Friday, 22 April 2016

Space Apps working with IT Services

Pedro Ribeiro of Computer Science writes about live-streaming at the Space Apps Challenge.

This year is the fifth edition of NASA's International Space Apps Challenge. For the fourth time the local event, on Saturday 23 April, is being hosted by the Department of Computer Science at York. We expect up to 60 attendees to sign-up, making this the biggest edition of the Challenge at York. Attendees form teams and collaborate with other locations and or virtual participants all across the globe. On Sunday 24th April, teams present their solutions to our panel of academics and industrial representatives, with the winning teams receiving prizes locally, but also competing globally with other locations. The global winners get a chance to attend a NASA launch.

Traditionally, locations have been encouraged to live-stream from their sites, so that people all over the world can get a feeling for what it is like to compete at each location during the weekend. York is no exception, and so we have live-streamed our event every year and published recordings of every team presentation on our YouTube channel. The facilities provided by YouTube to do live streaming are fantastic and accessible to everyone. Here at York we have, year after year, improved on our solution, starting with standard webcams, and ending with a multi-cam Raspberry Pi-powered solution.

An excerpt from last year's live stream:

We are very grateful that this year IT Services have offered to supply us with a dedicated 8-core virtual machine to accommodate our video mixer and live streaming solution. Essentially our set-up consists of Raspberry Pi cameras streaming H264 (encoded in hardware) to a local server, where we can conveniently decode the stream, overlay additional text and graphics, and re-encode it in a format suitable for YouTube. This year we are aiming to have a fully fledged streaming capability by having a live video mixer hosted on the IT Services-provided VM. This is something that can only be successfully achieved by allocating dedicated resources to the task. The video mixing software we use is called Snowmix (with an underlying dependency on gstreamer) and has originally been developed by Copenhagen Suborbitals, an amateur space agency, who specifically developed this piece of software to cover their rocket launches.

We plan to start our live-stream on Saturday morning (23 April), provided everything goes according to the plan. Much testing has been done over the last few weeks, but of course, in the spirit of a hackathon we are also raising the bar for ourselves and trying new ideas.

If you would like to join the Challenge at York you can do so by registering at:

The event is free, but the number of places is limited, so hurry!

You can follow us on Twitter @SpaceAppsYork or at, and of course you can watch the live stream at the link below once the event is underway:

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

The Minster Library - Fragments of the Past: Part 3

Jeff Berry uses the third of his four blog posts to examine the use of liturgical texts in bindings.

From the Archbishop Tobie Matthew
collection 1628, York Minster Library
Liturgical books were common in the middle ages, and were used in the various religious observances of the Catholic Church. The Protestant Reformation was contemporaneous with the rise of print, and the combination of the two meant that liturgical texts were excellent candidates for use in bindings in Protestant countries since their liturgical use was no longer required.

The photo to the right shows a lovely example, with alternating red and blue initials with beautiful pen-flourishing of the opposite colour. The fragmentary nature of the documents often makes dating them difficult, but with nearly a full page to work from, it is possible to put a rough date to this page; the script and decoration suggest that it was created in the late thirteenth century. The Minster collection has quite a few fragments which contain music to some extent.

Sometimes manuscripts were not just used in the binding, they were the entire binding. The book shown below has as its cover a vellum wrapper made from a thirteenth or fourteenth century commentary on the Psalms. The Psalms themselves are in red, with the commentary in black. Each line of the Psalm begins with a blue initial, and, interestingly enough, a red guide letter is visible inside the blue initial indicating that the blue was added at a later stage after all the black and red had already been completed. This was a usual practice, and uncompleted manuscripts with blank spaces for initials are not uncommon. This image shows Psalm 89, the end of verse 10, 'quoniam supervenit mansuetudo, et corripiemur,' and the first line of verse 11, 'Quis novit potestatem irae tuae.' The entire line is not visible in either case, and there are several abbreviations in use.

Held in theYork Minster Library, printed in Frankfurt 1579
All photography by Paul Shields.

The Minster Library - Fragments of the Past: Part 1
The Minster Library - Fragments of the Past: Part 2

Monday, 18 April 2016

Cyber Essentials: IT security across the University

Matthew Badham explains why Cyber Essentials accreditation puts the University ahead in bids for research grants.

Maintaining good cyber security - and being able to demonstrate that we do so - is increasingly important. It protects your account and data, and it's a requirement of many funding organisations when they consider allocating research grants. Good news then that in December 2015 the University of York was awarded Cyber Essentials accreditation covering all managed desktops and laptops.

What is Cyber Essentials and why do we need it?

Cyber Essentials is a government supported scheme which is designed to help organisations protect themselves against security breaches. It considers everything from the infrastructure of our network to your desktop PC or laptop. Our compliance with the standard demonstrates that the University meets fundamental security standards for all supported IT provision. Gaining Cyber Essentials certification gave us the opportunity to review all the precautions we have in place, ensuring that we provide an optimum level of security.

Having worked through the checklist of standards required, we can now be confident that we meet all the key requirements, both for the certification, and for funding bodies.

How does this help me?

If you are a using a managed desktop you can be reassured that you are protected by the systems that the University has in place. Increasingly, funding bodies and organisations are seeking assurance that the IT systems of those applying for research grants are compliant with basic security standards. Quoting the University's accreditation is a useful way of providing this assurance and of enhancing your bid.

Who has Cyber Essentials?

Developed by the government and industry, the accreditation is held by an increasing number of organisations who want to demonstrate to customers and external companies that they are taking essential precautions with their IT security. We are one of the first Universities to gain it.

What does Cyber Essentials cover?

Any managed Windows desktop or laptop, and the infrastructure behind your connection. If you are using an IT Services managed desktop or laptop, and saving your files on central filestore, then you are covered by the certification and can specify this on grant applications for sensitive data. If you are using managed iMacs, managed Linux desktop, or unmanaged devices (eg OS X or unmanaged Windows laptops) you are not certified. Unmanaged devices can't claim this certification because we can't ensure that they meet the required standards in areas like updates, patching, and use of anti-virus software. However, we will look at including certification for managed Linux and Apple devices in a later phase of this work.

Image courtesy of

What comes next?

Having successfully achieved the first stage of accreditation, we are now working towards the next stage of accreditation called Cyber Essentials Plus which will require us to meet an even higher level of security standards.

Any questions…

If you'd like to find out more, please contact IT Support who will forward your query to Arthur Clune, the Assistant Director of IT Services (Infrastructure).