Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Open Source Smartphone

Neo 1973 Open Source PhoneThere has been a lot of press coverage of the Apple iPhone smartphone. I was going to set an assignment this semester for my web design students to do web pages for a mobile phone. But the iPhone is a very closed proprietary system and an alternative open source device may be available, the FIC Neo1973 Smartphone.
One of the world's largest computer and consumer electronics manufacturers will ship a completely open, Linux-based, GPS-equipped, quad-band GSM/GPRS phone direct, worldwide, for $350 or less, in Q1, 2007. First International Computing's (FIC's) "Neo1973" or FIC-GTA001, is the first phone based on the open-source "OpenMoKo" platform.
From: Cheap, hackable Linux smartphone due soon, Nov. 07, 2006
As a mobile web device there isn't really much to distinguish the iPhone from other smart phones and the same techniques can be used for designing web pages for mobile devices. Apart from the smart phone I thought it might be worth looking at two other device developments: the Microsoft Ford Sync which is an in-car computer and the Nintendo Wii games console, which now has a web browser.

The Neo1973 is a GSM phone (2.5G) and would at first glance seem a bit old fashioned compared to high speed 3g phones. But I am yet to see a useful 3G use for a phone. The Neo1973 does have GPS making location based applications possible. So, for example, I might get the students to do an electronic guide to Beijing to help people to find their way around during the 2008 Olympics. I was invited to give a presentation to the Beijing Olympic Committee about their web design in 2003. After the conference I bicycled around Beijing city seeing the sights and could have done with an electronic travel guide .

The tourist could first look at the information on their PC or games console (such as a Nintendo Wii ) then in a car using the dash board screen and finally on foot (or bicycle) with the smart phone. Rather than produce four new electronic travel guides for the PC, game, car and phone, the one adaptable web system could be used. Rather than creating new information for the system it could be a mash-up of available web data. This could information from people in the city.

Petition on Open Access to European Research

Yesterday I signed the Petition for guaranteed public access to publicly-funded research results on behalf of the ACS:
This petition is directed to the European Commission. Its goal is to endorse the recommendations made in the Study on the Economic and Technical Evolution of the Scientific Publication Markets of Europe in full, in particular to adopt the first recommendation A1 as a matter of urgency.

"I urge decision-makers at all levels in Europe to endorse the recommendations made in the Study on the Economic and Technical Evolution of the Scientific Publication Markets of Europe in full, in particular to adopt the first recommendation A1 as a matter of urgency.

Name: Tom Worthington FACS HLM
Position: Chair of the Scholarly Publishing Committee
Country: Australia
Organisation/affiliation: Australian Computer Society
Recommendation A1. Guarantee Public Access To Publicly-funded Research Results Shortly After Publication:
Research funding agencies have a central role in determining researchers’ publishing practices. Following the lead of the NIH and other institutions, they should promote and support the archiving of publications in open repositories, after a (possibly domain-specific) time period to be discussed with publishers. This archiving could become a condition for funding. The following actions could be taken at the European level: (i) Establish a European policy mandating published articles arising from EC-funded research to be available after a given time period in open access archives, and (ii) Explore with Member States and with European research and academic associations whether and how such policies and open repositories could be implemented."

From: Study on the Economic and Technical Evolution of the Scientific Publication Markets of Europe, European Commission, Directorate-General for Research, January 2006

Sunday, January 28, 2007

HP iPaq rx5900 Travel Companion

HP iPaq rx5900 Travel CompanionThe HP iPaq rx5900 Travel Companion is a PDA with GPS. It has the software from the TomTom GPS and a windscreen mount for a car. This a somewhat uncomfortable compromise being expensive for a small screen (3.5 inch) GPS unit and low resolution (QVGA 320 x 240) compared to newer PDAs.

There is a merging of functions happening with PDAs, GPS units, handled games and phones. Exactly what functions get incorporated depends more on what makes sense to the buyer, than what is possible with the technololgy.

Wii Games Web Browser

Screenshot of Wikipedia shown on Wii BrowserNintendo are releasing a web browser for their Wii games console in March. It is based on the Opera browser. Games consoles may not seem a mainstream web device, but along with mobile phones may the first and primary way many people in Asia use the web.

