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This is an extended version of the talk given to all Physics Freshers' at the beginning of the Academic Year. This is designed to be a quick introduction to the systems likely to be encountered, and to cover some important points. The images are the slides used during the actual presentation sessions - and they'll open up to a larger size if you click on them. The text is an attempt to give an idea of what is likely to (be/have been) said during the session.

The introduction to IT Support for 'Physics' Students - this is run during the first laboratory sessions for Physics first years, and as a special induction session for Maths & Physics students.

To check that you're all paying attention, there's sure to be some 'deliberate mistakes' left in the presentation and the notes. See how many you can spot!

As Maths and Physics is run by the Department of Physics, I will only refer to "Physics" below - but the information is relevant to both programmes.

So, why does this session exist, and what are the aims? Quite simply:

1. To learn about the IT Support available within the Department of Physics, and across the University as a whole.
2. To find out a bit about the systems that you'll be using during your life here as a student.
3. To ensure that you know what is available, when and where.
4. An introduction to some specific tools that you'll need to be using, so that we can be sure that you know at least the basics of using them.

Let's start with a simple question - who am I? and what do I do?

Well, my name is Simon Dodd, I'm based in 3 West 4.3a, and I'm the Computing Services Supporter for the Department of Physics. If you wish to get in touch, please email pysit-support@bath.ac.uk as that will then ensure that it's given a 'ticket' in our tracking system. If you wish to 'phone, my extension is 5858.

I'm employed by BUCS (Bath University Computing Services) to provide IT Support to the Department. My job hasn't changed, despite the new job title, and I'm now a member of the Faculty of Science IT Team which comes under the heading of User Services within BUCS.

 

I'm responsible for providing 'Tier 1' and 'Tier 2' (don't ask) support to the Department, and to act as liaison with BUCS as necessary. This means that I get to look after all of the 300+ computers within Physics, as well as old printers, servers, fax machines etc. that exist.

I also hold an advisory role within the Department, as a member of the Department Executive Committee, and on other groups as required.

Your password is used to keep your account, and your details, secure across the majority of our systems. It is very important that only YOU know what it is! You should NEVER tell anybody what it is.

Warning

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NEVER tell anyone your password





It is particularly important to remember that BUCS will NEVER ask for your password (and you should never provide it in a support request). It is possible that you may see hoax emails occasionally that pretend to come from BUCS asking for it, or suggesting that you need to send the password back to continue using our systems. These are phishing attempts, and should be ignored and deleted (or reported to us, so that we can ensure they've been blocked, to stop more gullible individuals responding).

Remember

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BUCS staff never need to know your password, and will not ask for it.



Every year we deal with a number of people that have managed to lose files - often just before a deadline. Save yourself the experience by ensuring that your files are safe. We provide networked storage for you, that's extremely resilient and reliable, so use it for all of your vital coursework.
And of course, multiple copies are always a good idea.

Don't panic if something goes wrong, and please don't feel embarrassed about asking for help - that is what we are here for. It is well known that even (perhaps even especially...) the academic staff need help with the simplest things. It's important to remember that you are here to learn. Nobody can know everything about everything, and everyone will have a different set of IT skills. Please don't be afraid to ask, and don't worry that your question will sound stupid. There may also be some amongst you that are terrified of computers - we've had them before! Don't worry, just come along and have a chat if there's something that particularly worries you.

  • So, if you're stuck and want some help or advice with computing matters you can always try:
  • Check the BUCS pages and FAQs - lots of things have been asked before, and the most common have made it into the FAQs
  • Complete the BUCS problem form - somebody should reply within 24 hours during the working week. (If you have trouble finding the form, it's the big word HELP! on the left of the Computing Services page.)
  • Visit the BUCS service desk on level 2 of the Library (by the side of the Computer Shop).
  • Get in touch with me! Contact details are at the beginning, and my office is in the Physics computer workroom, so I'm easy to find.

And after mentioned the computer shop, I should perhaps do the advertising bit now! Our campus computer shop, ITP, is run by BUCS as a service, so we're not trying to make a profit. As suppliers to the academic departments they are able to purchase items at academic prices, and these (usually reduced) prices can be passed on to students. Although they can't keep a large stock on campus, they can usually get what you want in. As an example, 2m network cables for RESNET use have been just 60p recently, with similar cables in PC World costing around £8!

So - now you're sat in front of a computer at Bath, what do you need to know about the way they have been configured?

And how do they work? Very well, most of the time! And they're getting better and more reliable all of the time. (But I would say that, wouldn't I?)

Let's start with something that probably most are familiar with - Microsoft windows based PCs, and during the actual introductory sessions that's almost certainly what you'll have in front of you.

