Rack lab summer upgrade

2014-07-09 13.57.29

As you may know the Support Team is looking to upgrade the Rack Lab to a Windows 8.1 build this summer.

In order to test the new build for compatibility we have placed ‘first draft’ of our “Lab 8.1 Build” in the Mill for people to test out.

As well as the teaching staff directly involved with the Rack, we encourage everyone else in the School to take a look at the machine and give us any feedback about what works well, and what is missing / broken.

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.


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.


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.

Computing Science Website Update for May 2014

Facilities and room booking:

We have setup a new webpage that lists the rooms and facilities available in Computing Science; including Claremont Tower rooms 6.02A, 7.01, 10.05 and Daysh room 6.29A.  For each room/facility in Claremont Tower we have photos, equipment lists and links to timetables and room booking.  The photos for the Daysh room will be added soon when the renovations are finished.

Update to staff pages for visitors:

For visiting/guest members of staff who do not currently have a Newcastle University email address and contact phone number, we have added the School reception telephone number. This means that all visiting staff within the school now have a point of contact.

Updates to B. Randell’s 75th birthday seminar webpage and Turing seminar webpage:

To complete the webapges for Brian Randell’s birthday seminar and the Turing seminar, we have added links to the booklets, posters and handouts for the events.  These webpages now include all the slides, talks and supplementary material for each event providing a comprehensive archive for these seminars.

New webpage for the North-East Regional e-Science Centre:

The North-East Regional e-Science Centre acted as a front door for e-Science in the area, offering expertise to university researchers and industry.  The Centre has now closed and we have setup a webpage describing its roles and duties during the time it was active.  There is also a brief description of the Centre in the timeline history of the School which includes a link to the NEReSC webpage.

Creative Skillset and BCS accredited course modules

Many undergraduate modules and some postgraduate courses now have BCS (British Computer Society) accreditation and we acknowledge this by listing the BCS logo on each course/module with accreditation.  Similarly, the Creative Skillset logo is used to recognise accreditation for the Computer Game Engineering, MSc.  See here, for an example of a course with accreditation.


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.

Holiday weekend cluster closures

Both our main clusters – The Mill and The Rack – will be closed over the holiday weekend from Friday 18th April to Monday 21st April inclusive.

Those of you with 24/7 access already will still have access in the normal way but should take extra care with safety and security as there are likely to be fewer staff available to assist in the event of an emergency.

On behalf of the support team I hope you have a happy Easter Weekend.