Friday, March 31, 2006

Community PC for Developing Nations

In "Internet cafes in rural India?" Candace Lombardi writes (CNET, March 30, 2006, 12:19 PM PST ):
"... Intel's Community PC is designed to withstand temperatures of 113 degrees Fahrenheit and up to 85 percent relative humidity, and has a removable dust filter. To keep the motherboard cool, the chassis houses an integrated fan. Operating on an "uninterruptible power supply" unit, the computer is able to maintain overall power consumption of no more than 100 watts ..."
There already are Internet cafes in rural India. What I saw on a recent visit were ordinary desktop PCs being used in cafes, businesses and even a convent. The cybercafes are used by foreign tourists but also by locals.

The better equipped cybercafes have banks of dangerous looking lead acid batteries to supply power during the frequent blackouts. Some businesses had individual Uninterruptible Power Supplies (UPS) for each PC and even the convent's computer used by the nuns had one.

As Lombardi writes, Intel's Community PC makes more sense than Nicholas Negroponte's $100 wind up one per child computer. Apart from not having an actual usable computer, what will stop Negroponte's wind up computer project is dependence on charity. The idea of sharing computers through cybercafes which charge for service will work much better.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Podcasting Road to Salvation for Australian Film Industry?

See the notes from my seminar Podcasting Policy and Terrorism at the College of Engineering and Computer Science, The Australian National University, Canberra, 29 March 2006. It covered:
  • What is Podcasting?
  • Preparing Content
  • Podcasting Feeds
  • Podcasting Popularity
  • Podcasting and Advertising
  • Regulation of Podcasting
  • Podcasting and Terrorism
The audience asked a lot of tricky questions. This did help me clarify what sort of policy the ACS (and Australia) might have. The essential points might be:

  1. Podcasting is a "good thing" of value for education, culture and entertainment as well as commerce. It should be encouraged, or at least not banned or blocked with excessive regulation,
  2. Podcasting is a form of web content. It has some potential negatives, such as inappropriate material for children. These can best be dealt with by treating Podcasting as a form of web content carried over the Internet on a telecommunications service and using the existing laws which cover that, amending them where needed. The alternative would be to treat it as a form of broadcasting. This would need many changes to a lot of broadcasting legislation and creation of new laws, creating new anomalies in existing laws.
  3. Government should encourage local content. Regulation cannot block overseas podcast content. So incentive schemes for encouraging local TV and movie content should be extended to cover podcasting content.
Another thought which occurred to me afterwards is that there may be synergy between podcast content creation and computer games. Perhaps that is an area for the government to encourage industry development. Australia could have an integrated e-book, computer game, podcast and movie industry.

As an example author John Birmingham's "The Axis of Time" book trilogy would make the material of a series of movies (my namesake is to command a ship in the last book of the series). However, the several hundred million dollars needed to produce the movies could not be raised in Australia.

What might be done instead is to first produce a graphic novel (book length comic) similar in format to Max Allan Collins' Road to Perdition, then a computer game, an animated movie and only then a live movie series. Each format requires increased amounts of finance to produce, but could use the computer based models and promotion generated by the previous format. The graphic novel, animated movie and movies could be produced in special podcast formats as well as full resolution full length versions.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

ePod: Environmentally Sustainable Housing

My third suggestion on how to celebrate Canberra's centenary in 2013 is to investigate the construction of low cost, high quality, environmentally efficient housing in Canberra.

This would be based on developments such as "City Edge" at O'Connor (where I live), which includes a mix of private and community housing, specially adapted apartments for the disabled, solar power and heating, advanced computer controlled energy systems and broadband access. Some further steps which City Edge does not have could include online assistance to residents for apartment worm farms and solar powered car pools. The car pools could be used by group houses for the disabled, as well as the rest of the residents.

