IT Services's blog posts for 2015

Thanks for your patience!

Nov

23

As the weekend rolls in, we're reflecting on the week here at IT Services. Remarkably, it's been pretty unremarkable. It's been a huge relief to see that the systems are getting back to normal after the problems we've been experiencing, especially as it's meant a lot of late nights and weekends in the office for IT staff. We're glad it's working better now, mainly so Dave can catch up on <strike>Strictly Come Dancing</strike> housework after spending far too much time here over the last few weeks, but also because it's really nasty sitting in here trying to fix things whilst campus life is being disrupted.

We've had a series of issues since a planned software upgrade that took place just before the start of term and the makers of the software have been working closely with us to find the problems and to fix them. We also replaced some hardware to make sure that wasn't compromising the service at all but things really seemed to click back into place after an evening fixing session with the software manufacturers last Friday.

Now that we seem to be operating as business as usual, we're directing efforts at reviewing the systems we have in place to make sure that we have the best possible infrastructure so that we can make further improvements to the service we offer.

We're grateful to the students and staff who provided their feedback as often it's that first tweet or message in the Support inbox that indicates something's gone wrong, often helping to quickly reveal the scale of the problem. We also aim to keep you adequately informed as to the status of these problems; if you haven't already, please sign up to receive our Latest News notifications and check the other channels we use to stay in touch with you.

Sussex IT - back in time...

Nov

09

Can you imagine a campus with no WiFi? A library with no internet, no electronic catalogue, the whereabouts of books signalled only by scribblings on cards and absolutely zero online journals. Not even a photocopier. Imagine no phone app (it's easy if you try). Imagine no Study Direct, no online timetables, no e-Submissions. Cluster rooms with no, er, computer clusters. No emails from the school office or the hundreds of societies you joined at Freshers' Fair. Not even an IT username - now that's stripping a Sussex student of their very identity, surely. But of course, with its red bricks, East Slope, the badgers and the seagulls, Sussex predates all that technology by decades. Being a student or a member of staff here in the 1960s and 1970s would have been a very different experience. The university, established in 1961, was quick off the mark to develop a computing facility. Initially, it existed to support the administration of the university, logging HR information and dealing with the payroll using information coded onto paper tape. At the outset, whilst the computers themselves only existed in one location on campus, admin staff would create the punched paper tape which would then be taken by porters to the Data and Statistics Office who would enter the information from the paper tape onto the central computer.

flexowriterpapertape

This machine was used to punch holes in paper tape, which would then transfer the information to a computer.
papertape

  Paper tape - this means something to something, apparently. Very clever.
paper tape reader

A paper tape reader.

The machine room in 1982  with DEC VAX-11 computers.

In addition to this work, the computing team also supported basic library functions as well as researchers and academic faculty, mostly scientists and the social scientists who were already using an early version of SPSS in the 1970s. The machines were in one large room; the memory units were the size of wardrobes while the processor was the same size as a van. All this couldn't even store a megabyte of data, but were still working in kilobytes. 

Until the late 1980s most administrative staff were working on typewriters; older models were replaced by electric "golf ball" typewriters, so named because of the interchangeable "type ball" containing the letters, symbols and numbers in varying fonts (they are strange and beautiful things).

us__en_us__ibm100__selectric__selectric_two__839x800

Each department had a small army of secretaries to deal with the demand of paperwork and communications; "instant" messages were left in the form of memos in pigeonholes, the closest you could get to a quick email about lecture room changes. When computers started to make it into school offices, it was in the form of Ataris, Amstrads and BBCs; it was a long time until any central purchasing system came into play so schools bought their own equipment... and then found that from department to department things were not compatible.