Reports indicate it has a similar look to other browsers designed for use with a TV, such as Microsoft Web TV. This reformats web pages to fit on a low resolution TV by increasing the size of the font, reducing white space, eliminating sideways scrolling and adding on-screen navigation buttons. The WII display is limited to 608 x 456 pixels by the TV technology. Input is limited to the buttons on the games controller; there is no numeric keypad (as on a Web TV device) or QWERTY keyboard (as on a PC).
The Internet Channel is a version of the Opera web browser for use on the Wii by Opera Software and Nintendo.[1] On December 22, 2006 a free beta version (promoted as a "trial version") of the browser was released.[2] The final version of the browser will be available in March 30, 2007 and will be free to download until the end of June that year. After this period the browser will cost 500 Wii Points to download.[3] Users who download Opera before June 30, 2007, can continue to use the browser at no cost for the lifetime of the Wii system.[4]
From: Internet Channel, Wikipedia, 2006, URL: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wii_Browser
The Wii (pronounced as the pronoun "we", IPA: [wi?]) is the fifth video game console released by Nintendo. The console was previously known by its project code name of Revolution, and is the successor to the Nintendo GameCube. Nintendo states that its console targets a broader demographic than that of other seventh generation gaming consoles.[7] It competes with both Microsoft's Xbox 360 and Sony's PlayStation 3. ...


* Up to 480p (PAL/NTSC) or 576i (PAL/SECAM), standard 4:3 and 16:9 anamorphic widescreen[44]
* Component (including Progressive scan), RGB SCART (PAL only), S-Video (NTSC only), composite output, or D-Terminal[45]

From: Wii, Wikipedia, 2007, URL: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wii

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Australia in English and Japanese

Japanese edition of Peter Carey True History of the Kelly GangI wrote Friday, January 26, 2007 in Australian Authors Abroad for Australia Day:
... for Australia Day I created Amazon store of books about Australia ... in French and ... German.
That worked okay, so I did one in English and Japanese as well. Japanese is a lot harder than French and German as the Author's names as well as the book titles are translated. But I managed to find Peter Carey's True History of the Kelly Gang as ケリー・ギャングの真実の歴史 by ピーター ケアリー and Patrick White's Voss as ヴォス by パトリック ホワイト.

While it may not be great literature, I felt obliged to include Steve Irwin, The Crocodile Hunter in the English version.

ps: See also Australia on Video.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Australian Authors Abroad for Australia Day

German edition of Arthur Upfield bookA recent documentary "In Search of Bony" (SBS TV 25 January, 2007) made the point that the author Arthur Upfield was almost forgotten in Australia, but still sold in France and Germany.

I did a quick search and found Upfield's books books in French and German. This sparked my interest, so for Australia Day I created Amazon store of books about Australia and by Australians in French and Australians in German.

The Australian Embassy in Paris had a list of popular Australian authors, so I included them. Some of them were only available in French, others in German, some in English. Here are the ones I cluld find in all three languages:

AuthorFrench TitleGerman TitleEnglish Title
Murray BailEucalyptusEukalyptusEucalyptus
Peter CareyVéritable Histoire du Gang KellyDie wahre Geschichte von Ned KellyTrue History of the Kelly Gang
Bruce ChatwinLe Chant des PistesTraumpfadeSong Lines
David MaloufJe me souviens de Babylone Jenseits von BabylonRemembering Babylon
Patrick WhiteVoss VossVoss

I sent a list to the Australian Embassy in Paris and Berlin.

German edition of Eucalyptus by Murray Bail with Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe on the coverps: The German edition of Eukalyptus has Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe on the cover. But the film adaption of the book featuring them was "postponed".

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Online Education for Management

On Tuesday I gave a talk in Sydney on "Online Education and Training Technologies" to the Australian Institute of Management (NSW and ACT). They were interested in the way the ACS is using eLearning for its Computer Professional Program and uses podcasting.

AIM provides management training for organisations and individuals. They have training rooms, a library and bookstore in North Sydney.
On-line technologies, such as course management systems (CMS), webcasting, and podcasting have great potential for e-learning. May of the products needed are available as free Open Source software. However, e-learning skills are needed to use these tools and create learning content for them. This presentation discusses some of the technologies and issues using the Australian Computer Society as an example.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Australian Government Web Design, Acccessibility and Market Share

The Seventh Canberra WSG meeting on 18 January 2007 was excellent, as is usual for the Web Standard Group: with Navy web site redevelopment, 2006 web standards audit of Australian Government home pages, and Best practice tactics for government web sites. These are some notes taken during the presentations:

Navy web site redevelopment, Alexi Paschalidis, Oxide Interactive

Alex gave a passionate exposition on how to redevelop a web site using web standards, the battle against those who just see the web as a form of graphic design and the wishes of "corporate" for something flashy and fleeting.