Pilots for this would be set up in Canberra and the results discussed at a global conference in Canberra in 2013. By 2013 students, researchers and companies would be attracted to Canberra as a world center for responsible urban design.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Podcasting, Broadcasting Policy and Terrorism

The Australian newspaper published my opinion piece today on "Policy needed on podcasting".

As one TV network's Podcast director has pointed out, I did not actually say what policy is needed. So I arranged to give a seminar on this and related matters at the ANU this Wednesday, 4pm in Canberra to help work it out.

To make things topical the ACMA issued new program standards to prevent the broadcast of programs that directly recruit or solicit donations for terrorist organisations and terrorist activities. This restriction does not appear to apply to podcasting. Perhaps I should re-title the talk "The Revolution Will Not Be Podcast" (apologies to Gil Scott-Heron, author of the poem "The revolution will not be televised"). ;-)

College of Engineering and Computer Science
The Australian National University
Computer Science Seminar Series


Tom Worthington, Director of Communications Technologies (The Australian Computer Society)

DATE: 2006-03-29
TIME: 16:00:00 - 17:00:00
LOCATION: CSIT Seminar Room, N101, Computer Science and Information Technology (CSIT) Building, North Road, Canberra, ACT

Podcasting is the distribution of media files using web based syndication to handheld devices. Tom Worthington will outline how it works, discuss some of the public policy issues it raises and ask for input to the ACS's policy on digital broadcasting. To the IT professional, Podcasting is a simple application XML technology to digitized audio (the ANU already supplies students with the digital audio of lectures). However, while technically simple, podcasting raises public policy issues: is it broadcasting? how and should it be regulated? how and who makes money from it? See:

Tom Worthington is an independent information technology consultant and Visiting Fellow in the Department of Computer Science, Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology at the Australian National University. He is Director of Communications Technologies for the Australian Computer Society, and was elected a Fellow of the Society in 1999 for his contribution to the development of public Internet policy.



Tuesday, March 21, 2006

eTrain: Canberra Hybrid Fast Train to Sydney Airport 2013

The Canberra Hybrid Fast Train to Sydney Airport would be a renewable energy powered transit system to Canberra. It would start with a minor upgrades to the existing diesel trains to enable them to use the $192M new rail line being built through Sydney.

Companies and researchers in the rail transport industry would be invited to Canberra in 2013 to celebrate the new service and discuss new technologies for this route and for the developing world. Hybrid diesel/battery trains such as Japan Rail East's Kiha E200 using carbon neutral fuels could replace diesel trains. The new hybrid trains would travel via Sydney Airport, allowing domestic and international passengers to travel to and from Canberra using the existing, but under-used line. This would have environmental benefits reducing aircraft pollution and also free up the airport for more international and longer distance interstate flights.

This follows from a public forum in Sydney last Saturday and the invitation from the ACT government to suggest ways to celebrate Canberra's centenary.

The Canberra Electric Highway 2013

The Canberra Electric Highway would be a renewable energy powered transit system for Canberra. It would start with minor changes to turn one of the three existing lanes on the Belconnen to Civic road into a transit lane. Electrical mains power would then be provided to vehicles on the transit lane (initially hybrid diesel/electric busses). The electric power would be derived from Australian solar technology, wind or hydro renewable sources. Companies in China, India and other developing nations as well as researchers would be invited to collaborate to solve the transport problems of both the developed and developing nations. Smart Car and public transport research from Canberra would be used. Results would be presented at an international symposium on the electronic highway in Canberra in 2013.

