Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Marion Mahony Griffin

Griffin incinerators in Glebe?Last night attending a talk by Christopher Vernon, one of the authors of the new book "Marion Mahony Griffin : Drawing the Form of Nature"

Marion Mahony Griffin was the wife of Walter Burley Griffin, architect of Canberra. Marion was an architect in her own right and there is debate by historians as to how much of the work attributed to Walter (and to Frank Lloyd Wright) was actually by Marion. Christopher's thesis is that Walter and Marion's work was a genuine collaboration. They worked with, influenced and were influenced by others, so it not a simple case of: the plans were his and the drawings hers.

This may seem a long way from my usual work on IT, but issues of collaboration and intellectual property arise regularly. IT people are taking a technical legal and social approach to solving the problem, with things like the Creative Commons.

I am a bit of a Griffin fan and I gave a talk to the students of the "new Bauhaus" architecture school a few years ago linking the early plan of Canberra to telecommunicatons.

One of the sad facts is that the major buildings designed by Griffin in Australia were rubbish incinerators, mostly now demolished. Last week in Sydney I happened to pass the site of one of Griffin's incinerators in Glebe. A small building remains on the site, (see photo).

Speaking of buildings, the Canberra meeting was help from the "Shine Dome", located on one of the central parts of Griffin's Canberra plan. The building looks like something from a 1950s science fiction film. It has a domed lecture hall with seats like those of an FJ Holden, complete with a transmission hump on the floor.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

My First Cheque from Google

Tom Worthington with Google Cheque

This photo is of my first cheque from Google for advertising on my web site. I had to get it to the bank quickly as it is printed on flimsy paper and was falling apart.

Google advertising it's going to make me a fortune but I wanted to see how it works as an example of e-commerce. I gave the ANU e-commerce students a lecture on
Google advertising and set them an assignment question to work out how to build something similar.

The students tend to doze off when I am telling them how to use the web, metadata and all that technical stuff to do business on-line. What gets their attention is when I talk about something like selling books on-line and use the magic words: "this is not just theory, I use this to make MONEY". :-)

Monday, October 17, 2005

Bending Bicycle Better

Cheeky Monkey Workshop

I wrote in "Bending Bike Broke: Frame break on a folding bicycle" September 08, 2005:
The steel frame of my Dahon "Boardwalk 6", 6 speed 20" 2003 model folding bicycle broke in half Tuesday. At the time I was riding it at a bicycle path road crossing in Canberra. Fortunately there was no on-coming traffic and my helmet and clothing protected me from serious injury.
The people at Cheeky Monkey have installed a new frame and the bike is as good as was. There wasn't a steel frame available so my Dahon Boardwalk now has the aluminum frame of the up-market Vitesse model. This is painted a cool looking matte black. This was done under warranty and I only had to pay a small shipping charge.

Cheeky Monkey's shop is under the viaduct carrying the Tram to Central Station. It has a similar ambience to the bicycle shop in Cambridge. Hidden under a pile of panniers I found an Ortlieb Shuttle. This is a carryon sized wheeled bag designed for a bicycle and much like my previous wishlist.

Riding the bicycle back from was an adventure in itself. I passed the Sydney International Motor Shown at the Darling Harbor exhibition center. Tons of dirt have been piled up outside the center to form an artificial off-road driving track so that customers can simulate off road driving in large shiny four wheel drives.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

ICT Reference Group Meeting

ABS House

10:30am 11 October 2005, at ABS House Canberra

Statistics aren't always dull. This week I attended a meeting at the Australian Bureau of Statistics at ABS House in Canberra:

"The ABS established an ICT reference group in early 2004 involving government, industry, academic and community representatives. The aim of the reference group is to improve the usefulness of ICT statistics in Australia from a variety of sources. The reference group provides a high level forum for understanding, improving and developing ICT statistics, providing members with the opportunity to discuss and consider strategies to address ICT statistical issues ..."

I was there as Director of the Communications Technologies (Telecommunications) Board of the The Australian Computer Society. The meeting was attended by about 20 people, one third from ABS, one third from other agencies and one third from non-government bodies, including AIIA, ACS, and Telstra. These are some notes I prepared (comments and corrections welcome).

ICT Satellite Accounts

A new macroeconomic report on ICT (to be called: "ICT Satellite Accounts") is due out in early February 2006:

An ICT satellite account defines ICT products and identifies their supply and use, so that a comprehensive set of economic data relating to ICT activity can be compiled for the Australian economy. Among other things, this allows us to quantify the size of ICT production relative to other types of economic activity.

This should provide some impressive numbers for the media, of the “IT contributes $XXX billion to economy” sort.

Live demonstration - National Data Network

The National Data Network will provide infrastructure, protocols, standards, and services to support acquiring, sharing and integration of data across Australia.