The Royal Australian Navy were one of the pioneers of web development in the Australian Government. They had developed a web site of their own <http://www.navy.gov.au/> before I initiated the project to create the Defence Home Page <http://www.tomw.net.au/papers/bpt.html>. The Navy seem to have maintained their independent tradition with their own web site, working alongside Defence's central site and Defence Recruiting.

A feature of the Navy site redevelopment is semantic consistency. They are using Semantic XHTML with structural consistency; for example a second level heading <h2> always has a first level heading above it <h1>.

Images are important for the Navy, as might be expected with photos of ships. But Alexi pointed out that photos of people are actually more popular than those of equipment.

The Navy web site is relatively modest, with 2,500 static web pages and 4,000 visitors a day (my web site gets about 1,000). Because of the use of centralized maintenance there is no need for a CMS and the staff code directly in HTML without the use of a web layout package.

Alexi argues that using Semantic XHTML (as emphasized in XHTML 2.0 ) cuts out many day to day design decisions is creating web pages. Clearly he saw this as a positive feature (whereas some of the creative types might see it as a negative). Some of the metadata for the web pages can be inserted automatically from the content (for example the TITLE from the H2 heading). There is minimal layout in the HTML code, with this done in the CSS.

In place of the usual web development tools, the open-source revision control system is used <http://subversion.tigris.org/>. This is usually used by computer program developers to maintain multiple versions of complex systems, but has been used for document editing, but is also used in the ICE educational document creation system <http://ptsefton.com/blog/2006/03/09/ice:_agile_publishing_(with_a_long_snout)>. This allows for smart change control of the web site with detection of conflicts between different updates.

Because the Navy have an emphasis on photography, the Navy site has a special system for collecting the professional take photos and uploading them to the web site. The system creates versions in multiple resolutions and maintains the metadata from the originals.

Interestingly the Navy use Google, rather than their own search software. They use the Google Public Service Search program <https://services.google.com/pss_faq.html#1>. This provides the Google search engine, tailored to the organisation's needs but without ads. Given the importance of Google to Australian web sites (discussed in a later talk below), this is a reasonable decision. But it might be disappointing to Australian web search companies, such as Public Service Search program enterprise search companies, such as Funnelback <http://funnelback.com/>.

A little AI on the site's feedback form had allowed 80% of queries to be answered automatically.

Alexi emphasized the need to educate the customers about the benefits of using standards on web sites and the need to be vigilant about the danger of graphic designers being brought in to design web sites. This and the frustration with senior executives wanting to make quick changes are problems familiar to IT developers.

The Navy has to position its web site with the others of the Defence portfolio, principally the central Defence site <http://www.defence.gov.au/> and Defence Recruiting <http://www.defencejobs.gov.au>. Some might ask why the Navy needs a web site at all. However, having one large amorphous web site will confuse the clients and lead to expensive extra layers of coordination (as the UK Government is likely to find out in the next year with its centralist push). An emphasis of Defence's at present is recruiting (the Defence department advertise jobs on my web site using Google AdSense <http://www.tomw.net.au/technology/it/adsense.shtml>).

The next version of the Navy web site will have the text rewritten for the web (rather than just whatever was take from an existing source). Consideration will be given to adding commonly used business transactions and support for reserve personnel without access to the Defence secure network (this was an issue ten years ago when I was at Defence HQ).

Some items on the wish list were blog style pages (with moderation) for a more personal view of the organisation, tags <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tags> and wiki style text based cross references.

Google Analytic is used for analysis of web site use. I have used this myself, but with a small site the novelty wears off quickly. If you do want Analytics (which is free) it might be quicker to get it by singing up for Google AdWords <http://www.tomw.net.au/technology/it/adwords.shtml>.

Unfortunately some of Alexi's credibility as a web worker was undone when I went to his own web site and found a message saying "... our website will be offline from Friday 19 January to Sunday 21 January for a complete overhaul ..."<http://www.oxideinteractive.com.au/>. Why give a presentation on web site design one day to hundreds of potential customers and take your web site off-line the next?

2006 web standards audit of Australian Government home pages, Dispain, Department of the Environment and Heritage

During December 2006, Gavin arranged for 105 Australian Government web sites (from AAD to WEA) to be tested for accessibility, compliance with web standards, and Australian Government guidelines. The results deserved a whole day presentation, not the few minutes available.