This follows from a public forum in Sydney last Saturday and the invitation from the ACT government to suggest ways to celebrate Canberra's centenary.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Making Future History for Australian Cities

Ovlier Freeman, Phil McManaus and Richard Neville
On Saturday Leichhardt Council in Sydney held a public forum on expectations and future needs of the community over the next 15 to 20 plus years, with environmental, social and economic issues. This is part of a review of the Strategic Plan for the area:
"... Our futurist presenters include Oliver Freeman, scenario planner and facilitator for the session; Richard Neville, well known futurist and social commentator; and Dr Phil McManus of the Australian Conservation Foundation. After these presentations, we will then discuss some of the options for the future well being of our community. ...
From: Leichhardt 2020+ Public Forum, 18 March 2006

As I spend part of the time in Leichhardt, I went along to the Town Hall and contributed. This was not my first attempt at futurism, in 1993 I took part in a future study for Canberra and wrote "Canberra 2020: World Information Capital", which was in Informatics Magazine, September 1993. In this I had Gareth Evens as UN Secretary General (he wrote a note to me afterwards indicating he was mildly amused by it).

The forum had all the usual elements:

* CELEBRITY PRESENTERS: "Futurist" is an even more vague job description than "consultant". The main qualification seems to be to be well known and a bit odd. In the past I have been at an event where the futurist sang (badly) to the audience. So I was pleasantly surprised at how sensible and knowledgeable the three for this event turned out to be:

- Ovlier Freeman was described as a scenario and planning facilitator and trainer, but seemed to me to be the business brains behind the proceedings.

- Richard Neville is a "well known futurist and social comentator", but is also "that Richard Neville", editor of Oz magazine.

- Dr Phil McManaus is a geography lecturer from University of Sydney.
e might be almost ruled out as a futurist, as a genuine expert in a genuine scientific discipline, who has written a real book, and a scholarly paper about issues in Sydney:

"... This paper explores the complex interplay of scientific, organisational and community cultures in a proposed restoration project. In March 2004 the City of Sydney released the Glebe Foreshore Plan, which included the creation of a mangrove habitat in Bicentennial Park West. Despite widespread support of the mangrove concept, the associated plan generated significant opposition, including what one local newspaper dubbed ‘mangrove battlelines’. This paper develops a framework to analyse competing visions of nature in the mangrove conflict ..."

From: Mangrove Battlelines: culture/nature and ecological restoration, Phil McManus, Australian Geographer, March 2006

The event used the usual setup, with the presenters introducing a topic and then the participants discussing it at their tables, results tabulated onto butcher's paper, votes from the participants and the the promise Council would consider these in their planning deliberations.

A laptop computer and projector was used by the presenters, but this was the extent of computer support. This was curious given the presenters kept talking about how the Internet and communications were important to the city's future. There was a considerable delay while the topics from each table were transcribed to large sheets for voting. Perhaps there could have been a half dozen council staff with laptops to type the topics in and then project them on screens (or print them).

One good feature was an "other" board, where individuals could put up extra topics whenever they liked, which did not fit with the group think of their table. One idea I put up was to extend the discussion online. As an example the list of topics brought up at the day could be placed on the Council's web site and people could indicate the priority by clicking on them.

The Topics for the day were:
  • Community Wellbeing
  • Transport
  • Government
  • Natural Environment
  • Built Environment
One problem was that each question was phrased in terms of its effect on the Council, rather the on the community. The assumption seemed to be that the interests of the council and the community were one in the same. As an example under "government" I raised the issue as to if a Council was needed at all. If most people were living in some sort of collective housing, such as apartments run by a body corporate and that most services are privatized and under state government supervision (such as roads), there may not be any role for a council at all. This is an issue for the council as they would be out of business, but if done properly it may not be an issue for the citizens, who may get better democratic representation and better services.

The usual issues were raised, such as globalisation, sustainability, urbanization, energy use, oil shortages, public transport and the like. This got me thinking about Canberra, which recently had an effort to decide how to
celebrate Canberra's centenary in 2013. The ACT Government called for ideas for the celebration.

The ideas presented for Canberra's centenary look pretty lame. As an example one is to invite all the state symphony orchestras to perform in Canberra. This puts me in mind of the opening of Summer Olympics in Los. Angeles, where 84 pianists on 84 white pianos performed the solo part of the Gershwin's Rhapsody. No doubt the organizers thought this would show to the world the city's depth and sophistication of culture. Unfortunately for them this shallow, tasteless spectacle did just that. It would be unfortunate if the only thing Canberra could show after one hundred years were similar lame tricks.