We're currently in the process of upgrading our systems from Windows XP to Windows 7 (like most large organisations we chose to ignore Windows Vista), so you'll see both operating systems around. The Library and PC labs have now all moved across to Windows 7, but some within the Departments are still with Windows XP for now. There is a rolling programme planned for the next year (or so...) within which we'll upgrade as many of the remaining PCs as possible.

On campus we use the Microsoft "Active Directory" system for management, so you may see that term being used sometimes. This allows us to grant users specific permissions, and to have "roaming profiles" so that your customised settings follow you around - this is great, as it means that you should only have to get it working the way you like once, but in practice people do get caught out by it sometimes - in particular it's worth thinking about your choice of wallpaper, as what you're happy to look at when you're using a computer in the library may be very different to what you'd choose to come up on screen if you're giving a presentation...

"Using the Public Access Computers

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There's a handy list of "Do's and don'ts" for the PACs at http://www.bath.ac.uk/bucs/services/pacs/rules.html


The "My Documents" folder is redirected to a network share, and for historical reasons this is actually the "h:" drive on the computers, in the folder named "dos" so you can tell how long we've been doing this sort of thing at Bath!

If you can't login, check that the "logon to" box says "CAMPUS" as that's the place where your user accounts exist. It's also worth checking that 'caps lock' isn't on - though Windows should warn you about that.

Oh, and remember to log off when you finish - or the next person coming along will be able to access all of your files.

The Sun Rays are a particularly good implementation of a 'thin client' method of computing, where the device you use (the Sun Ray in this case) doesn't actually have any computing power itself, it just uses the resources of a server hidden away elsewhere. These tend to be energy efficient (as the clients don't use much power), require little support (as there's not a lot to go wrong, and no moving parts), and can offer the option of multiple operating systems.

They are also small, which means that they've been ideal for installing all around the campus, on walls in corridors, so you'll see a lot of these about.

Due to their flexibility and reliability they've been installed in the Library, cyber cafes and the Physics workroom. In their current configuration they allow easy access to a web browser (and a webmail page and the library catalogue through browsers), windows terminal servers, a linux desktop option and a pure UNIX terminal.

Windows terminal servers provide 2 main roles - they allow the Sun Rays to have a windows option, and they allow us to provide additional access to resources (as you can use them across the internet!), and a way to provide software that it's not possible (for technical or licensing reasons) to provide on more computers. Just to confuse things, we actually have 3 different windows terminal services! They are:

Unidesk - (Advanced Windows Desktop on Sun Rays) more powerful servers, tailored to some specific packages (Matlab, Maple...) that require a lot of local storage, longer run times, more RAM etc.


There's a full software catalogue available for the terminal servers.
You can find links for the different terminal services within the Start menu, under "More Applications" - why don't you go and have a look now?

Are you back yet?

Linux options -  these provide the linux desktop option on the Sun Rays, and also exist as a compute resource that you can use. Linux is becoming a very important tool for the University, particularly within Engineering and Science research, and BUCS are currently looking into expanding the linux service. If you are taking programming units then you are likely to make use of either these or the
UNIX servers. There are many different types of UNIX system, and they are found at the backbone of many large networks. In our case we have a couple of Sun Solaris systems that you can access, and these provide the UNIX terminal option on the Sun Rays, and also can be used as a compute resource for running code.

The H: drive in Windows is a very important place, and it's been mentioned already. It holds your "My Documents" folder, and a number of other files that are required to keep your account working correctly. The h: drive is also the "home directory" that you'll use in Linux/UNIX so it's your primary file store. 1GB is actually very generous - when I started I had 4MB - but if you need more space then it's often possible to apply for more quota. We'll have a look at a tool to check how much of your quota you've used later.


It's backed up every night, and also features a "snapshot" facility that allows for data recovery, but that's really beyond the scope of this quick introduction. You can even connect to it on your own computer - see how to map drives

Within the h: drive there is a very important folder, and some thought went into naming it - it's called "Profile_Do_Not_Delete" so please don't, not even to find out why you shouldn't.

You will notice other network drives connected on the computers - generally these are required to make software work, or for management reasons. One that you should perhaps know about is the X: drive, as this holds Departmental resources, and it's possible that later in your time at Bath that you'll be taking part in a project that requires storage on here.

Email - probably our primary means of communication now, so we'd suggest that you check it regularly, so that you don't miss important information. You have a separate quota for emails, which I believe is 50MB, but again this can potentially be upgraded later if necessary. It's worth knowing that there is a maximum size of 10MB for emails, so you may need to find alternative means for moving anything larger than this. All emails are now virus scanned, and spam checking is also available - though we don't (as far as I know) apply general spam filtering yet, as it's hard for us to know what is spam.
Officially Mozilla Thunderbird is our recommended, fully supported email client, followed by Webmail. We do not support the use of Outlook or Outlook Express, or the use of other web based clients (gmail etc.) for reading email.