Gavan used tools such as the W3C HTML and CSS Validators, Xact's Bobby tool to test the sites. In 2001 I did a similar analysis but only did one page per agency <http://www.tomw.net.au/2001/govtest.html>, whereas Gavan has done up to 5,000 pages per agency.

The results showed government web pages are good orverall, but with room for improvement:

* 69% had the correct government logo on them. Most used the 48 pixel size version. But I wonder what percentage of web traffic is being wasted transporting duplicate copies of the Australian Arms <http://www.tomw.net.au/2003/epolicy.html#edocs>.

* Only 28% of home pages had an accessibility link (but this is not required by the guidelines).

Some hot topics on government web sites were "connected water" 4% and "access card" 14.2%, while 28% of all the traffic to government web sites was coming from Google. 55% of the Government web pages are in HTML, 18% PDF and 1% Microsoft word. Annual reports have 55% PDF documents and the Budget 84%.

Home pages contain an average of 17 images and other pages 12 images. This is much lower than the industry average of 53 images per page. 77% of HTML web pages have DTD references. 48% of the HTML is XHTML level 1 transitional. Only 27% of the pages are valid HTML, but with Gavin commenting most of the errors were only minor.

One site which rated badly was that of CrimTrac <http://www.crimtrac.gov.au/>. So I ran a few tests myself. The W3C Markup Validation Service reported 120 errors in the CrimTrac home page <http://validator.w3.org/check?uri=http%3A%2F%2Fcrimtrac.gov.au%2F>. The page has 42 images, which is a little high. There is dublin core metadata on the page but not an ordinary author, description or keywords. The page failed an automated accessibility test <http://webxact.watchfire.com/> with: 66 level one, 31 level two and 12 level three problems. Also the favorites icon <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Favicon> seems to be missing <http://www.crimtrac.gov.au/favicon.ico>. In addition CrimTrac's use of the Australian Arms does not appear to comply with government guidelines.

In terms of web site accessibility for the disabled, the sites rated relatively well on the W3C Web Accessibility Guidelines:

- 78% A
- 10% AA
- 6% AAA

The "A" rating could be improved with simple additions of ALT text on images <http://www.tomw.net.au/2003/bws.html>.

71% of home ages were less than 100kbytes (which is good). There were 100,616 broken internal links on government web pages (which is not so good). There were 404 misspellings of "Australia" (which is odd).

Some hot topics were "community water grants", "e-strategy guide". Highly rating web sites were BOM, ATO, Job Search and Center Link.

Gavin got a show of hands at the end to indicate that a similar survey should be run next year by AGIMO. But I doubt that a more official audit will be so entertainingly reported.

Best practice tactics for government web sites, Karl Hayes, Hitwise

Hitwise provides statistics on who is looking at what web page <http://www.hitwise.com/products-services/how-we-do-it.php>. Karl provided some fascinating statistics and insights. Hitwise combines traditional market research with on-line monitoring of what people are looking at on the web with information obtained from ISPs.

A very surprise to find the Online Opinion web site <http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/> tops the "political" category, greatly outperforming any of the web sites of political parties. On Line Opinion is a non-profit academic style e-journal. I am on the advisory board for the site and have suggested we up our advertising charges as a result <http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/display.asp?page=eab>. ;-)

As noted in Gavin's talk, BOM dominates government web sites in terms of page views (56%) and Google dominates in terms of searching (86%). One surprise is that Google is also a significant web site in its own right (16%).

Karl had some interesting speculations about the future of web sites with consumer generated media, MySpace,YouTube, Podcasts and Wikipedia.

Hot topics: "water crisis", "water saving".

Karl argued that Australian advertisers were overspending on advertising in tradition radio, TV and print media, given the Web's increasing influence. He quickly skipped over some of the demographic categories which market researchers divide the population into. Some of the categories I saw were "Australia: Raising Expectations: comfortable outer suburban families in affordable homes", and "US: Cracker Barrel Cheese: Satellite dish, field and stream magazine, NASCAR Wilson Cup, Ford F250 Pickup".

One point he made was that commercial advertisers were buying government related keywords from Google and directing viewers to their commercial sites. This seems to be legal and largely ethical. About all the Government agencies can do is to bid for the keywords themselves (my web site gets ads for Defence recruiting).

One thought which occurs to me is that web sites featuring the whether and disaster information might rate very well. Government's may not wish to have paid commercial advertising on their web sites, but perhaps they could have internal government advertising. Each government web page could have a space reserved for advertising. Normally this would be used to promote government initiatives and publicize web sites (in effect the Government's own Google AdWords). The reserved space would also be used to advise the public of emergency information (emergency information is an area where Federal and State Australian governments do poorly online and as a result are placing the lives of citizens at risk).