So here are a few ideas for Canberra (and Sydney) I might develop further over the next few months:

  • eRoad: The Belconnen to Civic Electric Highway,
  • eTrain: Hybrid Fast Train from Canberra to Sydney,
  • eGov: Canberra Center for Advanced Government,
  • ePod: Cooperative Environmentally Sustainable Housing for the Disabled.

Making Money from Free University Software

Tom Worthington and Senator Lundy
On Friday I hosted a seminar at the Australian National University by Ray Warouw and Pia Waugh from Australian Service for Knowledge of Open Source Software (ASK-OSS) at Macquarie University:

"Uptake of open source software (OSS) in Research, Education and Business environments is rapidly increasing and evolving. Education about OSS is becoming key to positioning OSS effectively within an organisation and future strategy. The Australia Service for Knowledge in Open Source Software (ASK-OSS) has been established as the national advisory service on OSS for Higher Education Research by the Department of Education, Science and Training (DEST). My talk will be presented from the HE perspective and is intended as an introduction to our service, what we do, and why we exist. Further to this I will present the current issues we see existing in OSS adoption.

Essentially DEST is encouraging Australian Universities to look at creating and using open source software. If the Universities can make a bit of money out of it as well, that would be a bonus. You might ask how to make money out of free software: you can sell services and support for it, or sell an enhanced version of the software while continuing to give away a free version.

As it is DEST funded, ASK-OSS is first helping other DEST funded projects which are creating free software, such as Australian Partnerships for Sustainable Repositories. An example of this is Ian Barnes and Scott Yeadon's work on "One click DSpace ingestion with the Digital Scholar's Workbench".

ANU is a good place to look at OSS, as the University has been a significant developer of open source software but not so good at getting kudos, or money, from it. Part of what ASK-OSS is doing is to help make university software developers and their bosses comfortable with open source software. Ray Warouw uses the example from Macquarie University where OSS is used for education and there are moves to create commercial spinoffs from this.

The University's traditional approach to making money from software has been to claim ownership of the software and then try and sell licences. Often the result has been it doesn't sell, so the University gets no money and no one gets to use the software. In a way OSS reverses the process: first you get people to use the software and then if it turns out to be popular you get money out of them.

As well as people from the research sector there were some Canberra IT industry people and Senator Kate Lundy, representative for the ACT dropped in and stayed after for coffee.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

ICT Statistics Reference Group Meeting: Table Top Sushi Trains and Better Than Tourism

This week I attended my second 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 ..."

Items of note from the meeting:

1. MEETING OPENED AT 10:45AM. The meeting is in the Australian Bureau of Statistics board room, which has a table which seats 40 people. This is so large I suggested they run a sushi train around the table to deliver papers. ;-)

Something I did notice was that only three people, including me, had laptop computers (they were all sub-notebooks with 12 inch screens). In contrast, at a typical ACS Council meeting almost everyone has a computer in front of them, all networked together. The ABS has power and Ethernet cabled into the table, so I have suggested they offer access to attendees at the next meeting.

2. MINUTES FROM LAST MEETING WERE PRESENTED. My notes from the meeting are at <>. Action items were covered in the agenda.

3. EMERGING TRENDS AND POLICY ISSUES FOR ICT STATISTICS: We went around the room collecting ideas on trends from the attendees:

a. RFID got a mention as an emerging trend (CSIRO are looking at RFID and I am a member of their RFID Reading group.

b. HOME NETWORKS AND CONVERGENCE OF HAND-HELD DEVICES (mobile phone/camera). DCITA had just announced change to broadcasting policy, which might need some more stats to support it.

c. PODCASTING was something I mentioned as an emerging trend, blurring the lines between broadcasting and publishing and that the ACS is considering what policy it might recommend to DCTIA.

d. Also I had a grumble about how long ABS takes too produce some stats: by the time we have the stats on a technology trend, the trend may be over. This was supported by AIIA. There was a discussion of the usefulness of commercial surveys: quicker but less accurate. ABS working with other agencies to make stats they collect more widely available.

