same information where appropriate, to the helpdesk. Instructions explaining how to access the additional storage will be provided once the space is set up.

The Division has a number of possible alternative storage options available for this purpose: the appropriate option to satisfy a particular request will be chosen after a request is received.

Space will only be provided on a subject basis for the semester or year (for full-year courses) while the subject is being taught. Access to storage will be revoked and any contents deleted after examination results are released, so these storage allocations should not be considered permanent.

Students abusing the storage provided to them (for example, using the storage space to illegally trade music files) will have their access revoked.

The Division is working on a proposal for a "portfolio" server that, if provided, would allocate around 1 gigabyte of space to students enrolled in selected courses, and the space would remain available until they graduated or withdrew from the course.


Update on upgrades in Building 5.

The Networked Video Learning Laboratories, NeViLLs, formerly known as the Microteaching rooms in Building 5, are in the process of being upgraded to provide better facilities for recording and playing back of video for teaching and learning. Video projection and SmartBoards are being installed, along with better sound recording facilities and lighting. When completed, it will be possible to use the facilities online, joining participants with broadband connections from anywhere on the Internet with the local group in the presentations.

Macintosh OS X 10.3 (Panther) Training

Feeling a bit lost in OS X?

New Macintosh computers being rolled out across the Division have the latest Macintosh operating system, OSX 10.3, installed.

In order to help clients with the transition to OS X, the Division has purchased a number of licences for some comprehensive online training materials, Macintosh OS X Fundamentals, to help clients become familiar with their new environment.

The training materials are available, to Divisional staff only, online at http://www.ce.canberra.edu.au/mac/. You may need to log in to the site using your ucstaff login: you MUST include the domain name (ucstaff) in the login: in a separate field if there is one, or by typing your username with "ucstaff\s" in front of the number (without the quotes).

See Logging on to secured services for more information about how to log onto the system.

The training materials can be accessed from a Macintosh or Windows computer.

20 April 2004

Digital Recording presentation

Notes for a presentation on digital recording techniques.

The Division has been using minidisc recorders for a number of years to supportthe teaching of Journalism and Media courses. The recorders are also useful for recording interviews and meetings, and provide a relatively high quality sound recording capability especially when used with good microphones.

The minidisc format is a proprietary format owned by Sony, and over the years Sony has changed the format a number of times: the newer formats always incompatible with the older recorders (although usually the newer recorders have supported the older formats to a greater or lesser degree).

The discs used in minidisc recorders are small recordable CDs that use a laser to encode the audio signal onto the disc: minidisc players read the discs and convert the sound to audible signals for replay. The sound to be recorded is compressed using the ATRAC encoder: a proprietary Sony system that is difficult to convert to digital formats without Sony or other licensed providers' equipment.

Why not use older analogue audio recording equipment? Anything with moving parts is prone to failure: the less moving parts the higher the reliability of a piece of equipment. Media like tape, cassette, film, magnetic or optical disks have a high failure rate, are difficult to administer, can vary in quality and may be expensive to purchase and process.

Digital recording offers the prospect of higher quality in smaller packages at a cheaper cost, and better control over the recorded material.

While minidiscs are digital, they are still mechanical devices that are prone to failure in the laser, the motor and the discs themselves. Repairs (involving replacing the laser and/or the motor) are costing us between $200 and $375 on a $450 purchase price.

The revolution in still photography over the last five years is a good example of the migration from analogue systems to digital: over the last few years digital still cameras have outsold film cameras and are increasing their lead. Some film manufacturers have announced that they are ceasing production of camera film, and some camera manufacturers no longer produce film camera or have announced production will cease in the near future.

Digital still cameras record onto media using no moving parts: solid-state memory storage devices that can be used to transfer files to computers over wires.

Currently domestic VHS video recorders are being overtaken by DVD recorders and Digital (or Personal) Video Recorders (DVR or PVRs). DVD recorders record video programs directly to recordable DVDs: PVRs to hard disk. Consumer and professional digital video recorders can now be purchased with no tape mechanism: instead the camera record to DVDs that can be played back to provide high-quality recording for watching or editing.

There are a number of digital portable audio recording devices on the market now.

In solid state the high end of the market is going for devices like the Nagra ARES BB, ARES-P / RCX220 or ARES-PII (see http://www.nagraaudio.com/pages/professionalaudio.php?etat=2).

There are many high-end professional audio for video solutions out there as well, (eg Fostex stuff or HBB Portadrive: see http://www.locationsound.ca/reco.html#renl Nagra also has a hard-drive version of the classic Nagra reel-to-reel: http://www.nagraaudio.com/pages/nagrav.php?etat=2). These devices are too complex, unwieldy and expensive for student use in theUniversity.