Unfortunately Karl's excellent content was let down by slides with largely unreadable text. Hitwise need to study up on the accessibility standards the other two speakers were talking about.

This was very much a user group with a comfortable camaraderie amongst the speakers and audience, without the usual phony pretentiousness of many corporate IT events. One surprise is that AGIMO came in for light hearted banter, unlike the usual cold resect (or loathing) that central coordination agencies usual get.

I attended to hear of the audit of web sites, but both of the other presentations were worth attending for on their own. WSG meeting usually have two talks and they should return to that format. While it was all good, there was just too much content to absorb in one session.

It was a little cramped, with every seat taken in the "bunker theatre" under the Department of Environment <http://www.tomw.net.au/travel/gallery.shtml#jgb>. And yes, my phone didn't;work in the radiation shielded former cold war nuclear shelter.

The WSG is providing an excellent forum for government web developers in Canberra.

One use of such meetings is to chat with other web workers.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Interactive car navigation with advertising

Dash is a US company offering a GPS car navigation computer with a wireless link for interactive access. The idea is that it can be updated in real time with information about traffic delays collected from other users of the unit:
The Dash navigator uses either Wi-Fi or cell network connectivity to provide users with real-time information that, if it works as advertises, could cut down on driving blindly into traffic jams.

The secret sauce seems to be the utilization of real-time route information sent automatically back to Dash's central servers by each Dash user's equipment. Then the central system sends specific route and traffic information back to individual users so that they can benefit from the experience of fellow Dash users ahead of them.
Their hardware looks much the same as other GPS units. However, it is not clear how much intelligence there is in the unit. In theory it could just be a dumb terminal relaying the GPS coordinates to the remote service of the Internet and sending back maps and instructions. But I suspect the Internet service just augments the usual built in mapping in the unit. There are considerable claims made:
Dash Express is the smartest, most Internet-connected navigation system on the road. In fact, it's the first and only automotive navigation system with two-way connectivity. Which means it gets you where you want to go—in the fastest time possible—and delivers the most relevant information—right to your dashboard. Plus, Dash Express is the only device on the market that automatically and wirelessly updates its maps and software, so all you have to do is drive.
Also it allows for very specific information about products and services available in the local area:
With Yahoo! Local and Dash Express, local search in the car is becoming a simple and easy-to-use reality. When a user enters their search term into their Dash Express, the device wirelessly begins a Yahoo! Local search on the web. Within seconds, the results are formatted into address cards and presented to the user as a simple listing of nearby businesses. With the press of a button on the device, the Dash user is routed to their desired destination.
Anu alternative would be a smartphone with GPS.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

ICT industry talk moved to 21 March 2007

I wrote 15 Jan 2007:
.. arranged for the CEO of the Australian Information Industry Association <http://aiia.com.au>, to speak at ANU, 4pm, 7 March 2007. ...
Sheryle has to attend another meeting, so I have rescheduled her talk for 21 March 2007 <http://cs.anu.edu.au/seminars/seminars07/dept20070321>.

Apart from the date, the details are unchanged:
Seminar Announcement

Department of Computer Science, FEIT
The Australian National University

Date: Wednesday, 21 March 2007
Time: 4:00 pm to 5:00 pm
Venue: Room N101, CSIT Building [108]

Speaker: Sheryle Moon,
CEO, Australian Information Industry Association,

Title: The ICT Industry in Australia

The Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA) leads
the ICT industry in Australia, with almost 500 member companies
that generate combined annual revenues of more than $40 billion,
employ 100,000 Australians and export more than $2 billion
in goods and services each year.

This talk will discuss the strategic direction of the Australian
ICT industry and needed changes in public policy to accelerate
business growth.

Sheryle Moon is the Chief Executive Officer of the AIIA. Sheryle
has worked in the ICT sector for more than 25 years in senior
leadership positions including Vice President of Computer
Sciences Corporation, and a managing partner with Accenture. In
1999, she was named Australian Business Woman of the Year, and
she sits on a number of Australian Government advisory boards.

Ms Moon has a Bachelor of Economics and a number of postgraduate
qualifications, including a Masters of Management in Technology.