4. RECENT DEVELOPMENTS IN STATISTICS: ABS reported on a number of new ICT related statistics reports. Details of these are online:

a. FARM USE OF INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY 2004-05: Computer and internet usage showed only 1% growth from the previous year.

b. HOUSEHOLD USE OF INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY 2004-05: 67% of Australian households had access to a computer at home and 56% had home Internet access. 28% had broadband Internet access and 69% had dial-up access. 31% of Australian adults ordered goods or services via the Internet. Travel, accommodation and tickets of were most popular.

There was some discussion at the meeting as to how much detail could be asked without overburdening the people surveyed. IT Statistics are not a priority for the Census and will not be out for about a year. The Census will include an online collection option and if this is accepted by users may make statistics available quicker.

c. ICT SATELLITE ACCOUNT, AUSTRALIA 2002-03: This is the first official satellite account on Information and Communication Technology (ICT) for Australia. It measures the direct contribution of ICT to the Australian economy in 2002-03 -- in particular, the contribution of ICT to gross domestic product (GDP).

d. ACCC DIVISION 12A BROADBAND MONITORING AND REPORTING DETERMINATION: ACCC looking at collecting takeup of broadband, type, download and upload speeds, location (metro/non-metro). Data would only be collected from large carriers, not little ISPs. This reduces the burden for the industry in collecting data for ACCC. It is difficult to collect geographic data at a finer level (what Postcode the user is). Some data collection is voluntary and there is difficulty in getting emerging areas covered, such as wireless.

e. REVIEW OF INTERNET ACTIVITY STATISTICS: Next collection expected for September 2006. There will be a gap in the statistics between March 2005 and September 2006. Considering a reduced collection from small IPSs to reduce the burden on them.

f. INTEGRATED BUSINESS CHARACTERISTICS STRATEGY (IBCS): This will combine the Business use of IT and Innovation surveys. Will support microdata analysis and combine ABS data with ATO data via the data warehose. This sounded like very clever stuff, most of which I didn't understand. ;-)

All I could find about this on the ABS web site was one paragraph. I suggested ABS to put the details on their web site and send us the address, which they agreed to do.


a. ICT SATELLITE ACCOUNT: The headline figure was that ICT added 4.9% to the Gross value (this is more than tourism). Other ICT statistics were: 4.6% of GDP, 13.8% of total investment and 3.5% of household consumption (with 67% of this being phone bills). But it is hard to compare these internationally as ABS is the first to produce such national statistics (OECD may look at doing it). Overall the stats didn't tell us anything the we didn't already know, but do it in a rigorous manner. ACS put out a press release about it.

b. MEASUREMENT OF SOFTWARE IN ABS ECONOMIC STATISTICS: Provided some complicated diagrams about import and exports of packaged software. ABS is trying to work out how software sales work. But the models they use for physical goods (such as wholesalers) don't really apply to software. Free open source software is an extreme case, but when you buy Ms Word you don't own it, just have a license. I suggested ABS look at research papers on how the software industry works.

With a Google Schollar search I found some likely papers. Some of these are from the ACS's own research journal. May also be worth looking at the film and publishing industries for ideas on how to measure such intangible goods or services.


a. ANZSIC 2006 CHANGES TO ICT INDUSTRIES: The codes used to classify businesses (ANZSIC) have been changed. There are finer catagorisations for ICT industry, such as for Internet, wired and wirless communcations and web design. ABS is working out how compare statistics using the old and new codes. ABS will release a discussion paper on what they propose to do with the details (such as if copying CDs counts as ICT or not).


