18 October 2005

What to do when staff and students leave the University

Policy is under development to guide IT staff in dealing with data managed by staff and student who leave the University.

A member of staff, or a student enrolled at the University, gets access to a number of ICT services like email, file storage, web access, library systems and so on. When that person leaves, their access to these services is terminated, which may mean the loss of data that is significant for them and for the University. Current practice sees staff lose access to ICT services the day after they leave (although email may be redirected to a new address for one to six months), and students lose access when they complete, or are no longer enrolled for other reasons.

ICT Services is currently investigating developing more detailed policies on what to do when a staff member or student leaves. The University may be required legally to keep emails and electronic documents for everyone, including those that have left, for a certain period: ICT Services is seeking advice on what the requirements might be. Some staff members like to keep their email address working for a number of months until they can advise their contacts of their new details; students may like to keep their work available from a University server for potential employers to review: the demand for this access may increase with the development of ePortfolios.

Direct any comments on what may need to be done with data when staff or students leave to the Manager, IT and Media Services.

Central funding for software

It may take a while for the University to completely manage software licensing centrally.

PVC Research and Information Management has indicated that he would like to investigate whether funding software licensing centrally would save the University money. He has proposed an audit to find out currently what the Divisions are paying and for what.

Nothing will be in place for 2006, so the Division will need to continue funding licensing for software like Adobe Creative Suite and Final Cut Pro at least until a decision is made to fund it centrally.

Reticulation of satellite and terrestrial television

Thirty-four channels and counting...

Digital reticulation of live television broadcasts from satellite and terrestrial services over the University’s computer network is moving ahead apace: at least on the backend. Twenty services are now being streamed live from Building 20, and depending on the state of the University’s network can be received across campus using VLC. VLC is free software for Macintosh or Windows that can be downloaded and installed by any user with administrative privileges on their computer.

Any relatively new computer on the campus network is now theoretically capable of seeing any of the twenty channels without needing any additional hardware: to hear the sound there needs to be some speakers on the computer, for the best sound external speakers will be needed.

Services are not available beyond the boundary of the University network for copyright and licensing reasons, as well as the need to manage network traffic to other institutions.

For details on how to “tune in” to the services using your desktop computer, see the instructions on the project’s website at http://uctv.canberra.edu.au/campus-channels.

Soon it will be possible to receive the current channel list automatically when VLC is launched. What is missing is a comprehensive program guide detailing what programs go to air when. There are significant issues with providing a comprehensive program guide: in Australia the information is not made available freely for anyone to use, internationally there is no single source of program data, and time zones and language make data for services on individual channels sometimes difficult to interpret even when it can be found.

We don’t have a way of automatically scheduling recording the live digital streams yet, or making them available for replay and editing: this is the next stage of the project. In the meantime, many people, especially Languages staff, can record, simply edit and use video recorded from the analogue network completed earlier this year.

'Lost' and 'Desperate Housewives' for US$2 an episode

Missed your favourite TV show? Download it!

There has been a paradigm shift in television broadcasting during the week: on Wednesday 12 October 2005 Apple CEO Steve Jobs announced the availability of top-rating episodes of popular television programs from the American ABC network for legal download from the company’s iTunes store.

The announcement came with the release of a new iPod, capable of storing and playing back video on its own screen or through a television set. More than 2,000 music videos, half a dozen Pixar animations, movie trailers and full seasons of Lost, Desperate Housewives and That’s So Raven, plus episodes of new shows like Night Stalker and The Suite Life of Zack and Cody can all be downloaded: legally and ad-free! New episodes are made available on the site the day after they are first broadcast on the network.

For copyright and other licensing reasons most of the downloads are only available in the US at the moment. Like the iTunes Music Store, no information is available of whether the service will ever be available in Australia. The announcement does, however, give us an insight in the future of television distribution where programs from all over the world will be available for viewing when it suits the viewer, not the local television station.

Lab pressures

More units are wanting access to Divisional labs.

The replacement languages lab in Building 9 seems to be in great demand, so much so that there are requests for classes to be scheduled in the ILTC because of scheduling difficulties with the new lab. While the configuration of the computers in the ILTC is the same as those in the new languages lab, the ILTC space was intended to be available for informal use and occasional presentations and meetings.

Increasing pressures on labs is also anticipated if the ICT in Education unit returns to being a first year unit (it was to be moved to third year). With increasing numbers in the unit, and more students in first year rather than third, greater demand is expected on the ICT in education labs. Journalism has also indicated that there will be greater demand for resources over the coming years, and Advertising is seeking access to specialist Divisional labs where previously they used Building 10.

Demand for the Division’s specialist labs is growing: if the current growth in demand continues the Division will need to consider opening up to three new additional labs in 2007. Space, infrastructure, fitout, audiovisual facilities, furniture, hardware and software will be required if new labs are to be available.