URL: http://cs.anu.edu.au/lib/seminars/seminars06/dept20070307

Seminars homepage: http://cs.anu.edu.au/seminars/

If you like to give a seminar please contact:
seminars-admin [at] cs.anu.edu.au

Ethics of Killer Robots

Philip Argy, president of the Australian Computer Society, wrote a thought provoking article "Dilemma in Killer Bots" (The Australian, January 16, 2007):
'WHEN science fiction writer Isaac Asimov developed his Three Laws of Robotics back in 1940, the first law was: "A robot may not harm a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm." ... reports out of Korea of newly developed guard robots capable of firing autonomously on human targets are raising concerns about their potential uses. ...'.
Roger Clarke wrote an article "Asimov's Laws of Robotics - Implications for Information Technology" for IEEE Computer Magazine in 1993.

LEGO Mindstorms NXT robot kitThere are already some domestic robots available which could raise safety concerns, even if not designed to deliberately harm people. Professor Rodney Brooks, Director of the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, gave a talk in Canberra last year about the potential for low cost robots.

iRobot Roomba Vacuuming RobotThe Roomba robot vacuum cleaner he talked about and the Lego robot kit are examples of low cost robots and kits available.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Pocket Terminal or Car Computer Multimedia Device?

Motorola TXTR D7 SMS TerminalTwo hardware components suggested to me for building a low cost educational computer are the Intel PXA270 processor and a single board computer such as the Gumstix.

The PXA270 has an Enhanced LCD and USB Controller built in.

Gumstix are one of the many single board computers available. These are designed for hobbyists and for incorporation in small scale production of devices. They typically have a range of expansion board allowing a complete computer to be built (or built into a piece of equipment).

Another interesting product I found was the Motorola TXTR D7. This is a wireless SMS terminal for a mobile phone. The unit is 54 x 18 mm with 4 lines, 20 character screen, rubber Qwerty Keyboard. It is intended to communicate with a mobile phone via Bluetooth for sending and receiving SMS messages.

The Motorola TXTR D7 does not seem to have been successful as a product, but a terminal with a bigger screen and keyboard may be more viable. Those who want a very small QWERTY keyboard for SMS will probably just buy a smartphone with a keyboard built in, rather than an extra external to carry around. However, a more capable device with a larger 5.6 inch (A6) size VGA screen and keyboard might be of use. This could be used for web browsing as well as SMS. It need not be a fully functional computer, as it can make use of the processor in the mobile phone it is communicating with.

This device might be made inter-operable with the Microsoft Ford Sync car computer. It could then be used for playing music and video from a mobile device as well as operating a mobile phone remotely. This could be built into a car dashboard, used in the home or made as a portable device.

I have put this up as a suggested new expansion board for the Gumstix.

Monday, January 15, 2007

ICT industry in Australia, Canberra, 7 March 2007

Free seminar I have arranged with the CEO of the Australian Information Industry Association. No need to book, just turn up:

Sheryle MoonThe ICT industry in Australia
Sheryle Moon, Chief Executive Officer (Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA))

DATE: 2007-03-07
TIME: 16:00:00 - 17:00:00
LOCATION: Department of Computer Science, ANU, Seminar Room, N101, Computer Science and Information Technology (CSIT) Building, North Road, Building 108

ABSTRACT: The Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA) leads the ICT industry in Australia, with almost 500 member companies that generate combined annual revenues of more than $40 billion, employ 100,000 Australians and export more than $2 billion in goods and services each year.

This talk will discuss the strategic direction of the Australian ICT industry and needed changes in public policy to accelerate business growth.

BIO: Sheryle Moon is the Chief Executive Officer of the AIIA. Sheryle has worked in the ICT sector for more than 25 years in senior leadership positions including Vice President of Computer Sciences Corporation, and a managing partner with Accenture. In 1999, she was named Australian Business Woman of the Year, and she sits on a number of Australian Government advisory boards.

Ms Moon has a Bachelor of Economics and a number of postgraduate qualifications, including a Masters of Management in Technology.
ps: My take on what to do is in my book "Net Traveller".

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Microsoft Ford Sync the future of Car Computers?

Ford and Microsoft have announced a system for car communications and entertainment:
Dubbed Ford Sync, the system uses Microsoft's Auto software and allows drivers to dial their cell phone and have their text messages read to them through voice commands. Drivers will also be able to use voice commands or steering wheel buttons to play music stored on a portable device including Apple Computer's iPod and Microsoft's Zune as well as other MP3 players and even USB flash drives. ...
From: "Ford, Microsoft get in Sync on in-car tech", By Ina Fried, CNET News.com, Published on ZDNet News: January 7, 2007, 10:00 AM PT
Mass production should lower the cost of such systems in cars. But you could get the same results with an after market car computer and GPS systems.