7. METHODOLOGICAL AND TECHNICAL ISSUES RELATING TO SAMPLE DESIGN: Overview of issues of sample size an the like. Shows that ABS knows how to do statistics (which is what you would expect).


9. NEXT MEETING: In six months time. Meeting closed at 2:44pm.

There was some discussion as to the frequency of meetings. I suggested more frequent shorter meetings with online discussion between meetings. But most attendees didn't want this as they are from interstate and don't seem to be convinced online working is a good idea.

PS: After the meeting I discovered ABS have quite a good library (available to the public) on the ground floor of their building. This obviously specializes in statistics related materials, but had an okay IT collection.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Google word processor

Google have acquired the Writely online word processor. Most of the media reported this as a challenge to Microsoft's Office product:

"Internet search leader Google has acquired Upstartle, a small startup that runs a collaborative word processor inside Web browsers, according to a posting on Google's official press site on Friday.

Upstartle runs, which helps people access and edit documents from any computer on the internet.

The company's programs also help people post blogs, publish web documents and work with multiple authors to edit a piece of writing.

Analysts say this move represents a new challenge by Google to Microsoft's office suite business."
From: Google edges closer to taking on Microsoft, Reuters, SMH, March 11, 2006, URL:

The Register, as is their brief, were skeptical:

"As we reported yesterday, Google has paid an undisclosed sum for a web-based document editor, Writely. It's a product that's as mature as the company which produced it, Upstartle. ..."

From: "Only in a bubble is Google's web WP an Office-killer", Andrew Orlowski, The Register, 10 March 2006, URL: <>

As a Beta user of Writely I am not as negative about it as The Register. Writely is not a rival to Ms-Office in its current form, but shows potential. Its limited functionality is its best feature. It is not complicated to use, because it can only do basic editing. This makes it suitable for documents destined to be put on the web, such as Blog entries.

Writely is limited by being provided over the web, via a web browser. You type your document in a window on the web browser. Most of the time this is fine, but every now and then when Writely needs to do something complicated, you have to wait while the data is sent from browser to server and back. But you can use Writely from (almost) any computer with a web browser and Internet connection.

Writely is far from OpenOffice.Org, which does try to be a rival to Ms-Office, has lots of functionality, but is therefore very complex. I spend a lot of my time removing extraneous formatting put in by "features" of Ms-Word and OOO documents so they can be put on the web efficiently or be used in typesetting systems.

A whole industry (and area of academic research) has sprung up around cleaning up Ms-Word documents using OOO. These take badly formatted bloated WP clean them up and turn them into content for web sites, newspaper and magazine articles and books.

Writely may find its niche by being a web friendly word processor for small documents intended for the web. These documents will not look as good when printed out, nor will it be a good way to create very large complex word processing documents. But it may be a good way to create short simple documents, which can be assembled into large ones using web content management systems. Some of that information will then later be converted into print format as letters, reports, newspaper articles and books.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Creating books in a library

Greetings from the reading room of the National Library of Australia in Canberra. The Library has about 20 web workstations available, as well as 20 reserved for looking up the catalog. You could, in theory, walk into the library with no equipment (or money) and produce a book. The library provides free access to research materials on paper and electronically. They also now supply the workstations so you could type the results of your research in, typeset it and publish it via an on-line print on demand system.

Last weekend I was in here reading a magazine (they have new books and periodicals on display) and decided to take some notes (which became part of my notes on Podcasting). I grabbed a sheet of paper and started scribbling on it. But I then realized I would have to transcribe this and could hardly read my own writing. So I walked over to a workstation and typed the notes straight in. To write this entry I have Blogger open in one window and a web search in another. It all works very well.

The coffee in the Library coffee shop is also good.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Australian Solar Cells to Power Indian IT Boom?