MComp3A

 

The Arts Computing Unit, which in the mid to late 1980s was located in Arts B, operated a conversion service, using a patch panel to connect different devices which helped somewhat with the incompatibility issues. This unit also offered a printing service before they became office mainstays, when printing was still done on that stripy thin paper with the holes you could tear off down the side. Dot matrix printers were the very noisy standard, a feature that now has become their sole worth - someone clever worked out that the movements of the printer could be manipulated to make "tunes". You've always wanted to hear the Wallace & Gromit theme tune played on a printer, haven't you? (If these are your new tunes of choice or you just really want to hear a printer play Eye Of The Tiger, then here are some more). Email began to be used amongst some members of staff in the early 1990s, but it wasn't until several years later that it became more popular. Students initially had to request to join email and were then granted an email address; they weren't allocated as standard until the late 1990s. The university website sprung into a grainy kind of action around 1997; this is what it looked like then:

Screen Shot 2015-11-03 at 10.00.52

Strolling round the archived version of the page, we could see what movies the Gardner Arts Centre (now the Attenborough Centre) back in 1998 - somehow the movies don't seem as dated as the HMTL. Does technology move at a different speed to popular culture...?!

 

Screen Shot 2015-11-03 at 10.02.08

In a recent post, I looked at the changes in equipment that students are using. One in four new students registered a tablet on the IT network this September, up from one in eight three years ago and only one in every 600 brought a desktop with them whereas a decade ago that number would have been much greater. With the rate that technology changes year on year, it's almost impossible to say which of today's technological staples will look, in three decades' time, like archaic curios of staggeringly low capabilities. Which IT item would you miss the most if you were at Sussex in the '70s?

Historical IT@Sussex bits and pieces

    • Email addresses used to be the other way round, so they'd be whoever@uk.ac.sussex (academic institutions were the first along with the military and government to get use of the internet and email).

    • Professor Dick Grimsdale, a Sussex lecturer and later dean of the School of Applied Sciences in the 1970s, was the first to send a transatlantic email, from the UK to America.

      • The first cluster computers used Windows 3.

Windows 3
    Windows 3

Many thanks to Andy Clews and Liz Davis, long-serving ITS colleagues who let me pick their brains for this post.

Photo/Picture locations: Red Selectric typewriter: http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-apZleEHOb94/UsE2I_uLhqI/AAAAAAAAXFU/0sPwWF0bIY4/s1600/us__en_us__ibm100__selectric__selectric_two__839x800.jpg BBC Micro: http://chrisacorns.computinghistory.org.uk/Pics/MComp3A.jpg Paper tape: https://www.staff.ncl.ac.uk/roger.broughton/museum/iomedia/pt.htm#pti Type Balls: http://www.daskeyboard.com/blog/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/IBM_Selectric_Type_Balls.jpg

Left to Your Own Devices

Oct

23

Over the first two weeks of term, 5,355 new users registered over 13,000 devices on our IT networks. That is, on average, about 2.5 devices each or 15 in every 6-person flat on campus.

That made me wonder about the hardware that students are now carrying about with them. When I first arrived at Sussex in September 2000 and took up residence in East Slope, I lugged one of these "Tiny" beauties up to the top flat (number 60-something, right at the back). I'd got it a month or so previously and was sooooo pleased with the technology. It had come in a bundle with a printer and a free digital camera that was the size of a brick and could hold eight pictures at a time. EIGHT. That's less than the texts the contemporaneous Nokia 3310 could hold.

Students with laptops were relatively few and far between; I remember getting my first one three years later. These days, I imagine that there aren't a huge amount of desktop PCs in student accommodation, and the market mirrors the decline.

The drawn-out death of the desktop is part of the overall bleak outlook for PCs; so far, 2015 has seen a continued decrease in sales of PCs for all but Apple products. Stateside, the balance has now swung in favour of the mobile-only users (those accessing the internet on phones or tablets).

In 2014, twice the amount of people used desktops as used tablets or phones to access the internet. Now, only a year later, desktop users have halved and mobile-only users have taken the lead.

I thought I'd get my Excel on and have a look at some of our figures to see if we're moving in line with market trend, and guess what? Just 10 of you bothered carting a desktop PC onto campus this year. We're not looking here at total users on campus, just the new users &amp; devices registered in the September of each year. Have a nice graph, and muse upon the death of the desktop. Have you ever used one/owned one/had one at home anyway?

