Left to Your Own Devices

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.

Screen Shot 2015-10-16 at 13.12.25That 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 & 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?

graphdevices

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&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+comscoreblog+%28comScore+Voices%29

Posted in Articles

Software spotlight: Office 365

Office 365 LogoSharp eyes and smart minds will remember that fairly recently we posted a blog article about Office 365, and here comes another one already. Why? Firstly, because we have a whole new lot of Freshers to talk to and secondly, because Office 365 just got a whole load of new features.

We’ve paid for it so you don’t have to; all students and staff can download Office apps like Word, Excel and Powerpoint through Office 365, which is a relatively new online, cloud-based home for Office, that which many of us have become to think of as fairly synonymous with “software for doing everything for uni/work (delete as applicable)”. However, probably fairly obviously, this new web-based version of the Office package is slightly different from what we’re used to, AND it has some new features.

The first thing to know is that Word, Excel, Powerpoint and OneNote are all available to download them to your own computer, Mac, PC or mobile device. You can pretty much download them to anything. As well as downloading them, you can access them all online and use them through your web browser. The majority of us regular users aren’t going to notice anything at all missing from the functionality. In fact, if anything, you might even notice new features that don’t exist on the regular version of Office. The great thing about using the online versions of the software is that they are continuously saved for you, and they’re there on your handy bit of cloud storage that they give you. And there’s a lot of that. A really, really lot of that.

OneDrive

Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 13.10.55Everyone gets 1TB of online storage in OneDrive to use as long as you have a Sussex IT username. You can use this for Office files, sure, but you can also just upload anything else to it to have to hand when you’re on the move. You can share documents through OneDrive as easily as … well, as easy as clicking on the uploaded document, grabbing the link and sticking that link into an email to the person(s) you want to share it with. It’s so eeeeeeasy … and it doesn’t stop there. You can collaborate on documents with friends/colleagues/classmates as well; if one or more of you have the document open at one time, you can see what they’re doing as they’re doing it. Moreover, you can tell them what you think; a ‘chat’ button on the shared document will enable a Skype conversation between all document sharers – perfect for group projects and presentations if you can’t all get to the same place at the same time.

Now we have to put our learning hats back on people, because we now have to wrap our minds around some completely new Microsoft apps that form part of the Office 365 package. They go by the of-the-moment names Sway and Delve and they are definitely of-the-moment apps; we’ll look at them in turn.

Delve

delveIt seems appropriate to think of Delve as a collaborative filing system, one that everyone can get into and see whatever anyone’s chosen to put in. If you have shared any documents with colleagues/classmates, they’ll all appear in your Delve homepage. You can also search for a particular topic and it’ll return relevant documents.

DOWNSIDE WHICH IS GLARINGLY OBVIOUS AS SOON AS YOU START TO PLAY WITH DELVE: It’s an eerily lonely place if your friends aren’t at the party too.

Don’t expect anything from Delve if you’re not part of a large network which is also using it (unless of course, you’re using it for one particular project and everyone’s playing). An important thing to be aware of is that only shared content appears here. OneDrive keeps the rest to itself and won’t share unless you’ve set the permissions to do so.

Sway

swaySway… Now, Sway looks interesting. You might read that it’s described as a presentation program, and then you’d be forgiven for thinking oooh, that sounds good, and then for thinking now I can ditch PowerPoint, and then for thinking hang on, PowerPoint is here too. Why are there now two presentation programs? And for that I have no answer, except that they are really quite different. The final presentation result is very different – a bit like PowerPoint x Prezi, but not as flexible. It seems to have quite a lot of potential though, if you look at what Microsoft themselves have put together with it.

I decided to have a play, and my honest review is that I didn’t find it as user-friendly as I’d like (but that might be because I’m aging and maybe my brain is tired from ALL OF THE NEW. THERE IS NEW EVERYWHERE.) Anyway, I gave myself half an hour to see if I could put something impressive together; I couldn’t. But that doesn’t mean you won’t be able to, and I reckon there’s plenty of potential here for beautiful and unique presentations. Be mindful of the fact that you need to be online to access it, unless you’re using a Windows 10 device which is capable of downloading them.

Microsoft are touting Sway as a new way to share photographs, reports and stories. This is true. It could make creating beautiful scrapbook-style blogs very very easy, but it seems as though there might be some issues getting your Sways to embed properly in WordPress. As they’re a really gorgeous-looking way of presenting information, you might adopt them as a way of updating the society’s tired newsletter, or you could quickly and easily assemble some lovely photos of a trip to show off by email or on Twitter (it really does make for a very nice slideshow…).

Whilst it’s not certain whether these tools are going to catch on en masse (it seems a bit unlikely that they will), Delve and Sway are probably handy little applications that are going to sit around unused for a long time until you have EXACTLY the right need for them and then they’re going to seem indispensable. If you make good use of OneDrive and the Office apps through the cloud, Sway and Delve will no doubt start to come into their own.