04 October 2005

Apple University Consortium Conference

This year's AUCC was a great success...

Manager, IT & Media Services, Helpdesk Manager and Streaming Media Manager all attended the Apple University Consortium Academic and Developers Conference at Wrest Point in Hobart from 25-28 September 2005. All three were granted AUC scholarships that supported or completely covered travel, accommodation and conference fee costs. Some highlights of the Conference were:

Streaming TV via IP

James and George presented a paper in the Conference’s technical stream giving an update of the Internet Television project they are undertaking (the AUC, through the Apple University Development Fund, started the project off in 2002 with a grant to James of a server and technical assistance: the presentation was a progress report on how the project was going).

There was significant interest in the project from a number of other Universities with representatives at the Conference. Most notably, the Central Queensland University is following up the project to see whether the television received here in Canberra can be viewed, via AARNET’s GrangeNet experimental ip network, in Rockhampton and then out to CQU campuses throughout Queensland, the rest of Australia and even internationally.

Interestingly enough some streams prepared earlier here in Canberra were received well in Hobart on the Conference’s 2Gb link: the same streams often don’t work on broadband connections here in Canberra, so more investigation is required to see where the problems lie.

See the project website for more information. The presentation is also available for download.

Creative Commons

Joichi Ito, who among his other broad interests is on the Board of Creative Commons (http://www.creativecommons.org/) presented one of the keynotes of the Conference. From the Creative Commons website:

Creative Commons offers a flexible range of protections and freedoms for authors and artists. We have built upon the "all rights reserved" of traditional copyright to create a voluntary "some rights reserved" copyright. We're a nonprofit. All of our tools are free.

With all the discussions around the world recently about copyright, music and movie sharing and the dire warnings of the collapse of the music and movie industries (some might say “hurray!”), it was refreshing to hear of an alternative, creative way of providing access to media materials simply and easily.

Several disciples in the Division, particularly Education, Media and Journalism, may find something of interest in the Creative Commons approach to sharing that will be useful in their professional activities.

Seminar: An online delivery tool

Simon Goldrei is a postgraduate student at the University of Sydney who has written an application called Seminar to broadcast and archive presentations, meetings and lectures simply and effectively using the internet. The application was of particular interest because of its simplicity, and because Simon announced at the Conference that the program would now be available for free as an open source product. For further details see http://www.SydneySeminars.com/.

IT Infrastructure Fund

What DOES the IT Infrastructure Fund cover?

The Division borrows from the University’s IT Infrastructure Fund (the IT Loan) to pay for maintaining and growing the infrastructure used in the Division to support teaching, learning, research and administration. The Fund has financed replacement and new desktop computers, media equipment, printers and photocopiers, commissioning costs, software and so on: all the costs necessary to replace old equipment and grow the resources available.

The Loan is attractive to the Division since the Division only pays back two-thirds of what it borrows: a system established six or seven years ago to help the Divisions replace outdated (and expensive to maintain) infrastructure with up-to-date alternatives.

University administration is now enforcing much stricter limits on what loan funds can be spent on: we are advised that funds can only to be used for capital items such as computers, fax machines, printers, desks, workstations and so on that may or may not be “capitalised” depending on purchase price.

A Financial Services Project Team review of transactions in the IT Loan has shown it is being used for consultancy, repairs and maintenance and licence fees: mostly due to the Division replacing, maintaining and building the Division’s ICT infrastructure.

It would be prudent in future to limit purchases from the IT Loan to that which can be categorised in the University financial system as Equipment & Furniture $5000 & Over or Equipment Expensed - Less than $5000. This leaves about $60,000 of expenditure annually on other items traditionally purchased through the IT Loan that will need to be funded from other sources (with no discount).

Update 7 October 2005: The Division's practice (and it seems the practice of the other Academic Divisions and ICT Services) has always been to fund capital purchases, consultancy, repairs and maintenance and software licence fees (items to do with providing and maintaining our ICT infrastructure in the Division) on the IT Loan. These items have not been questioned in the past nor has any dispute arisen.

The Division's position is that it will continue to use the IT Loan in this way.

Divisional Web Hosting

Centralising of Web services in the University will mean the Division will no longer host websites.

The Division currently hosts a number of websites that are more or less to do with Divisional activities: some examples include the Inflect magazine, the University of Canberra Centre for Writing [website removed], and The People’s Voice [website removed].

With the transition of the Division’s web presence to a central server, the Division will no longer be in a position to host these additional services. It is proposed to cease hosting these web services in December 2006: where possible the Technical Services Unit will contact those responsible for the various sites and ask them to make alternative arrangements for the hosting if the sites are still required. UCOnline should accept hosting of most of the sites that relate to current UC activities.

Schools, Centres, and other units with Websites currently hosted on the comedu server will be moved over to the central server over the next year or so: the comedu server won’t be decommissioned until all the services are either transferred or closed down (no longer required or moved elsewhere).