 

 

 

I got some of my facts and figures from these articles:
http://www.pcr-online.biz/news/read/uk-sees-hike-in-pc-sales-as-other-eu-countries-witness-decline/037053
http://www.comscore.com/Insights/Blog/Number-of-Mobile-Only-Internet-Users-Now-Exceeds-Desktop-Only-in-the-U.S?utm_source=feedburner&amp;utm_medium=email&amp;utm_campaign=Feed%3A+comscoreblog+%28comScore+Voices%29 

Time warp!

Oct

14

Just as a teaser for a blog post of the future, I’ve just been given some photos of IT equipment at Sussex in years gone by and couldn’t resist sharing this one.  I’ve been sent these by our email expert Andy Clews, who’s been in IT here since the 1970s.

Andy says: “A partial view of the-then equivalent of the ‘data centre’ from 1975.  In the rear background is one of the memory units (there were three, at 32KB each!).   In the foreground are two card readers, and in the middle distances are disk storage units, each storing a massive 6MB each!”

 

These days, we have a high performance computer unit for research groups needing particularly high capacity machines.  Just these machines alone accommodate 162TB of data.  So to cater for these guys nowadays, we’d be needing 30 million of these 1975 machines.

 

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Help us to stay in touch with you…

Oct

13

Here at IT Services we do try our best to make sure that our news reaches you as we know that even minor disruptions, either planned or unplanned, can really disrupt your studies, your research, your teaching, your work … We want to be able to give adequate warning and keep you informed – what’s that someone said about being forewarned? Forewarned is forearmed; it sounds like something from a battleground but it is certainly applicable here. Obviously though, we might not always know when problems with IT are going to occur, but we do have quite robust ways for staying in touch when they do.

Whenever we have some news for you, we put it on our Latest News section on our website. When we do this, it triggers a tweet from our Twitter account and an email to land in the inbox of all who have subscribed to Latest News. Staff will also find an RSS feed automatically set up in their email, but that doesn’t appear in your regular inbox. For that to happen, you need to subscribe to the mailing listWe strongly recommend that you do this, as you will also receive any updates to a certain news item as they are published.

In the unusual event that all IT services become unavailable, due to perhaps a power cut, you can call the Service Line on 01273 678776. We regularly update this with a recorded message during all significant disruptions to let you know what the situation is.

We are now working more closely with the University’s communications team to make sure that all important messages are broadcast as widely as possible. We’d appreciate your feedback as to where we can improve and if there are any extra channels of communications you’d like to see being used.

Ten Top Apps for Students ... part 1

Oct

01

Adjusting to life at uni can be difficult, and even if you've been here for a while now you might find your organisational skills still need some tweaking. Thankfully, as with most other problems these days, there's an app to make it all seem much easier. Get some of these on your mobile device and you'll be well equipped for the rest of your academic journey.

    • Sussexmobile
       
      Screen Shot 2015-09-30 at 12.04.19
      The first app any Sussex student should be downloading is the Sussexmobile App. I wish it was pronounced mobeeel, like the BatMobile, but it's not - unless you lot decide it is, of course. This app is incredibly helpful for helping you navigate through university. It gives you access to a "lite" version of your inbox, so you can read and reply to messages, and compose new mail. The functionality is significantly reduced but it'll do until you can get back to your regular inbox. As well as the email, you can see your timetable, information about assessments, look at your library account and your printing account, find vacant study spaces and cluster computers as well as loads more.

Play Store     App Store




    • LinkedIn
       
      Screen Shot 2015-09-30 at 12.17.01


      It turns out I've become something of a LinkedIn advocate; if you feel like you don't know enough about what LinkedIn is or what LinkedIn does, have a read of my previous post on it. University days are a perfect time to carefully craft and maintain a top notch LinkedIn profile and it will get you more focused on your post-university career path early on. Work on that cv whilst ploughing through your studies to increase your employability at the end of it.