Professional minidisc is also popular with the market at the lower end, but the mechanical nature of the devices are of concern: the fewer moving parts the less likelihood of service requirements. Sony's proprietary format of the minidisc is a challenge for the University, illustrated very well by Sony's Hi-MD format not being backwards compatible with the existing players in the NewsBoss suite. Buying the new format will mean replacing all the portable and desktop units: assuming the same price points for Hi-MD desktops and prosumer portable recorders, it will cost the University about $25,000 to replace the existing devices with Hi-MD devices to give us the same level of resources that we have now.

Microcassette memo devices are giving way to MP3 recorders and other solid state or removeable media devices like the Creative portable audio devices, Olympus DM-20, Sony digital notetakers, iRiver MP3 player/recorder, and the iPod with Belkin Voice Recorder. Some of the Sony's use Memory Stick, and all of themuse a proprietary recording system of one sort or another.

Recently Journalism students at the University have become unhappy with the resources available to them, particularly minidiscs, to complete their assignments. Of the 25 recorders available last year, two were lost (last year), and five have broken this year, needing repair or in one case irreparably damaged. The Division had budgeted for additional and replacement portable minidisc recorders this year to bring the number available up to 30, but the models we purchase were discontinued pending the release of a new format called Hi-MD. This format is incompatible with the desktop players the students use to transfer their audio to the NewsBoss system (see the specifications for the new Hi-MD format).

Several existing high end portable minidisc models designed for journalists will be continued, around $700 to $1,000 RRP inc without an external microphone. These recorders are more complex than the existing ones in use, and the extra cost would reduce the number we could afford to purchase.

Old stock of some other models still in the distribution channel pending the release of the new Hi-MD recorders have been purchased and are being put into service as soon as they arrive: these recorders are different models and students will need to learn how to use them.

The Division is exploring alternatives to the minidisc recorder using non-proprietary formats that are also easier to use and provide for better transfers of interviews to the computer for editing. At this stage there are no obvious replacements, although this is a constantly changing field with quality improving and cost dropping month by month.

Students that provide their own recording devices can now incorporate their recordings into the NewsBoss system: over the April mid-semester break a new version of the NewsBoss software is being commissioned that will allow students greater flexibility in completing the tasks required of them for assessment: for anywhere on the Internet they should be able to transfer their stories, including audio, onto NewsBoss. This greater flexibility should reduce the demand on the available recorders.

There is a proposal to get Journalism students portable computers: with a good mic (and an iMic if there is no analogue input), they could use the portable with Sound Studio (Macintosh) or some freeware PC application to record and edit their sound on the computer. At the very least students should be informed (by their lecturers) about the possibilities for using portable voice recorders that don't require drivers to be installed on lab computers. All computers with USB ports available should be able to handle devices that use standardfile formats like mp3 or wav.

What we are looking for is in the price range of around $650 ex GST with provision for an external microphone, power supply, USB transfer and removable media (fully solid state types like compact flash, smart media, multimedia, secure digital, microdrive and memory stick that can be read by card readers connected directly to the computer. Standard AA or AAA rechargeable batteries are preferred.

The market is moving rapidly with no firm answers at the moment: Sony is reported [NY Times: free registration required] to be releasing a hard-disk-based system later this year, although it is unknown whether this reported device will support recording using an external microphone. Costs will come down and quality improve as the devices evolve, so committing now is a bit too soon, although we should be keeping ourselves informed and experimenting where we can.


These are the links from the presentation:

  1. Nagra
  2. Fostex and HHB Portadrive
  3. Sony ICDP28 (not the Memory Stick device)
  4. iRiver H140
  5. Olympus DM-20
  6. Creative Labs
  7. Belkin Voice Recorder
  8. NewsBoss (NewsBoss user name and password required)

Other resources

General article on digital field recordings: Tools for Digital Audio Recording in Qualitiative Research.

Minidisc guide from Transom.org (US public radio)


Consider using a portable computer with a good microphone and software like Sound Studio [Macintosh only, site licensed at the University of Canberra: contact the helpdesk for installation information], or Audacity, for Macintosh, Windows and Unix [free], add headphones and you have quite a good if a little bulky set up.

13 April 2004

Digital streaming and off-air recording

Satellite and terrestrial television and radio may be streamed around the Division via the computer network.

As a part of the Division's project to install the infrastructure necessary for the reception and reticulation of radio and television services around the Division, some television services will be distributed via the computer network and a digital off-air recording service is being developed.

Live streaming
At least five of the television services will be streamed live around the network as multicast streams. The minimum five services have not been chosen, but should include both terrestrial and satellite digital television services. There are no plans to reticulate analogue television services, or any radio services, live around the IP network.

On demand streaming
In order to make the services more widely available and more flexible, it is proposed to develop a system that allows properly authenticated users within the University or the Canberra Institute of Technology to log onto a website and schedule a recording of any available service, as a digital video or audio stream, recorded to hard disk on a central server. These recordings would then be available to appropriately authenticated users to access on demand via computer.