But is how much of this equipment does it make sense to build into a car? The GSM phone system was designed to use a removable smart card with the subscribers information on it. Originally the cards were the size of credit cards. The idea was that you could easily transfer your mobile phone number from one car phone to another by inserting the card in a slot in the dashboard. It was assumed phones had to be built in because they were large bulky items.

GSM phones still use smart cards (a SIM or Subscriber Identity Module), but in a much smaller format, as most phone are smaller than a credit card. Instead of having the phone built into the car, there is more likely to just be a microphone and speaker (and possibly power connection). Some cars have a Bluetooth wireless phone interface built in. You transfer your phone number from car to car by taking your phone with you. What is left in the car is a relatively dumb interface.

Similarly MP3 players can be plugged into a car radio and a GPS unit into the cigarette lighter. From reading Ford's announcement it appears that most of the intelligence for Sync is not intended to be built into the car, but in portable phones and music players the occupants have with them.

Perhaps we will see cars equipped with a large screen in the dashboard with some basic functions. But for the personalized services (your phone calls, your music) the car will communicate by Bluetooth with your smartphone. Already some car GPS units have Bluetooth so they can be used as a handsfree phone.

A car could have a screen for each occupant, communicating with the phones in the car and with each other. Each occupant could see information from their own phone on their screen, or share music, video or a phone call with the other occupants. These would be easy to install as they would only need power from the car, no complex data cabling. They would make a good after market installation or could be removable tablet computer.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Third party dashboard computer for Holden Captiva?

Chevrolet Captiva Dash
According to the review in the Australian newspaper, the Holden Captiva SUV dashboard has a "... tell-tale blank space that must house a video screen in overseas versions ...".

There would seem to be room for a double DIN ISO 7736 slot for a custom Car Computer with a 7 inch screen.

The Holden Captiva is known as the Chevrolet Captiva in the USA and the Daewoo Winstorm in Korea. Some photos show the vehicle with a single height DIN screen (described as the "Driver Information Centre" with a coin tray filling the unused DIN slot below

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Second Life, 14 February 2007, Canberra

Australian Libraries Building in Second LifeThis is in the same series as Vic Elliott's talk on academic publishing. Recommended:
NLA Digital Culture talks:

Flying Librarians of Oz: What's the fuss about Second Life and what's it got to do with libraries?

Second Life is an online virtual community created by its residents and run by Linden Labs. Over two million people have registered: Dell Computing, Adidas, Harvard Law School and the United States Congress all have a presence there. ...

Kathryn Greenhill, a librarian at Murdoch University Library in Western Australia, co-ordinates the Australian Libraries Building. She will provide a guided tour of the Australian Libraries Building and discuss some of the benefits to librarians of having a Second Life.

Time: 12.30 to 13.30
Date: Wednesday, 14 February 2007
Venue: Library Theatre
Entry: Free
Speaker: Kathryn Greenhill, Librarian, Murdoch University Library, Western Australia
Introduced by Matthew Stuckings, Reader Services Branch, National Library of Australia

Bobby Graham
Web Content Manager
Web Publishing Branch, IT Division
National Library of Australia

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

How to Create On-line University Courses in Electronic Archiving: Part 5 - On-line Courseware

In Part 4 I discussed if e-records as part of decision making in eGovernment and eBusiness. The program of courses entitled "System Approach to Management of Government Information" are now being offered, so I tought I should look at tidying up my content to get ready.

One option I would like to try is using a course management system (CMS). Not because the students will be studying on-line remotely, they will be on the campus at live sessions, but because it might be a useful way to make sure the material is well structured.

The Moodle product looks like a good option; it is Australian developed, free Open Source, and people keep mentioning it to me. The ACS use it for their new Computer Professional Educational Program and appears to be going well (thankfully as I am in charge of Professional Development at the ACS as of 1 January 2007).

The Moodle people claim it is based on "sound pedagogical principles", specifically "social constructionist pedagogy". Which they say involves: Constructivism, Constructionism, Social Constructivism, Connected and Separate.

Constructivism says you have to integrate what you are learning into what you already know. Constructionism says you learn better if you have to do something with the knowledge. For example I am writing this as I read about Moodle and so I am learning by having to write about it. Social Constructivism is about a group assembling ideas. As an example when people respond to what I have written and suggest changes. Connected and Separate is about understand the person's other point of view versus being "right": people will point out spelling errors in what I wrote (Separate) and others will suggest better ways to word it (Connected).

