University of Pittsburgh

Council on Academic Computing

2003-2004 Activities Report


THE PROVOST’S CHARGE

Provost Maher delivered the Council charge on October 20, 2003.  He asked the Council to

  • Work with Computing Services and Systems Development (CSSD) to provide guidance on matters related to web access by disabled individuals.
  • Work with CSSD to investigate how new technological devices and processes can be used to enhance the security of University networks.
  • Explore how the University can satisfy the needs of both the academic community and the individual researcher over the next five to ten years.
  • Sponsor a Fast Computing Connection Applications Initiative that will encourage innovative uses of high-speed internet access.

SUBCOMMITTEES

Web Access by the Disabled

Members of the subcommittee tested whether four areas of the University – the University Library System, the Universities of Pittsburgh at Greensburg and Johnstown, and the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences – complied with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  All areas follow University (and hence ADA) guidelines regarding the design of web sites.  Each unit also either uses Bobby software, a comprehensive web accessibility tool that assesses compliance, or reviews their web site on a regular basis.

Security of University Networks

The Council’s Security Subcommittee and other members of the Council met with Jinx Walton, Director of CSSD, and members of her staff.  They discussed issues related to a planned Network Operations Center, which will anticipate problems and correct them proactively; virus protection; and a comprehensive University security plan.  CSSD staff will continue to consult members of the subcommittee and members of the Senate Computer Usage Committee as they address issues related to University computer security.

Future of Academic Computing

The Provost’s Office funded and the Department of Chemistry hosted an event that will be the model for the “Future of Academic Computing” speaker series.  The event, entitled “Computing in the Life Sciences: A Symposium,” highlighted computer applications in biology and chemistry.  Internal and external experts addressed the audience.  Members of the Council will sponsor two or three similar events next year.  Potential topics for individual events include advances in autonomic computing, developments in quantum computing, the future of supercomputers, the future of the internet, etc.

Innovative Use of High-Speed Internet

The Council relaunched the High Performance Network Applications Initiative after a one-year hiatus.  Two of the four applicants were funded.  Professor Heather Allen, a member of the Department of French and Italian, was awarded a grant for her project entitled “Crossing Cultural Boundaries: Using Technology To Bring Native Speakers into the Classroom.”  Professor Sabina Deitrick, a member of the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, was awarded a grant for her project entitled “Neighborhood Information System for Southwestern Pennsylvania Using Peer-to-Peer Information.”

COUNCIL RETREAT

Members of the Council met on May 13, 2004, to discuss the Council’s agenda for the upcoming year.  Attendees suggested that the Council

  • Advise CSSD on campus computer security issues
  • Work with the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center to develop seed funding for network computing projects
  • Create an ongoing speaker series that highlights trends in academic computing
  • Sponsor a series of half-day thematic events that facilitate interdisciplinary collaboration

COMPUTING ISSUES

Jinx Walton frequently reported on the activities of CSSD.  Computing milestones and achievements often were announced.  The following is a breakdown by area.

Connectivity

  • University bandwith has doubled to two 160 megabyte links to the Internet (one for the residence halls and one for the remainder of the University). 
  • Wireless internet access is being or will be installed in David Lawrence Hall and some Cathedral of Learning and Posvar Hall classrooms. 

Services and Software

  • Class schedules and class rosters are available now through the University portal.
  • The spam and virus filtering service is available now for “pitt.edu” e-mail addresses.

Security

  • CSSD has developed a three-year, comprehensive security plan for the University.
  • CSSD is working with a consultant to determine whether weaknesses exist in the University network’s security.

Miscellaneous

  • CSSD prepared educational and informational materials regarding copyright infringements.  This information was made available to all students.
  • CSSD expended significant effort cleaning viruses from students’ computers at the beginning of the fall term.
  • Telephone and computer service for most, but not all, individuals within the University’s Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic was transferred from the University to the UPMC network.