You join us at an interesting time for printing. We've just moved the campus from having individual printers to a centrally managed system. This means that you can use any of the Canon copiers that come under the managed print system to print. These also allow scanning and copying, so are a very useful addition to the University.

Note that you have to pay for printing, so you need to have credit on your account to do this. I presume that someone else has already mentioned this during one of the central induction sessions.

In your residences you have RESNET, and the equivalent around the campus is Docking which allows you to plug your laptop in to a wired connection. We also have a wireless service operating in may areas (particularly communal and social areas) which can be very useful. This is now part of the "Eduroam" system, used by many Universities in the UK and some in Europe - it will allow you wireless access at any participating institution, so may be useful if visiting friends.

So - you now know what types of computers we have, but where can you find them?

The easiest place is probably the library, as there are 600+ computers there - some Windows PC and some are Sun Rays. These are available whenever the library is open, so that's 24/7 access. You will find that it gets busy at times though, so you can't always expect to be able to just go in and find a computer to use. There are display screens around the library that show the availibility of computers, so make use of them.

We also have PC labs, for taught classes (like this one) in 1W, 1E, 2E and 3E - and these may be used outside of timetabled sessions (the timetable should be outside the door of each room) - between them they provide another 180 PCs.

Sun Rays are popping up all over the place - cybercafes (a.k.a e-lounges), corridors and communal/social spaces all around the campus, so you'll probably never be too far away from one of those. I'm told that 164 of these have been installed around the place.

 And of course, there's always the Physics computer workroom...

Which is in 3 West 4.3 - easy to find, if you know the Physics square - just go up the stairs one more floor and then through the first door on the left, and turn immediately to your right and come on in!

The workroom is open whenever I'm on site, which is approximately 09:00 until 18:00 each day - traffic permitting. It isn't necessarily open during holiday periods, and just occasionally we have to make use of the room for other things, e.g. a training session or online test, but these are kept to a minimum and so shouldn't affect you too much.

In the workroom we have 20 Sun Rays, to give maximium flexibility, and also 3 PCs. There's also a wireless access point covering the area, so you should be able to get a very good wireless signal if you want to bring along a laptop. Unfortunately I can't provide many electrical sockets for laptops to be plugged into - it's limited to just a few on the side walls.

Printing has been greatly improved for this year, as we now have a colour copier running through the MPS for you in this room.

And my office is in the corner of the room, so computing help is very easy to find there!

Now I'll briefly mention some of the Physics specific computing resources, within the undergraduate laboratories in 3 West.

The teaching labs on level 3 have 19 Windows PCs, these use Active Directory and have a lot of the general software that you'll find anywhere. These have an additional role though, to control experiments. Most have specific hardware or software associated with them to allow them to interface to laboratory equipment - many are making use of the industry standard "LabView" program.

The MPhys project lab on level 4 is a slightly different area, as this combines space for experimental and computational projects - so again we have Windows PCs with interfacing capabilities, but we also have Windows and linux PCs that can be used for computational work. We have 20 PCs within this laboratory.

We provide wireless and docking networks throughout the laboratories, so please feel free to bring along your laptops.

And a reminder that you can access many of our resources from your residences, or across the internet. Much more information about this may be found on the BUCS webpages.

We're getting there - thanks for staying with it!

Just a few things that it's work knowing about:

  • One thing that I hear very often is people opening an email attachment, editing it and then closing it - forgetting to save it. They realise what they've done when trying to find it to openin the next time. It's far safer to save the attachment first, and then edit it, as you'll then know where it is.
  • Although not directly relevant to you, as you have access to our wireless network, it's worth being aware that if you have visitors that they can utilise the BT Openzone service, which runs across our wireless network, to access the internet. Many people will already have an account as part of a contract with BT as an internet service provider, and even if you don't it's easy to set up credit to use it when necessary. It also explains why "BTOpenzone" announces itself when you're looking for a wireless connection.
  • Sun Rays and USB sticks really don't mix very well. Although it's possible to use it in Windows (I don't think it's been enabled in the linux desktop option) it's not a particularly reliable thing to use. You have been warned!

Really just re-iterating a few points from earlier, and then some advice:
Taking breaks is important - stop occasionally and rest from the screen, go and have a coffee (out of computing areas please) or find some fresh air!

Treat the computers with respect - and try not to break them. However, we're well aware that accidents do happen, so we'd appreciate you letting us know of anything as soon as it happens.

Getting Help

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If you need help - ask.


As I said earlier, don't be embarrassed, it's what we're here for.