12 June 2007

Media Production Spaces refurbishment completed

Over the next two weeks our contractor expects to finalise a few outstanding issues in his control that remain in the Media Production areas in Building 9.

Still to be addressed are some issues outside the responsibility of the contractor that remain with the GlobeCaster video switching and effects system. These issues are the responsibility of the supplier, TechMedia. Arrangements will be made to bring TechMedia representatives down from Sydney to spend some time tuning the system when staff return from leave over the mid-year break.

"Single Service" ICT and the Division of Communication and Education

Our new Vice Chancellor has announced that by the end of 2007 there will be a "single service" administrative structure for, among other things, Information and Communication Technology (ICT) across the University.

The Division of Communication and Education has a Technical Services Unit (TSU) that has looked after the requirements of the Division across its media and information technology needs. The TSU was created when the Division came about, bringing together the various technical officers and other general staff from the Schools and Faculties that came together to form the Division.

With the creation of a "single service" for ICT, the future support for a number of the Division's resources that are currently looked after by the TSU needs to be determined. Of immediate concern are two systems:
  1. FileMaker Pro databases: The TSU supports a number of FileMaker Pro databases developed to assist the Professional Experience Office, the Public Relations Internship program, and the Schools and Community Centre. Ongoing support for these databases, or a commitment to absorb their functions into enterprise systems, will need to be resolved as a matter of some urgency.
  2. ALICE Library Management System: The CRC and the ILTC manage their collections using the ALICE Library Management System, computer-based collection management software. There are two instances of ALICE, one for the CRC and one for the ILTC. Ongoing support for these systems, or a migration plan to another collection management environment, needs to be agreed soon to ensure no disruption to the operations of these centres after support becomes one service.


On 30 May, 2007, Apple announced iTunesU on the iTunes Store.

CUPERTINO, California—May 30, 2007—Apple® today announced the launch of iTunes® U, a dedicated area within the iTunes Store (www.itunes.com) featuring free content such as course lectures, language lessons, lab demonstrations, sports highlights and campus tours provided by top US colleges and universities including Stanford University, UC Berkeley, Duke University and MIT.

“iTunes U makes it easy for anyone to access amazing educational material from many of the country’s most respected colleges and universities,” said Eddy Cue, Apple’s vice president of iTunes. “Education is a lifelong pursuit and we’re pleased to give everyone the ability to download lectures, speeches and other academic content for free.”

“From its earliest days, Stanford has sought to serve the public by sharing the knowledge generated by our faculty and students,” said Stanford Provost John Etchemendy. “Our partnership with Apple and iTunes U provides a creative and innovative way to engage millions of people with our teaching, learning and research and share the experience of intellectual exploration and discovery that defines our university.”

Created in collaboration with colleges and universities, iTunes U makes it easier than ever to extend learning, explore interests, learn more about a school and stay connected with an alma mater. Content from iTunes can be loaded onto an iPod® with just one click and experienced on-the-go, anytime, making learning from a lecture just as simple as enjoying music.

Apple has said before that content from Australian universities is not likely to be offered through iTunesU.

Minor Works in Mid-year break

Facilities and Services will go ahead with the proposed Minor Works in the media production space in Building 9.

Facilities and Services has contracted the work to be done to open up the space in the middle of the media production area in Building 9, beginning around 25 June 2007 and to be completed before classes resume in Semester 2.

There will be no access to this area from now to allow the TSU to prepare the space for the renovations: all the equipment will need to be either removed or sealed to prevent dust from the work getting into the gear.

As a part of the minor works the operation of the air conditioning in the television studio will be assessed to see what can be done to reduce the flow and noise while not compromising the air quality.

08 June 2007

Moving the TSU News to Blogspot

With the demise of our inhouse server to host my items of news about the Technical Services Unit (TSU) from the Division of Communication and Education at the University of Canberra, Australia, and the imminent demise of the TSU with the current reorganisation of the University's ICT services, I'm moving my material to BlogSpot to see if I can keep it available. Our UCOnline people have transferred the TSU News to the Web Content Management System, but that doesn't work for me. This looks like a much easier option. You can see the Web CMS version at TSU News.

My concern is that if I leave the organisation all my material will disappear, and there will be a five year ungooglable gap in my life.

The challenge is going to be to add all the old items in their correct order with the original dates rather than the date of entry. Looks like I can set the post time and date below on this editing screen (under Post Options).

I intend to keep the information going here about the future of the TSU, at least until the reorganisation claims me...

01 June 2007

Authentication and Macintosh servers

Sometime the leading edge bleeds.