Play Store       App Store





    • Evernote
       
      Screen Shot 2015-09-30 at 12.17.25When it comes to organising your study notes, your thoughts, ideas, work plans, Evernote is pretty much the leader. It's available for nearly every device under the sun and utilised to the full on a laptop PC or MacBook, even the basic version can become every student's best friend. There are two levels of paid access that offer some really jazzy features such as turning your notes straight into a presentation for those most nervewracking seminars, or annotating PDFs. In the basic version, you can create a notebook for all your modules, you can make sub-notebooks as appropriate and then you can easily cross-reference by using what they call tags to tie together common themes. To use it is to love it (if you're a nerd for organisation).

Play Store      App Store




    • Sonocent
       
      Screen Shot 2015-09-30 at 12.18.32
      Now Sonocent is an Android-only app, but we'll get to an iOS equivalent in a moment. Sonocent is a completely excellent voice recorder, absolutely ideal for recording lectures and seminars. It's a bit less passive than others, however. As the lecture progresses, you can type notes directly into the app, you can take photos which attach to the file at the time point it's taken, and you can mark certain bits of the recording as important as it's happening. You can pause the recording and restart without it breaking the file up... it's an all-round good lecture-recording egg. It's also free which is rather brilliant, because its iOS equivalent isn't; SoundNote is excellent too, with similar features and it costs £3.99.

Play Store      App Store



    • RefMe
       
      Screen Shot 2015-09-30 at 12.18.05Back when I was an undergraduate, bibliographies took *forever* to compile, if you didn't do them as you went. It can really break your flow to keep going back to the referencing too, and we all know how evasive and fleeting flow can be. RefMe is a free app, available for both Androids and iPhones/iPads (coming soon for Windows phones, apparently). You can use your phone to zap a barcode or enter an ISBN number or a journal title and it will generate your bibliography (in your chosen style) and then export it for Word or Evernote documents. Literally a life saver, if you measure your life in terms of minutes that tick by doing tedious tasks. All right, it's a time saver, but it will save so much time you might get a bit more life away from the desk.

                                          Play Store       App Store

 

 

Visit the IT Services blog for Part Two of this article

IT in Lecture Theatres

Sep

18

UPDATE:  Microphones are again available in lecture theatres.  Apologies for inconvenience during these changes.

 

 

Lapel and handheld microphones are no longer available as standard in lecture theatres.  Teaching staff who require the use of this equipment can borrow them from IT Services, whilst lectern microphones remain in place in all theatres.  We’ve unfortunately had to resort to keeping these items safe as a large number have gone missing and it is not possible to repeatedly replace them.  Fill in the request form in advance of your teaching sessions and pop into Shawcross to collect the reserved equipment.

Additionally, two lecture theatres are currently without any IT facilities due to the overrunning of the summer refurbishment programme.  Our colleagues in SEF are working hard to finish this work so that we can get in and install PCs and AV equipment.  The affected lecture theatres are Shawcross AS1 and Richmond AS3.

Welcome Weekend 2015

Sep

14

Arrivals weekend has been and gone - thousands of students flooded onto campus, each armed with their laptops, their phones, their tablets.  Here at IT Services we're used to meeting a large number of students over the weekend who are having problems getting online and pop in for some help.  Usually that happens in such numbers that we hold a meeting the week prior and words like "crowd control" come up.  We've had situations before that have resulted in queues around the building and so many students sitting waiting for assistance that it looks like a very effective Occupy movement.  We get extra staff in and we even... move... the... furniture.  Yep.

This weekend, no queues.  No sitting students.  No impromptu freshers parties in Shawcross.  We felt a bit lonely, to be honest.  

3013 users registered their 5935 devices onto our network, and the vast majority of you did it with no help.  Are you all getting more tech savvy, or our instructions getting better?  (I hope it's the latter, because I helped rewrite them).

To all 3013 of you, and the rest who will no doubt register over the next few days, welcome to Sussex and remember, we're here should you ever need us... Any problems, just come and see us - Tom, Rich and Paul will get lonely and go weird if you don't.

And remember, now you're here:

  1. Follow us on Twitter: @ITServices
  2. Like us on Facebook
  3. Bookmark our website
  4. Subscribe to our blog
  5. Download the SussexMobile app for iOS or for Android

 

What can you expect from IT Services at the University of Sussex?

