All posts by Jonathan

About Jonathan

Senior Software Engineer at Red Hat. Formerly head of Support (and presently Guest) for the School of Computing Science. See my profile.

Support Team Leader

After nearly five years as Head of Support in the School of Computing Science and 10 years in the wider University, I’ve decided it’s time to move on to something new. From early February I will be joining the Open Source company Red Hat, working in the Middleware division.

John Snowdon, who joined the School last May, has been appointed as the new Head of Support, to take the team forward and meet the challenges facing the team and the School in the future. John has very quickly settled in and brought his experience and talents to the School and I’m confident he will do a great job as leader.

There are further plans to strengthen Computing Science Support going forward, including a planned two new positions. For more information, watch this space!

I’d like to thank the School for all their companionship and support over the last five years, offer congratulations to John and my best wishes to John and team for the future!

 

Revamped Support Team website

Today we are making public our new, revamped support team website at https://support.cs.ncl.ac.uk/.

This new, publicly-accessible site is the result of a large effort to review all the content on our former website, the internally-accessible-only Support Team Wiki.

The older wiki was organised around the notion of “Guides”, one per operating system, such as “Linux Guide”, “Mac Guide”, etc. There was a wealth of information but much of it was out of date and as a result the general impression of the wiki’s reliability was lowering. The structure also suffered from duplication where information was common across platforms.

For the new site, we have reworked the structure to be centred around three principles:

  • Services – the portfolio of services we offer the School;
  • Policies – what our policies are for some of our services, e.g. hardware refresh cycles;
  • Advice – tips and tricks for getting things done, including supplementary information for services from other teams,  tailored to our audience.

We hope the new site, incorporating much of the content from the old site, is found to be more useful and up-to-date. However we’re aware that there is a lot more work to do! If you find something that is inaccurate, misleading or simply missing, please get in touch to let us know – via the “Report a problem with this web page” link at the bottom of every page, where appropriate.

Microsoft Internet Information Server on Desktop PCs

Due to an administrative error, Microsoft Internet Information Server (IIS) is running on a number of recently built desktop machines.

In response, we are planning to apply a policy which will disable it on any campus managed desktop machine within Computing Science. We will do this on Friday 11th July.

If you are deliberately running IIS on your desktop, this will disable it. Please raise a ticket with CS support so we can work out the best way to address your requirement.

If you don’t know what IIS is, don’t panic, this won’t affect you.

Printer set-up script for Mac users

Our wiki instructions on setting up School printers for Mac users are a little long in the tooth, dating as they do from a time before we routinely joined Macs to the campus domain.

In order to make printer set up easier for our growing numbers of Mac users, CS support have written an initial setup application called “addPrinters“.

Simply run the application attached to that wiki page to automatically add the printers Tweedmouth, Millburn and csrburn. Please make sure you have already installed the Konica print drivers, also attached to that wiki page, before trying the script.

Future developments will make adding and removing any School printer as simple as clicking a check-box, as well as ensuring that the Konica drivers are installed on your behalf.

Mac Portable Apps?

I’ve written about CS Portable Apps, the apps bundle for Windows that we curate. I wonder, would anyone benefit from a “Mac Portable Apps” bundle? What could be in it?

Looking at my ~/Applications directory, I suppose it could be at least Emacs, Thunderbird, Firefox, Chrome, MacVim, VLC, Adium, Skype, Chicken (VNC), svnX, iTerm, GitHub.

If we followed CSPA’s current policy of only being for University-owned PCs, we could also potentially include Citrix receiver (RAS), MS Office, Lync, MS Remote Desktop, XQuartz, Xcode and possibly in some cases VMWare Fusion.

But would anyone find this useful? Are there any other obvious apps that I’ve missed?

CS Portable Apps

Setting the beta channel in CSPA
Setting the beta channel in CSPA

Are you aware of CS Portable Apps (CSPA) – the application bundle installed on every CS PC and every Cluster PC on campus?

It’s been a little while since we updated CSPA, and we will shortly be pushing out a major update. If you would like to get a glimpse at what’s on the horizon, you could move your PC onto the “beta channel” of CSPA.

Updates

Since it’s been a while, we need to update a number of applications to correct security issues. These include the VLC media player and the IrfanView image viewer.

Git

We are interested in adding a git client to CSPA. We have installed msysgit in CS Remote Apps (more info on the wiki) but we feel CSPA would be a better home for this, since that would permit offline and off-campus access. One possibility would be to move msysgit to CSPA (replacing or merging with the existing msys). Another possibility is packaging the Github Git client. This snazzy-looking graphical tool appears to lower the bar required for beginners to get started with git, as well as offering similar visualisation tools to those enjoyed on UNIX platforms. It also happens to bundle msysgit within itself.

Spring cleaning

We are considering dropping some apps, too. Most notably Google Chrome. Since Chrome was originally added, its popularity has soared. It’s now well enough known that ISS maintain a policy for Chrome and install it by default just about everywhere. We plan to move towards using the ISS Policy on all CS PCs and removing the copy in CSPA at the same time. We need to double check how this will all work in practice.

We will draw up and circulate a list of apps that we plan to remove in order to give people an opportunity to champion those apps if they are still of interest.

Behind the scenes

We have been making a lot of changes to how CSPA is managed in order to make it easier for us to push out updates more efficiently in future. This includes moving from mercurial to git for version control, implementing an automatic process for publishing changes that are committed to a particular git branch and a more automated process for tracking the versions of apps that are bundled in CSPA and scanning for updated versions on the web.

As always, if you have any questions, comments or problems relating to CSPA, please don’t hesitate to get in touch!

Welcome John Snowdon

We are pleased to welcome John Snowdon, who joins the School today as a Senior Computing Officer working in the CS Support Team.

John has over eleven years experience working in UNIX and specialist IT support within the School of Medical Sciences Education Development here at Newcastle University.

John has hit the ground running with work on revamping some of our key bits of infrastructure. We’re long overdue investing some time in this and paying off accrued technical debt so it’s a great feeling to have more resource in this area.

Network disruption on Thursday 24th

ISS Networks are in the process of upgrading most of their networking equipment across campus, including the equipment that services Computing Science in Claremont Tower and Daysh. They plan to upgrade that equipment this Thursday 24th between 17:30 and 19:30. During that two-hour window, wired networking will be disrupted.

Due to the history of the wifi in these CS areas, I think wireless networking will also be impacted. However, I believe that wifi will not be inactive at the same time as wired switches. Therefore, if you plan to work during this period, you should be able to use one of wired or wireless at any given time. I’m waiting on confirmation of this.

The benefit of this work for CS will hopefully be the resolution of some long standing network problems, particularly on the 10th floor of Claremont Tower.

Please direct any questions or comments about this work to me (Jonathan) directly.