Professor Andrew Blakers
This morning I attended an inspirational talk by Professor Andrew Blakers on Australian solar cell technology:

"... Sliver solar cell technology is capable of cost reductions of three quarters compared with current photovoltaic technology. Sliver technology was invented at the Australian National University (

Standard materials and techniques are used in novel ways to create thin single crystalline solar cells with superior performance and sharply reduced cost. Sliver technology is a disruptive technology within a well-established conventional industry, and has an excellent chance of dominating the burgeoning worldwide photovoltaic industry.

First generation Sliver technology is being commercialised in Adelaide by Origin Energy ( ANU is developing a second generation Sliver technology which offers large technical and manufacturing improvements over first generation technology. ..."
From: "The Extraordinary Prospects for Sliver Solar Cell Technology", Prof Andrew Blakers, CSES SEMINAR SERIES, 2006-03-10 <>.

The clever bit about the technology is that it is uses existing silicon material and processes in a more efficient way. Instead of using a whole silicon wafer as a solar cell, they slice it into thousands of thin strips (slivers) and so get more electricity out of the same amount of material. As well as helping the environment, this could earn billions of dollars for Australia.

One use for the cells is in window panes. As the cells are thin slivers, they can be used as window shades, letting some light through and turning the rest into electricity.

One use which occurred to me might be in India, where there is a shortage of electricity. Offices and cyber cafes have large banks of batteries to supply electricity during blackouts. Cheap solar cells could be added to charge the batteries and supply surplus to the grid. The cells could also be used to charge the batteries of the electric cars being made in Bangalore.

One issue I raised at question time was regulatory impediments to energy conservation. My smart apartment is in a building with a computer controlled solar boosted gas hot water system. The cost of gas used is therefore very low. But the gas company, with the blessing of the the ACT government regulator, charges each apartment in the complex the same amount as if we each had a gas connection. As a result I am penalized for using solar power.

Professor Andrew Blakers is an inspiring speaker with a grasp of the economics as well as the materials science involved. He was asked if the Australian government had expressed interest. Unfortunately, while the Greens and the ALP politicians have been along to talk to him (as well as the Governor General), none of the relevant government ministers have bothered to visit.

ps: If the Ministers do visit, I recommend lunch at the Purple Pickle cafe on the ANU campus. Today is a stunning autumn day. Pedalling alongside Sullivans Creek to the seminar, there was a vista of cloudless blue sky, water, ducks and students ambling to lectures. Oxford and Cambridge Universities may have their dreaming spires, but it is a lot more pleasant most of the time and just as beautiful here in Canberra.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Podcasting Politics

I wrote 6 March 2006:
... will be on a panel at a Podcasting Seminar at the National Press Club in Canberra. I have collected some thoughts on the subject in "Pods, Pocket Computers and the end of the Myth of Live Broadcasting".
This seminar was good, with live demonstrations and success stories. I was afraid it was going to be a lot of Powerpoint with hype.

I was about the only IT person in the room, everyone else is from marketing, media and PR. We speak different languages. Normally I would be intimidated by such an audience, but it happens there was a half page profile of me in the The Age newspaper that day, which earns great respect from media people.

One highlight was a demonstration of "BobCasting": podcasting of the Greens politician Bob Brown. Bob phones a voice mailbox and records audio segments of 1 to 5 minutes. These are then slightly edited to add an introduction and ending, then put on the Greens web site. This seems a good technique, but only for those who are good at speaking unrehearsed.

When I searched the greens web site I couldn't find any mention of "BobCasting" or "Podcasting" and thought it might all be a hoax. But then found it on Bob Brown's own web site. Seems odd for the Greens not to promote such a good idea.