Let us know what you think, and if you’ve used them already.

Posted in Articles, Make the most of IT, Software

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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 list. We 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.

Posted in Articles

Ten Top Apps for Students … part 2

Did you miss part 1 of this article?

    • Pomodoro

      Screen Shot 2015-09-30 at 14.44.29Don’t underestimate the power of this tiny little app. Such is its influence on me, this is the second time I’ve written about it. For those of us whose willpower needs just a little help at times, Pomodoro is a timer which encourages you to have a good go at your work for 25 minutes, rewarding you with a break afterwards. It’s surprisingly good for keeping you focused. There are other apps which do a similar thing at the same time as blocking your access to certain web-based distractions, but we think the simple little Pomodoro is good enough.

    • Play Store      App Store

    • Camscanner

      Screen Shot 2015-09-30 at 14.51.40 Now this is just a bifty bit of stuff for your devices. Of course, you could just take a regular photo of something that you need to remember, or a document that your classmate has and you’ve managed to throw away – after all, most phone cameras take bedsheet-sized photos these days. With Camscanner though, you can scan multi-page documents, you can turn the scans into PDFs, you can annotate the scans … you can really do all kinds of things with them. It is useful; it is good.

    • Play Store    App Store

    • vBookz PDF Voice Reader / Voice Aloud Reader

      Screen Shot 2015-09-30 at 15.03.02Now these are two similar apps; vBookz for iOS and Voice Aloud Reader for Android. They’re especially good for those negotiating university studies with dyslexia, but there’s no reason why everyone wouldn’t benefit from these. Both apps use text-to-speech software to read electronic documents to you, including PDFs and online articles. If you struggle with reading dense text or if you have so much reading to do you need to get through it whilst doing the housework or the grocery shopping, you can have it all read to you. The Android app is free whereas whilst you can download vBookz for free, you then have to pay when it comes to installing a language. It’s a pretty nominal figure though; if you’ll benefit from this kind of app, it’s a small price.

    • Play Store     App Store

    • Trello

      Screen Shot 2015-09-30 at 15.05.16Trello is a fantastic collaborative app; if you’re set group tasks or simply want the support of a group of classmates to get through your studies, set up a shared space on Trello and keep your ideas together. Away from collaboration, it works as a great to-do list as well to keep yourself on track.

    • Play Store    App Store

    • StudyBlue

      Screen Shot 2015-09-30 at 15.07.28Studyblue is a great little study app, and it’s powered by user content so will only get better, it seems. You can add notes and store them as flashcards, leaving you with a great resource for revision when exam time rolls around. You can share your flashcards and find those others have used on the same subject. Studyblue can then use your notes and flashcards to generate quizzes and tests for you so it’s fantastic for anyone who needs to get vocabulary, dates, names or other facts imprinted into the brain.

    • Play Store    App Store

      Do you have any more apps that you use to help with your studies? We’d love to hear about them.

Posted in Articles

Ten Top Apps for Students … part 1

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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 12.04.19The 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 useful in 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 12.17.01It 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 12.18.32Now 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

Posted in Articles

Time warp…

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!”

machine-room[9]

 

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.

 

Posted in Articles

Lecture Theatres

Microphones in lecture rooms
Lapel and handheld microphones are being returned to the combination boxes in lecture theatres. If you’re teaching in a lecture room and want to open the box to retrieve a mic, please call 8022 for the combination. There’s no longer any need to book microphones in advance.

A large number of microphones went missing last year and to control the costs of repeatedly replacing equipment, we tried changing procedure, asking lecturers to book microphones in advance. Although this worked successfully over the summer, it has quickly become apparent that it’s not a viable process during a packed teaching schedule. That was a miscalculation on our part and we’re sorry for the frustration it added to the first few days of term.

We’re working on a better way of making microphones accessible while also keeping them as secure as possible and will have more information about this in the near future.

Refurbishment of AS01 and AS03
Our partners in Sussex Estates and Facilities have been working hard over the summer to refurbish some of lecture rooms on campus but work in two theatres, Shawcross AS01 and Richmond AS03, has been hit by delays and is not yet complete. As a result, we’ve not yet been able to configure the standard suite of audiovisual equipment in these rooms.

Now teaching is under way, we have to organise installation work around a busy schedule of lectures. The work is complex, involving a number of IT staff as well as external contractors and some aspects are reliant on construction work that is not yet ready. This means it will take us a bit of time to complete installations but we will have the standard set of equipment up and running as soon as we can.

Audiovisual equipment: progress update
Shawcross AS01
This lecture room isn’t yet ready for use and short-term bookings have been temporarily rearranged.

Richmond AS03
There is now a Windows PC connected to the projector and a stand microphone in place of a lectern mic. Lecture capture is not yet operational. More services will be in place over the next week or so and we’ll publish updates on progress here.

