21 March 2006

Media in an IT Environment

A new book gives guidance on dealing with media in the Division digitally.

In his recent book, Video Systems in an IT Environment, [Focal Press, January 2006 ISBN: 0-240-80627-1] author Al Kovalick lists eight forces driving media into the IT network environment:

  1. Network Infrastructure
  2. CPU Compute Power
  3. Storage Density, Bandwidth, and Power
  4. IT Systems Manageability
  5. Software Architectures
  6. Interoperability
  7. User Application Functionality
  8. Reliability and Scalability

His argument is that these forces are the overwhelming motivations for managers to move media into the digital domain.


More transition arrangements need to be made to complete the handover of responsibilities with the transfer of the ASP and ELICOS to other Divisions.

The Division is still providing support to ASP and ELICOS, despite the units being moved to the Division of Learning and Teaching, and Marketing and International respectively on 1 January 2006.

While ICT Services is supplying some services to the units (for example ICT Services has undertaken to host the ESOLCOMMS database used by the IELTS testing people), the TSU is still being called upon to replace stolen computers, manage email accounts, mailing lists, home directories and networks shares, and provide support for new equipment bought by the units without any say from us (an example of this is the ELICOS unit purchased a multifunction device that is not the same brand as the ones we are familiar with, and now we are being required to look after any problems that arise).


Failure of the Division's Network Attached Storage device left PC users without access to their home directories.

On Wednesday 8 March 2006 the Division’s Network Attached Storage device failed due to a hardware problem. PC users were only able to log on to their computers locally, and their network drives (including ‘My Documents’) were unavailable.

Dell fixed the problem and has scheduled several more visits to upgrade to device to current specifications. Some downtime is expected on Friday afternoons over the next two weeks to complete the upgrade.

The incident is being used as a test case for developing a Business Continuity Plan for the Division to minimise or eliminate disruptions to works when critical systems in the Division fail.

EDIROL R-1 issues

New technologies require new techniques.

Last year the Division purchased a number of solid-state audio devices (EDIROL R-1) for use by Journalism and New Media students to record audio for assignments. This year there have been a number of reports of recording failing or only partially recording a segment, and some reports of corrupted recordings.

The manufacturers and other users of the devices outside the University have been canvassed about the problems, and it seems that better understanding of how the devices record and operate will reduce (or eliminate) the frequency of errors.

Instructions for the use of the devices have been refined, and users are being warned about the possibilities of recordings failing or being corrupted if a few simple procedures aren’t followed. There don’t appear to be widespread issues with the devices if care is taken with their use.

ASU iChat links

Providing services in an environment full of malicious code becomes harder and harder.

Efforts continue on working around the University’s blocks on network ports that are preventing us from fulfilling our obligations with Aichi Shukutoku University (ASU) in Japan to collaborate using iChatAV. The proposed solution (establishing a server at UC mirroring the server at ASU, and connecting the two servers together through a proxy) has only about a 40% chance of working, so we are looking at other contingencies if as expected it doesn’t work.

Other solutions to be explored if necessary include:

  1. Booking space at the Australian National University to hold the classes there.
  2. Reconfigure the network segment used by the class to bypass ICT Services and connect to the Internet directly (this works off-campus, but it may be difficult or impossible to reconfigure the network to let it work here on campus).
  3. Isolate the part of the network used for the connections and reconfigure the Access Control List for that isolated area to allow the connections.

The classes requiring the facility are scheduled for Tuesdays from 1:30-3:30pm on 2, 9, 16, and 23 May, so we still have a few weeks to find a working solution.

ANU demonstration of prototype netPVR

Progress on the development of our network video recording service was demonstrated to the Australian National University recently.

On Tuesday, 14 March 2006, Service Delivery Manager gave a demonstration to the Australian National University of the prototype network personal video recorder (netPVR) that we are developing. The ANU has contributed funds and resources to the project. We demonstrated how the system could take requests over the web, schedule recordings, record, transcode and prepare programs for streaming, and email the requester the final product (just a pointer to the program stored on a server really, but fairly impressive when the program plays in the recipients email program). He also went through the work flow for an academic to show how the system could be used to take sections of recorded programs, combine them and deliver them through a Learning Management System (like WebCT).

Response to the demonstration was critical acclaim: the audience of about 25 engaged with us on a number of issues (copyright, metadata, program guides and so on).

In a related development, after months of mystery trying to work out why the streaming video programs would work fine off campus on broadband services if stored on an ANU server, but not when stored on the UC server, Network Services at UC unblocked UDP services for the UC server on Friday, 17 March 2006. Programs recorded and transcoded on the UC system can now be viewed (with proper authorisation) on broadband connections off-campus. Try the tests at home (broadband connection required) at http://uctv.canberra.edu.au/tv-tests.

07 March 2006

Copyright Agency seeks payment for internet browsing

Charges for 'Digital Copying'?

