18 May 2007

AARNet Concern at Streaming Television

Nervousness at the possibility of rights infringements threatens streaming televison off-campus.

Thirty-two of the 46 digital television services streaming around the University campus are currently available across the AARNet3 next generation research network linking education and research institutions across Australia. Due to interconnections between AARNet3 and other research networks around the world, the services can be received in North America and Europe.

AARNet has recently written to the University asking for information on the legal standing of these services. We are providing the services under fair use for research and education provisions of the Copyright Act, and under the AVCC Screenrights Agreement with CAL.

At the moment the services going outside the campus are on the basis of an engineering trial: does the multicast technology that we use to reticulate the signals actually work as it should? For a number of reasons until recently the services have been unreliable and erratic, which has lead to a number of changes to network configurations, firmware in electronic equipment that manages traffic flow on these next-generation research networks being rewritten and upgraded, and more recently questions of the circumstances under which such services could be delivered in a more reliable way.

To date work on getting the streams to work reliably across the research networks has been done by engineers in AARNet, Internet2 and institutions across the various networks. The pioneering work done here is being recognised, and people everywhere are coming up with ideas of how they might use such services, should they be available on a reliable and accessible basis.

We are now discussing opportunities for teaching, learning and research using the technology in partnership with collaborators across Australia and beyond.

AUDF Grant Success

Grant success for the TSU.

The Apple University Development Fund (AUDF) is administered by the Apple University Consortium (AUC). Each year the AUC calls for projects to be funded (modestly) from AUDF.

One of the requirements of the VVR (see above) is to convert the television signals from the format in which they stream live around the network to one that takes less space to store and can be manipulated (edited and so on) for teaching, learning and research purposes.

This “transcoding” takes a fair amount of computing power and is usually handled by expensive servers. Our Service Delivery Manager has developed an idea for a farm of cheap desktop computers to be used to do the transcoding: a Redundant Array of Inexpensive Transcoders, or RAIT.

AUC has given us a server, three computers, access to technical advice and support for our Service Delivery Manager to attend the upcoming Consortium Conference to talk about his work.

VVR - Virtual Video Recorder

The future of off-air recordings.

In 2002 the Division applied to DEST’s Infrastructure Fund to support a National Institute for Language Learning, NILL. The successful application funded, among other things, the reticulation of analogue and digital television around the University, and it was always intended to complete the service with an online video recording system that complied with the licensing regime the University operates under allowing fair dealing with off-air recorded materials.

The project has been sitting there for a number of years waiting for the resources to become available to complete it. Early in 2006 a prototype VVR or Virtual Video Recorder was demonstrated that created quite a bit on interest (especially at the ANU), but other priorities intervened and the project was put on hold. Recently in his spare time, our Service Delivery Manager has tweaked the prototype somewhat and the system is in a quasi-operational state where a registered user can request a recording be made from any of the 46 digital services currently being reticulated around the computer network, and have the recording “emailed” to you when it is done.

One feature of the system is that if you forget to request a recording until after the program has started, it might still be possible to send you the whole program if someone else did request it.


More work for support staff.

PCs infected with viruses and other malware continue to cause problems for the Division and the wider University. On more than one occasion over the last few months staff returning from China have returned with malware on the portable PCs they took with them, apparently transmitted through the use of thumb drives to transfer data from PC to PC.

The Fujacks/Looked.EK trojan has been particularly difficult to deal with. As soon as an infected computer is attached to the UC network, the malicious code is transferred to network drives, and unless it is eradicated will continue to reinfect the PC after it is cleaned, and possibly other PCs that connect to the same network drives. Any thumb drives infected with the trojan will spread it to other PCs the drive is connected to, which surprisingly has proved to be a particularly efficient vector to spread the code around.

University PCs should be set up to automatically install the latest malware “signatures” used by the campus anti-virus software eTrust whenever they become available. PCs that don’t conform to this practice should not be connected to the University network, nor should data be moved to a University computer without a virus check being done first.

We need to be more vigilant sharing data around, and when returning to the University campus it might be prudent to run a virus check on a PC before reconnecting it to the network.

Dickson College gift

Old equipment is put to new use

Students at Dickson College can now be involved in radio production thanks to a gift from the Division. The radio mixing console from the media production facilities in Building 9 was replaced during the recent refurbishment, and although the old one is obsolete from our point of view it is ideally suited for the College’s purposes.

04 May 2007

Media Facilities Refurbishment

Users are now back in the media production spaces in Building 9.

All the equipment required to complete the refurbishment of the media facilities in Building 9, except for one of the monitors for the monitor wall in the television control room, has arrived.

The monitor wall should be installed (except for the last monitor, which should be delivered early next week) before the final round of activity planned for the television studio leading up to the end of Semester.

Any operational issues with the refurbished facilities should be collected by the users of the spaces and provided as a report for the contractor so that any issues can be addressed mid-year if appropriate (and the resources are available).

Users should not confuse the invitation to provide feedback with an opportunity to ask for new or different facilities to be made available: such requests should be channelled through the Division’s ICT Bid process.

Video Chat with ASU

Sometimes things just don’t go right.

Unfortunately settings issues with University computers, servers and firewalls prevented the video chats between language students at UC and ASU from going ahead last week, although some successful connections were made students were able to participate in the sessions as planned.

Central Queensland University is participating in the program this year, and we hope the technical issues can be resolved before the next planned session. Technical Staff at all three institutions are working on the problems.

Staff movements

Increased mobility of staff can be a problem.

The TSU welcomes back our Network Manager after her year away on secondment to ICT Services, and Maternity Leave.

At the same time our Service Desk Team Leader has taken four months leave without pay on contract to a Federal Department as an IT Trainer.

In light of the current instability in the University’s organization of ICT Services, there are no plans to replace the Service Desk Team Leader at this time. There will therefore be no training available from the TSU, and the Helpdesk Manager position will not be filled. Consequently there will be a reduction in services available generally from the TSU

Monthly Stats

Demand for services follows established trends.

Monthly statistics for April show a welcome decline in requests when compared with the overwhelming demand for services usual around the beginning of Semester, and fewer jobs are outstanding at the end of the month.

We now have four years of statistics and were the TSU to continue to operate the data would have given us a clear idea of the “seasonal” demand for IT support to better inform resource planning.