The NDN looked very good. It is essentially a catalogue and gateway to Australian statistics at various organizations. There are some publicly available statistics there, but much of the data will require prior apporval to use, for priovacy reasons.

Information Development Plan

Information Development Plan (IDP) - The ABS is in the process of developing an IDP for ICT information. The ABS is taking a lead role in this development, but will not be the owners of the outputs of this process. There are many stakeholders involved in the production and use of ICT information and it is important for the success of the IDP process to involve and engage with these users and producers. The development of IDPs is seen by the ABS as an important element in progressing the National Statistical Service. Its effectiveness is manifested in how useful it is for decisions made on statistical priorities.

ABS doesn't have the resources to work on the IDP at the moment and will see if they can do it next year. The work DCITA has done on ICT productivity (reported at SEARCC 2005) could do with more support with more stats. James Shaw from DCITA talked about this at the ANU and again at SEARCC 2005 in September:

... we have the paradox that while a lot of computers and telecommunications are being used, economists are saying this don't increase productivity. ...
To explore this paradox, DCITA funded research to produce better measures of efficiency. These show about a 40 to 80% productivity boost with technology. Of course it is the Information Economy Division of the Department funding this work, so you might suspect the researchers are telling them what they want to hear. ;-)
URL: <>

Broadband Statistics

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) produces a regular broadband snapshot and is looking at changes:

The ACCC collects data on broadband take-up from a limited number of broadband providers, cross-classified by technology type and type of customer. This information is summarised in the ACCC's snapshot of broadband deployment reports.
The Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts issued the Monitoring and Reporting on Competition in the Telecommunications Industry Determination 2003 (No. 1) (on the DCITA website) on 5 May 2003 under sub-ss. 151CMA(1) and (3) of the Trade Practices Act. The determination requires the ACCC to report quarterly at the aggregate level on wholesale and retail broadband availability and take-up, cross-classified by technology type, data speed, data usage, geographic postcode and business sector. ...
URL: <>

There was a long, and very familiar, discussion of what exactly is "broadband". ABS uses the definition of "always on 256k". This seemed to be the consensus and fitted with what I found when I asked ACS members about the government's Blackspots program. But in reality a claimed 256k connection might only give you 64kbps and even if you get 256k we should aim for more from a public policy point of view in the long term.

Others suggested a higher figure and more levels of measurement (ABS only measures up to 2Mbps). By the way my own submission to the previous Senate broadband inquiry was subtitled "Never mind the bandwidth, feel the quality". ;-)

One problem in conducting a survey of Internet access is that consumers may not understand what sort of broadband they have (whereas ISPs would). Another issue discussed was if wireless numbers should be collected. I suggested it was a good time to start collecting stats on wireless (have a wireless modem in my
Smart Apartment and noticed another one in the window of an apartment building opposite).

A fundamental problem with the definition of broadband is what are you measuring? As an example of the problems, one person at the meeting said they would compare dial-up use with broadband. But wireless ISPs now provide non-dialup non-broadband (less than 256kbps) services.

The ACCC is reviewing its broadband statistics for 2006. It is looking to collect more detail, such as: Retail V wholesale, postcode, transmission speed, business V residential. But this costs money and takes time. I suggested that the Internet itself might be used to collect statistics on subscribers and speeds. The routers in the network might be used to collect some statistics, for example. This got a sceptical reaction, but will be looked at. Might also be useful for DCITA's review of their Strategic Framework for the Information Economy (SFIE).

Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP)

There was a general discussion of what VoIP stats might be useful (and useful enough for people to pay for). It would cost money to include questions about VoIP in household surveys. I suggested asking the ISPs how much voice traffic there is on their networks. Some suggested ISPs have such stats but wouldn't provide them unless compelled to. The take-up rate of Digital TV then came up. I couldn't see how this fitted with VoIP, apart from being another gadget. Also I pointed out that having the gadgets didn't mean they were used. I bought a VoIP box and a HDTV card, but so far don't use them much.

Follow-up on Value of Information Propositions

Value of information propositions - This item was introduced at earlier reference groups, proposing guidelines for a process of determining the value of information. A more in-depth discussion took place, with the basic hypothesis being that information is valuable if it causes a decision change, and information affecting multiple decisions is as valuable as the most valuable use.
URL: <>

Couldn't understand what this was about.

Collection of Business Characteristics Data

Collection of business characteristics statistics - The ABS is in the process of conducting investigations into better integrating business characteristics statistics. It is considered that this integration will yield efficiencies and an increase in the usefulness of these statistics.
URL: <>

There was some discussion of how to increase the accuracy of the stats. I didn't know what they were collecting so couldn't comment.

Next meeting

The next meeting will be around March 2006. It will discuss Spam. So I wonder if ABS will e-mail a survey out to everyone about Spam? ;-)

Friday, October 07, 2005

Bicycle travel case which converts to a trailer?