According to a story [story removed] on the Australian IT website recently (accessed 28 February 2006), the Copyright Agency is seeking a payment of $10 per student per year from schools to cover “digital copying”: copying materials from the internet. The Copyright Tribunal held a hearing on the matter last year, but it may go to the Federal Court before it is implemented.

Health and Safety issues

Integrating Health and Safety responsibilities into the organisation can cause conflicting demands on staff.

Recently the Divisions have been asked to nominate Health and Safety representatives and deputies for each workgroup (usually a building but sometimes more than one each for large buildings or buildings where there are several ‘unconnected’ workgroups). In the case of the Technical Services Unit, one representative and one deputy have been nominated. Health and Safety training has now commenced for these people, to take up four days of their time during our busiest time.

While Health and Safety is a vitally important part of our responsibilities, using existing staff to fill these positions reduces their availability to carry out their usual work, and if past experience is anything to go by the representatives and deputies will find they have new work responsibilities that are not covered by their Position Descriptions, and several managers to serve.

Position Descriptions for staff undertaking Health and Safety duties should be reviewed to ensure the Position Descriptions reflect accurately what is being asked of them, and communication between representatives and deputies and the Health and Safety Office needs to go through established managers to avoid staff experiencing conflicting allegiances.

Provision of support to Category ‘A’ spaces

Category 'A' spaces are the responsibility of ICT Services and Facilities and Services.

The Division ceded teaching spaces (Category 'A') to central control with the understanding that facilities in those spaces would be maintained at an appropriate professional level. The Division does have some specialist needs, for example flexible replay facilities for playing back videocassetes and DVDs during lectures. These facilities have been provided by the Division in Category 'A' spaces in Building 9 where no suitable facilities have been provided by ICT Services, but if the Division has handed over the responsibility to ICT Services, then should not ICT Services be equipping the rooms appropriately? ICT Services responses generally include that they don’t have the resources, that if they do it for one room they need to do it for all, and that these are specialist requirements for the Division and so we should look after their provision and maintenance ourselves.

In the case of a current request for videocassette and DVD replay in one room, I have proposed the TSU liaise with ICT Services for the secure installation (at our cost) of a suitable replay unit in the room in question.

WiFi access

Now that wireless access to the University network is offered as a service by ICT Services, the Division's 'experimental' services should be made consistent with the University's adopted policies.

There have been requests from Building 1, 5 and 20 for extended wireless (or WiFi) access to the University computer network. The current hotspots in the Division are experimental and do not use the University-sanctioned system for providing students and staff with access to the University network (this requires configuration of ICT Services network switches that the TSU does not have access to). As a network service, WiFi should be the responsibility of ICT Services. Requests for extension of the current provision of services, or the conversion of the Division’s current experimental services to operate under the University sanctioned system should be directed to ICT Services.

Conference support

Providing technical support for conferences is not a standard service offered by the Technical Services Unit.

For the information of the Division, the Technical Services Unit does not offer technical support for conferences, especially those held outside the Division, as a "core" service.

Venues outside the Division are usually serviced by arrangements through the venue managers and offered on a fee for services required basis. TSU is uncomfortable about being asked to circumvent these arrangements.

TSU staff may be available on at least a cost-recovery basis should their other work commitments allow, and they agree to participate. Should TSU agree to provide any support, a written agreement will be developed showing in detail what the TSU is to provide, and the responsibilities of the conference organisers. It will not co-ordinate any arrangements directly with conference delegates, but will only deal with one liaison person nominated by the conference organisers regarding any particular requirements. TSU will set up and take down equipment and ensure it is operational to an agreed level. It will not operate or provide assistance to delegates in using any equipment unless there is a fault.

Inquiries should be sent in the first instance to the cehelpdesk.

Minimum facilities for PG Research students

With the release of the paper on Minimum Facilities for postgraduate students, the Division's policy with respect to technical support needs to be restated.

At the previous Executive meeting a paper from the Office of the PVC - Research and Information Management on Minimum Facilities for Postgraduate Research Students was circulated. In the paper, it was noted that "each Division is responsible for establishing written policy in relation to each of the items listed [in the paper]…".

The Division has, of course, a policy on postgraduate students' access to resources: postgraduate students need to negotiate their resource requirements, including access to media equipment and facilities, IT facilities, software 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, software and access to TSU staff beyond the usual desktop equipment, software and support before any commitment is made to taking on the student. 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. When requirements change, the student’s supervisor needs to take the issue up with the PVC and get his permission to vary the student’s program if the additional resources are available.

IT support for students in the Division is currently limited to providing and supporting the operation of an agreed set of hardware and software. No training is currently provided to students, and there are currently no resources in the TSU to help postgraduate students with sophisticated software packages like SPSS, Final Cut Studio or FileMaker Pro (the TSU Training Officer is a part time position provided to support staff training, not student training). The Minimum Facilities for Postgraduate Research Students paper says: “If students are expected to use specialised software packages (eg SPSS) during the course of their research, provision should be made within the Division for training and support.” How is this to happen in the Division of Communication and Education?