The Division has been using Macintosh servers for a number of years now, and, in order to provide specialist services to the Division, has recently been replacing outdated Windows servers with Macintosh servers. While the original services we developed on Macintosh servers ran (and still run) effectively, as we have added new services and tried to integrate them into the wider University’s IT architecture we have encountered problems with authentication that are still not overcome. The issues appear to be unique to the UC environment, since other institutions that have done similar installations to ours report that they do work there.

More work is being done to make the services reliable, and if not successful over the next week or two we will be bringing the vendor (Apple) in to help us solve these local issues.

Streaming Television

At least the Russians understood.

The 32 channels of free-to-air satellite services previously reticulated from UC around computer research networks the world over are no longer leaving the campus. Messages of support and encouragement have reached us from around Australia, the US, Canada, and Europe, including one message from Russia expressing their sadness at the lost opportunities the streams offered them in language teaching.

Why is it useful anyway?

These services are valuable at least for the following reasons, not just because we can (or could) stream 32 channels of live television around the world on reesearch networks.

  1. Language teaching is in crisis because their methods are too costly: we have the opportunity using the streaming services to provide media rich environments that when combined with focused academic support will make language learning more relevant, efficient and cost-effective.
  2. In Journalism, we provide exposure to the methods that the next generation of journalists will be using, not burdening them with the techniques of the past.
  3. In New Media, the technologies we are pioneering will, and do, provide effective alternative distribution opportunities, creating new distribution models and new industries for the content generation (Generation Content, like Generation X).
  4. In teaching we empower teachers to take the experiences of children out of the classroom and across the planet.
  5. For our overseas students we provide access to at least some form of window back home.
  6. Media Analysts can in an afternoon compare opinions from more than a dozen sources on world events.
  7. Lawyers have huge opportunities in rights management and regulation control.

It's about change, outward focus, engagement beyond the borders of our campus, our local community, our country.

Once we have the streams running here (which we still do), getting them to Puerto Rico and Moscow (and all points between on Research Networks) is trivial technically and doesn't "cost" anyone anything.

Take-Down Notice

The University responds to an approach from an outside organisation to remove materials from a Divisional website that infringe their rights.

Last week a well-known international online auction site wrote to the University claiming a University website was using its copyrighted materials inappropriately and fraudulently. It turned out that a student had, as a part of an assignment, created a parody of the site and hosted it on the server provided for the purpose of hosting student work.

We were informed of the notice on Thursday morning, 24 May 2007. After checking the existence of the site, TSU helpdesk immediately blocked access to the site from the Internet, and also removed the student’s access to the materials. Their lecturer was informed of the removal, and contacted the student to explain the situation. ICT Services pointed out that the student had breached the University’s Network Access Policy by using copyright material without authority and by misrepresenting the auction site.

Section 4.1 of the Network Access Policy states that:

4.1 Conditions of Use

The Internet service is provided for staff and students in undertaking their duties and studies related to the operations and mission of the University. Staff and students need to remember that use of the University's Internet and Intranet facilities and services is a privilege and not a right. They should be aware also that use of the Internet by the University is governed by a number of laws including copyright, defamation, misrepresentation, Fair Trading legislation and the Trade Practices Act, Telecommunications Regulations, Privacy Act, various criminal laws regarding fraud and obscenity, as well as a number of private codes regarding "netiquette" and the AVCC Policy on Allowed Access to the Internet. The University will take appropriate action upon becoming aware of any illegal use of the University's services and facilities.

The lecturer concerned replied that the student’s site was a purely innocent redesign of a page from the organisation, and undertook to explain to the student the importance of not breaching trademark or copyright in their work. It was quite a surprise that the notice appeared within days of the student’s site going live, an indication of the rigour with which the auction site polices its rights. Access to the student’s workspace was restored, minus the material that was the source of the complaint.

While the severity of the breach was low, it raises the issue for us of providing students (and staff) with access to the infrastructure that allows them easily to publish materials online. Heads of Schools should ensure staff and through them students understand the University’s Network Access Policy and abide by it. Through the ceportfolio service, all students enrolled in units in the Division have access to the same facility that allowed this breach to occur.

The incident also highlights the processes that are in place for rights owners to protect their property: in this case, the organization concerned identified the breach, and wrote to the University with a statement of their concerns. The University considered the concerns through established channels, and acted immediately to satisfy the complaint.

TSU Staffing

Uncertainty is making staffing difficult.

As previously noted our Service Desk Team Leader has taken 4 months leave without pay to take up a contract with the help desk for a federal government department and is not expected to return. With the staff freezes on, we are unable to replace him.

Network Manager has agreed to act as the TSU Manager for the next couple of months while the future of the provision of IT services within the University becomes clearer. She will be working 4 days a week in the role (she doesn’t work on Fridays). I will be working on a number of projects within the Division, and will be available to work with the TSU on any issues that arise. I will also continue with administering purchasing and reporting to the Division.