Posted in Articles

Welcome Weekend 2015

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.

See also: Calling all new and returning students…

and

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

 

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Posted in Articles

Calling all new and returning students…

It’s the beginning of a new academic year and we’re looking forward to the campus becoming a lovely busy buzzy place to be again with the arrivals of this year’s freshers this weekend.

To stay in touch with ITS news (which is surprisingly useful, you’ll find), quickly do the following:

  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

We can help you with any problems you might be experiencing with IT here at Sussex and we also send out useful notifications about changes, upgrades and any essential maintenance that we’re doing which might interrupt certain parts of our services.

Remember, when you arrive on campus all you should need to connect to our internet, eduroam, is your ITS username and password which you should have already received when you registered online.

If you’re experiencing any IT problems, we have a big team on hand over arrivals weekend and the following week to help out but be warned – queues are often very long indeed. We bring in extra people to help over these busy times and we do deal with all enquiries as quickly as possible, so if you do need to visit us, please come equipped with a bit of extra patience.

We’re looking forward to meeting you, both online and here in Shawcross, the home of IT Services.

See you soon, and don’t forget your phone chargers!!

 
 

See also: What you can expect from IT at the University of Sussex

Ext Campus 14

Posted in Articles

Celeb breakup!!! Java and Chrome “Consciously Uncouple”

Earlier this week, Chrome discontinued support for NPAPI-based plug-ins.
javachrome

If you’re anything like me, that’s not going to initially mean much to you, only you might have heard it’s got something to do with Java, and well, Java has just been one of those things that’s always been in the background of the internet since most of us started using it regularly and it’s just popped up when we’ve needed it and quietly gone away again. Sometimes it alerted us to its absence, and told us that we had to get it to make everything work as it’s supposed to; we did as we were told and a previously dormant website sprung into life. But now it’s not going to be there, not in Chrome anyway (which, incidentally, the vast majority of visitors to this blog used last month – 49% of them, with the second place awarded to Safari with just 17% of visitors) and since Chrome announced their Java rejection, it seems others are set to follow suit. In a world where we humans are all going wheat free, browsers go Java-free. pie-chart

But why? And what does this mean for us?

Well … let’s go back to the beginning for a bit. Cast your mind back to the first internet pages – or the first ones that we normal home internet users were coming across regularly. After a quick google, I managed to locate these two beauties of internet prehistory. One contains all the evidence from the OJ Simpson trial -a fascinating slice of history in more ways than one. The other is what one of Google’s competitors looked, and still looks, like.

http://edition.cnn.com/US/OJ/
and
http://www.ifindit.com

This is how limited browsers were when sites could only be written in basic languages like HMTL. Browsers did very little themselves and didn’t do much to change how the pages actually looked. To get audio, video or anything interactive onto the page, something like Java, Silverlight or Flash was required, and this could be added to the browser as a plug-in.

However, browsers and plug-ins don’t interact very well together. They sort of occupy the same space, without talking. Browsers get updated but the installed plug-ins don’t and this is causing problems. It’s not intrinsically the plug-ins that are to blame, it’s the platform that some of them are built on that’s called NPAPI. That was developed in the 1990s (like those websites, for a sense of how far we’ve come since then…) and the big boys are saying it’s not welcome at the party anymore. In fact, Google said: “NPAPI’s 90s-era architecture has become a leading cause of hangs, crashes, security incidents, and code complexity.” Basically, NPAPI isn’t cool any longer and it’s getting the blame for a lot of problems that are often wrongly attributed to the browsers. These days, browsers are getting updated much, much more frequently than they were earlier – after Internet Explorer 6 appeared in 2001, Microsoft didn’t come up with a new version for five years – and now, the functions that plug-ins fulfilled are now being provided by the browser itself, and they can update them and change them frequently, keeping them safer.

These days, you’re not really going to notice that Java has gone. In most instances, HTML5 has got your back when it comes to Java absences. Flash has been being phased out for a long time now, and HTML5 has picked it all up so quietly and efficiently that you probably didn’t notice that you haven’t been asked to allow Flash to run for aaaaages. Right?

The other thing to understand here is that Java is not Javascript. They have a similar name, but JavaScript was initially called LiveScript – life would have felt a bit easier if that had remained the case, but alas, we were fated for this confusion. JavaScript has nothing to do with NPAPI, so it can stay.

For now, there’s not much that we actually use Java for, especially here at Sussex. We use them for Oracle forms (Java’s owned and deployed by Oracle) which some members of staff might come across. There’s more information here but in summary, if you do come across something that needs Java, you’re going to have to switch browser and at the moment probably the best option is Firefox. Google must be pretty confident that they’re not going to lose their loyal customer base to their competitors so it’s highly likely that good alternatives to Java (and its NPAPI structure) will be widespread soon.

Posted in Articles