Some useful insights from other presentation were:
  • Podcasts reach the Urban A B, demographic of 18 - 34 year olds. These are young people with money who like gadgets: a marketers dream audience.
  • After the novelty of music wears off, and as people get older, they want spoken audio from their MP3 players. That is they want talking books and the like.
  • Commuters are a large market. This gives people on trains, busses and alone in their cars something to listen to.
  • Most people are listening to Podcasts on PCs, not via iPods.
  • Subscription models may work with Podcasts: charging so much per week.
  • Podcasts of one off time critical information may work: $10 to listen to a conference in the first week, $5 the next week, free after that.
  • You need to spend a few hundred dollars on a microphone and other equipment to get good sound for a podcast.
  • This can be a very personal medium: from the person speaking to one listener.
One thing the speakers had not seemed to have thought about much (apart from the Australian War Memorial) was video and multimedia with Podcasts. Many are coming from a radio background and see Podcasting as leading to a resurgence in radio. But I suspect that it will take images to grab the mass market.

Another aspect is the solitary nature of the podcast audience.

One disappointment was to find several CSIRO's media people at this event to learn about podcasting, apparently without having first consulted the experts in their own organization. CSIRO researches how to do digital video and audio, produces software for it and provides video and audio content on-line. But because this is done by IT researchers it seems to be dismissed by the organisation's own PR people as not being of value. Perhaps the scientists need to put on shiny suits and sell back to CSIRO what they have already have.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Open Source in Higher Education

Ray Warouw mentioned he would be in Canberra next week, so I arranged for him to give a seminar at the ANU. All welcome, no need to book:

Seminar Announcement

Department of Computer Science, FEIT
The Australian National University

Date: Friday, 17 March 2006
Time: 10:00 am to 11:00 am
Venue: Room N101, CSIT Building [108]

Speaker: Ray Warouw, Project Team Leader, MELCOE

Title: An introduction to ASK-OSS


Uptake of open source software (OSS) in Research, Education and Business environments is rapidly increasing and evolving. Education about OSS is becoming key to positioning OSS effectively within an organisation and future strategy. The Australia Service for Knowledge in Open Source Software (ASK-OSS) has been established as the national advisory service on OSS for Higher Education Research by the Department of Education, Science and Training (DEST). My talk will be presented from the HE perspective and is intended as an introduction to our service, what we do, and why we exist. Further to this I will present the current issues we see existing in OSS adoption. See:


Ray is the Research Centre Manager for MELCOE. Ray has 14 years of professional software development experience in open source and proprietary environments spanning research, education and commercial industries. Ray is named as a Partner Investigator on the current "Unlocking IP - Expanding public rights and the public domain in Australian copyright" ARC linkage grant application (which includes MELCOE as a partner), and is active and participating in the arrangement of information events for the Australian open source community. He is also experienced in e-research and e-learning infrastructure design, construction and deployment.

Seminars homepage:

Podcasting and the end of the Myth of Live Broadcasting

At its first meeting for 2006, ACS's Communications Technology Board identified Podcasting as an area for some policy work by the ACS.

Exactly what that policy should be I am not sure, but on Tuesday I will be on a panel at a Podcasting Seminar at the National Press Club in Canberra. I have collected some thoughts on the subject in "Pods, Pocket Computers and the end of the Myth of Live Broadcasting".

Please note this is NOT intended to be an official ACS position. Comments and corrections would be welcome.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Canberra Film, TV and Digital Media Blog

The March edition of the ACT Government Office of Film, Television and Digital Media, newsletter is now available at


* Capital Region short film to screen in Melbourne taxis
* ACT Filmmakers Network Member Giveaway
* SNOWYfest Call for entries
* Weereewa 2006 Short Film Competition: Call for Entries
* ACT Filmmakers' Network Opportunity - script editors/supervisors
* Conflux Fantastique Film Festival
* SCINEMA Festival of Science Film: Call for Entries
* SBS Independent: Call for Scripts
* Cortoons International Short Animated Film Festival: Call for Entries
* AFC Podlove initiative
* AFC funding deadlines

ScreenACT, the ACT Government Office of Film, Television and Digital Media, is responsible for implementing industry development initiatives, providing location production support and working with other states on potential partnering projects. This newsletter is provided in web log format by Tomw Communications Pty Ltd, with permission of the Department of Economic Development, Australian Capital Territory, Canberra, Australia.