HIGH PERFORMANCE NETWORK APPLICATIONS INITIATIVE

Previous recipients of High Performance Network Applications Initiative awards presented project reports to the Council.  The Initiative promotes the development and use of advanced computer networks and accelerates the development of next-generation, network-based applications at the University of Pittsburgh.  The Projects funded through the Initiative are expected to provide a competitive advantage to the University and faculty in their teaching and research.  Four recipients addressed the Council during the 2003-2004 academic year.

Louise Comfort from the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs used her award to enhance collaboration among scholars from Colombia, Ecuador, Japan, Mexico, and the United States.  She developed a bilingual web site (www.iisis.pitt.edu/html/hrrmr_entrance.html) for the Hazard Reduction and Response in Metropolitan Regions model.  The web site helps to maintain a continuing dialogue among colleagues and city administrators.  Project participants used the website as a network to coordinate grant development and workshop preparation.

Ray Hoare from the Department of Electrical Engineering used his award to design an interactive videoconferencing system.  Professor Hoare used an IP-based network connection, small electronics, and application programming interfaces of the Java Media Framework (JMF) v2.1.1 to create a flexible system.  Users can connect to one camera or many, remotely control a camera's pan and tilt angle, and adjust the stream rate of the transmitted data.  The system is designed to accommodate receivers with low bandwidth connections. 

Jeremy Levy from the Department of Physics and Astronomy collaborated with John Yates from the Department of Chemistry on his project.  Professors Levy and Yates direct large, interdisciplinary projects that involve investigators from multiple universities.  Researchers on these projects must communicate frequently.  Professors Levy and Yates developed a cost-effective, software-based videoconferencing system that elevates communication to a more personal level than that offered by e-mail or phone.  They were not able to take full advantage of the software due to network limitations at the University.  These same limitations apparently are present at other universities as well.

Wolfgang Schloer and Mark Weixel from the University Center for International Studies (UCIS) designed a system to further the outreach mission of organizations within UCIS.  They developed the Portable International Lecture System (PILS) to broadcast and record the events sponsored by the aforementioned organizations.  The system is comprised of a digital video camera, a laptop computer outfitted with broadcast and other associated software, and a server.  Real-time or recorded events can be accessed via the PILS website.  Real-time events can be “hung out” on the University network so that any number of viewers can access the broadcast.

INFORMATION SESSIONS

Spam and Virus Filtering System

Jinx Walton and members of her staff discussed Postini, a spam and virus filtering system that soon will be installed on the University’s servers.  CSSD staff recommended that all University staff, students, and faculty members be required to use the virus detection component of the software but not the spam filtering component.  Members of the Council agreed with this recommendation.  Postini software permits the user to vary the restrictiveness of the spam filter.  CSSD staff and Council members also discussed educating the University community about the new software.

University Internet Service

Jinx Walton discussed issues related to discounted dialup and DSL Internet services.  The University of Pittsburgh signed an agreement with Stargate three years ago to offer these services to University students, faculty, and staff.  The additional “VPN-only” service was added last year to permit those individuals using a different internet service provider to remotely access University restricted resources.  CSSD plans to develop an internal VPN (virtual private network) service to replace the Stargate service, which ends on June 30, 2004.

2003-2004 MEMBERSHIP

Chair

 

George E. Klinzing

Office of the Provost

 

 

Arts and Sciences

 

Rob Coalson

Chemistry

Daniel Mosse

Computer Science

Taieb Znati

Computer Science

 

 

Health Sciences

 

Peter Draus

Nursing

J.B. McGee

Medicine

Bambang Parmanto

SHRS

Michael Zemaitis

Pharmacy

 

 

Professional Schools

 

Siddharth Chandra

GSPIA

Christopher James Earls

Engineering

Dennis Galletta

KGSB

Arthur Hellman

Law

David Robins

SIS

Clement Stone

Education

 

 

Regional Campuses

 

Melanie Anderson

Titusville/Natural Sciences

Gregory Dick

Johnstown/Engineering

Clara Vana

Greensburg/Library

 

 

Senate Computer Usage Committee 

John Close

Dental Medicine

 

 

Staff Liason

 

Jinx Walton

Computing Services and Systems Development