Had a message from someone who moved to Melbourne and wanted a folding bicycle. I would still say a Dahon is good value, even though mine broke in half (and it is taking a long time to be fixed under warranty).

While looking up who sold folding bicycles in Melbourne, I noticed Dahon now sell a semi hard-sided case for transporting bikes by air, called the Airporter. There is also a "Carry Freedom Trailer" which turns the case into a trailer and packs inside the case with the bike for air travel. This is similar to the Bike Friday case Lynette Chiang used on her Cuba trip, but that had
detachable wheels on the case to make it a trailer. Bike Friday offer cases and trailers.

Travel cases have wheels, so why doesn't someone make a semi-rigid travel case where these same wheels can be used to make the case a light duty bicycle trailer? T
he separate trailer ads to the complexity and cost: US$199.95 for the Dahon case and US$500 for the trailer.

On a 2004 Europe trip I used an small wheeled cabin bag as a bicycle trailer. The extended handle of the bag formed the tow bar (attached to the bicycle carrier with a stretch strap). This worked reasonably well
for short distances, but the skate wheels of the bag were too small and hard. On pavement the wheels were noisy and on cobblestones the bag jumped around. Also the fabric of the bag was not very wear or water resistant.

In Marks and Spencer's at Cambridge I saw a shopping cart, with larger soft wheels and realized these would be better. Later at a display of suitcase production at the German Museum of Technology Berlin (Deutsches Technikmuseum) there was a semi-rigid wheeled bag with soft rubber wheels (about 90mm), which looked good. The semi rigid material is waterproof like a hard case, but flexible and light like a cloth bag (about half the weight of hard cases). The bags have zips covered with water resistant plastic gaskets.

Recently I bought a small carry on size bag made of the semi-rigid material, branded "Revelation" (made by by Antler) for under $80. Larger ones are around $100. These are not ideal as a trailer as they have the small hard skate wheels, the zips have a plastic seal only on the inside (more expensive ones have a seal on the outside as well
covering the zip) and the extendable handle doesn't look strong enough to use as a tow-bar. As well the handle retracts into a hole in the case, making it less weatherproof and weaker.

So if someone out there wants to build the ideal bicycle trailer they would build a semi-rigid case with a weatherproof zip. The handle, retraction mechanism and wheels would be mounted in a grove molded in the underside of the case, to increase strength and water resistance. There would be large wheels with soft tires. The one retractable handle would be used to carry the case when closed, to guide it when extended as a wheeled bag and as the tow hitch when used as a trailer. The case would cost less than US$400 and weigh less than 10 kg.

There are equipment cases used for transporting video equipment with some of these features, but they weigh twice as much as the bicycle cases. You can even get a military specification mobile office on wheels, complete with desk, drawers and chair, which folds up into a travelling case. ;-)

Monday, October 03, 2005

Powerful information technology: The Public Library

There is a nearby free information source I use regularly: the public library.

When visiting Sydney you should drop into the City of Sydney library in the old Customs House building at Circular Quay. This is across the square from the Circular Quay ferry terminal and railway station. As well as magazines, books and comfy chairs, the Internet access was still free when I visited. There are sweeping views of the Opera House to the Sydney Harbor Bridge from the cafe on the top floor.

Speaking of libraries two book I borrowed recently are:

* Free as in Freedom, Sam Williams (O'Reilly & Associates, Inc . 2002). This is about Richard Stallman and his crusade for Free Software. I wish I had read this before I had Mr. Stallman stay at my Smart Apartment in Canberra for his 2004 talk at the ANU.

* Google Hacks, , Tara Calishain, Rael Dornfest (O'Reilly & Associates, Inc. 2004). The bulk of the book is a collection of clever ways to use the Google search engine. But there is also a useful overview of how Google works and suggestions for designing a web site which Google can index easily. In seven and a half pages Hack number 88 "26 Steps to 15K a Day" gave how to create a successful web site. This would be good advice even if Google did not exist. Some were:

* At least 100 content pages (not counting indexes and the like),
* Non generic domain name,
* Simple HTML markup with a maximum of text and a minimum of JavaScript and the like. Structure the page with headings to make it easy to scan,
* Pages of 5 to 15kbytes with a minimum of images,
* Keywords used consistently in the title, description, heading, URL and in the early text of the page,
* Link to a couple of good web sites using the keyword in the link text,
* Link internally between your pages based on content,
* Put the web site at a fixed IP address and make it friendly to web crawlers,
* Submit the site to search engines and directories.

None of this is really new, but it is good to have someone tell to it while the rest of the web world seems to go mad with hard to read PDF documents and the like. My web site design course was intended for IT professionals but went okay this year with museum staff in Samoa. So I might revise it with some of these tips for a wider audience.