Stored recording should be accessible for editing to appropriately authenticated users, either locally on the server or on the user’s own machine. Recordings should be in a format that can be edited with common video or audio editing tools on Windows and Macintosh, and recorded onto DVDs for replay in most standard DVD players (with transcoding if required) for video, or CD or portable audio devices for audio.

A draft paper on the proposed digital streaming and recording service to be used to support a call for expressions of interest in developing the services is available for comment from the public_documents site in the Division: http://dcenas.canberra.edu.au/public_documents/tsu/digital/ [available to comedu Divisional staff only: authentication required]. The appendix is a presentation outlining the whole project.

Any comments on the paper should be sent to James Steele, TSU manager, by COB on 23 April 2004.

Satellite Dishes

Expect to see some satellite dishes rising from the roof of Building 20 over the next month or two.

Ritech Communications has begun work on the installation of the satellite dishes on Building 20 and associated infrastructure that will allow the Division to reticulate some free-to-air radio and television services via RF (and insome cases the computer network).

The dishes come in a matte dark charcoal grey finish: since the ACT Planning and Land Authority approval is subject to the dishes being in a colour taken from the palette of the building, it is proposed to leave them as charcoal grey, since this is a colour used in the building’s walls and for metalwork.  Changing the colour of the dishes will cost us around $2,000 and there is no guarantee that any exact match can be made nor maintained over time as the building and the dishes weather.

Executive approval is sought for leaving the dishes in their matte dark charcoal grey finish.

Callista access from Macintosh computers

A workaround for accessing the new student management system, Callista, from Macintosh computers is now available.

ICT Services has developed a proposed solution for users around the University on Macintosh computers (both OS 9 and OS X) to enable them to access Callista. TSU received instructions on the set up (TSU is required to support the installation of the necessary software and set up the Macintosh computers that need it) on Tuesday 13 April 2004, but with the work program already scheduled for this break it is unlikely anything much can be done about testing it before the Callista go-live date of 27 April 2004.

Users requiring access to Callista from Macintosh computers should contact the cehelpdesk requesting that their computers be set up to access the system.

Instructions for installing Callista on Macintosh OS9 and Macintosh OS X are available from the Division's Public Documents site [available to comedu Divisional staff only: authentication required].

ICT Services Strategic Planning Session Outcomes

Reorganisation of central ICT services progresses...

On 3 March 2004 the Deputy Head of the Division and the TSU Manager attended a one-day Strategic Planning session organised by PVC Research and Information Management at the Kamberra Centre in Mitchell to begin the process of developing an ICT Services Strategic Plan for the University. SMS Consulting facilitated the day, attended by representatives from across the University but mainly ICT Services people ("Building 10").

Topics covered included:

  • who were ICT Services' clients and stakeholders;
  • their needs and demands;
  • a Mission and Vision for ICT Services;
  • strengths and weaknesses; and
  • strategies.

The Mission and Vision statements for ICT Services the forum came up with were:

To be a forward looking, client focused ICT service provider of high quality, delivering complete and accessible services and solutions in a timely and professional manner.

ICT services enables University of Canberra to achieve its vision and mission by providing professional, innovative and effective ICT services and facilities for the entire UC community.

SMS wrote up a summary of the day, which is available from http://dcenas.canberra.edu.au/public_documents/tsu/ICTS_results_20040303.doc [available to comedu Divisional staff only: ucstaff\sXXXXXX login may be required].

Wireless access to the University Network

Update on progress for WiFi access to the University network.

Logicalis has completed a survey of the University's Bruce campus (excluding the Residences) with a view to developing a proposal to provide wireless access to the University network for authorised users from anywhere on campus. Once the report is finalised it will be submitted to the University for funding and if approved the network may be in place this year.

Wireless will not replace the need for wired networks: applications that require large amounts of data to be moved around a network (multimedia production applications for example) will still require wired connections for the increased capacity wired connections provide. The wireless access points themselves will also need to be connected to the wired network at some point.

A number of universities around the world and across Australia have implemented wireless access to their networks and report a number of advantages. Swinburne University of Technology reports (Campus Review, 7-13 November 2003, iv) positive outcomes for its wireless trial, indicating "wireless laptops cost 26 cents per 'usable hour' compared with 60 cents for lab computers." The savings are made as a result of the higher availability of wireless computers when compared with lab computers: the wireless network can be accessed from around campus at any time, whereas the labs are not always available.

Swinburne has also reported increased student collaboration as a result of the wireless network, where students spend more time on campus working with other students. Students also said it improved their ability to study.

The Division should consider the possibilities offered by wireless networking to expand existing facilities without the expense of building new buildings and establishing new labs.