Sep

03

It’s not long since the phones were ringing loud and often over at Clearing HQ and the air was generally abuzz with sounds of students celebrating getting into their university of choice, and it’s not long until you future freshers will start arriving on campus. There are all sorts of unknowns for you to deal with – who your flatmates might be, how much you’re going to have to read, and those things called washing machines – but we’ve decided to lay down in black and white what you can expect of IT Services here at Sussex.

The truth is, we’re all around you. That’s not meant to be creepy, it’s meant to be supportive and as if we’re super, super helpful (we are). From 1st September you can register online and once you’ve done that, you’ll get your IT username and password. Then you are truly one of us.

You might want to download the SussexMobile app before you come – it will have information about your welcome activities and all sorts on it. In fact it’s a very useful thing to use throughout your time at Sussex – it has your timetable, your email, information about your library account and your printing account, and other good things like news updates and finding a computer that’s available for use in a cluster room. Download it from the App Store or the Play Store by searching SussexMobile.

If you’re living on campus you’ll have wi-fi in your bedroom, however we recommend that you use the wired connection (using the cable provided) as you’ll get faster internet that way. You’ll find information in your room about how to connect but it’s also online. There’s also a new free wi-fi service for visitors on campus which is provided by O2. This is great, and it means your parents or whoever is dropping you off can hop online if they need to while they’re here, but as O2 are essentially the admins of it we can’t be of too much help if it’s not working for you as all support is provided by O2. Something that is a bit of an unknown is whether any games consoles or eReaders you might bring along will work on our system because of the authentication required. Because we’re often asked this, we’ve made FAQs about both consoles and eReaders for you already.

Now, outside of the residences there are over 800 student PCs available for use across campus, as well as printers and scanners. Even if you’ve brought your own laptop with you, you still might find these useful as they have lots of software installed on them that you can use, like the whole Adobe Creative Suite, for example. There’s also more specialist software and hardware for different subjects so make sure you familiarise yourself with what’s available. Other software you can download onto your own computer, such as Office 365 through which you can download apps like Word, Excel and PowerPoint. When you login to this online, you’ll also see that you’ve got 1 terabyte of cloud storage through OneDrive, which is in addition to the 50 gigabytes of storage you get via the student PCs.

You should also get acquainted with Sussex Direct and Study Direct. They sound similar but they do different things.  Sussex Direct is a kind of control panel for your time at university. It’s where your personal details can be viewed and edited, you can add money to your printing account and you can view information about your degree such as your module results and online feedback.

Study Direct is a Virtual Learning Environment (or a VLE) and it’s really where information about your courses in the here and now is stored. Each of your courses will appear there and it’s up to the tutor of that course how much information is then uploaded to it. You’ll find information about when and where the teaching sessions are taking place, a course outline, maybe some background information to the lectures or teaching sessions week by week, and some reading suggestions. There might be downloadable information and an interactive forum. It will also be where you upload any e-Submissions (any assignments that can be dealt with entirely electronically).

If you’re a bit worried that your IT skills might be slightly lagging behind, don’t worry – we offer plenty of free training courses at differing levels so you’re sure to learn some new skills. Whilst our friends in Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) predominantly support teaching staff in learning new tricks to aid their sessions, it’s really worth staying in touch with them as students too as they have really good tips for helpful technology that can help with your studies and also make any presentations you have to do really pop.

Now lastly, we’re always here if you need help. You can reach our support team online or come into see us in Shawcross (this will make more sense when you get here and you see how all our buildings have nice names) – the support desk is manned from 9am until 7pm weekdays during term time, and until 5.30pm during the holidays. Follow us on Facebook, like us on Twitter and stay in touch with our blog. We’re looking forward to having you here on our big happy IT network.

PS: Download our IT at Sussex booklet too, but you’ll get a copy at your IT induction session as well.

Resits and Study Direct

Aug

14

Just a quick note to those students undertaking resits this year. When you look at your Study Direct, it might look as though all your content from the previous academic year has disappeared. It hasn’t; it’s just been tidied away. You can still access it by looking towards the top of the page and selecting the previous year, rather than the current site.

Hope that helps; you can also check out the related FAQ.