I am not sure how widely accepted these concepts are (it is all new to me), but it seems these are really two ideas: Learning through doing and working together.

Most computer based learning systems seem to be designed to support an isolated individual learning "facts". This would be Separate non-Constructivism in Moodles' language.

With that out of the way, lets look at Moodle, the software. It is released under a GNU General Public License, so it can be freely used and modified (free as in beer and speech). It is written in PHP and requires an SQL database to hold the content.

There are roles defined for admin, course creators, teachers , non-editing teachers (ie: adjuncts and tutors) and students. Moodle uses much the same software and philosophy as Open Journal Systems for e-publishing. There the roles are administrators, editors, reviewers and readers.

CMS systems are mostly about administering a course, not creating learning content. The CMS is used to keep track of the students, learning materials and activities (such as assignments). They are not about creating the actual materials the students read. This is much the same as e-publishing systems don't help you write a document, just publish it.

The current release of Moodle was 1.7, but Version 1.8 is just out (January 2007). This is supposed to have improved web accessibility features. They are specifically aiming for compliance with Italian Legislation on Accessibility. I am not exactly sure what that legislation covers, but it is likely to be much the same as Australian requirements under the Disability Discrimination Act and involve use of the W3C WAG, as used worldwide.

The Moodle developers are also aiming to implement XHTML Strict (after some debate). Use of XHTML Strict will help with accessibility and make for very clean and efficient web pages. It should also make it possible to use them on hand held devices, such as my proposed learning PC for developing nations and for different languages.

There is a Wiki with extensive documentation about using Moodle. Each Moodle course created has a course homepage, which is the place the students first come to. The home page has a typical Wiki style with blocks of mostly text laid out in columns.

The course can be formed of sections, usually in an order which the students work their way through (each week for example). Moodle has its own web based editor, including a "Clean Word HTML button" to remove extranious code from HTML which has been generated by Microsoft Word.

A course consists of essentially of resources and activities. A resource will typically be a web page with some content on it, a link to some content web based content somewhere else. At this point you realize the CMS doesn't write the course for you: the actual content you are teaching has to be somewhere. It might be on web pages, in PDF documents, or Powerpoint slides.

The content might be in an IMS content package. This is a standard format for learning content which is also supported by other CMS systems such as Web CT. An IMS Content Package is a Zipped directory of XML files, much like the OpenXML and Open Office word processing formats.

Exactly how you create a package, (with Moodle?) or how standardized they are between different CMS systems I am not yet clear on. But it appears to work as the government funded Australian Flexible Learning Framework has dozens of IMS content packaged learning objects in its Flexible Learning Toolboxes. These can be previewed online.

There are a bewildering array of standards underlying these systems, most of which the user never has to know about. As an example IMS uses a different metadata format to describe its learning objects to the IEEE Standard for Learning Object Metadata IEEE Std 1484.12.1-2002 (which I get a mention in, as I was on the balloting group). So IMS provide a set of Guidelines for Using the IMS LRM to IEEE LOM 1.0 Transform
to turn IMS metedata into IEEE metadata using XSLT transformations.

Triple Glazed Solar Cell Window Panels?

Photovoltaic trough concentrator window panelHad a query asking when the Sliver solar cells would be available. Assuming the money for research and development is available it will be years before you can buy a Sliver solar panel.

The major cost with solar panels is the silicon used for the solar cells. The Sliver design minimizes this by using thin slices ("slivers") of silicon. But perhaps this could be reduced further. I suggested building the cells into glass window panels of Shanghai offices and apartment blocks.

One way to reduce the amount of silicon used is to use a reflector to concentrate more sunlight onto the cell. This can be done with a trough concentrator above a long strip of cells Normally the trough is about a metre wide and several metres long and is mechanically steered to keep it facing the sun.

But the sliver cells are made in long thin strips. So they could be individually mounted above miniature trough concentrators each a few mm wide. Making thousands of tiny reflectors for one solar panel would seem like hard work. But they could be made all at once from a sheet of aluminized mylar plastic pressed to the shape. This would look like a shiny silver chocolate box liner (with indentations molded in for each chocolate). Mylar is already used in some solar panels.

The mylar sheet would be sandwiched between two sheets of glass provide a multiple functions:

  1. Hold the sliver cells in place: The Mylar would be molded to form mounting points to hold the individual slivers in place.
  2. Trough concentrator: The mylar would be curved to form a miniature solar trough concentrators (about 10 mm wide) for each sliver. The concentrators would be shaped to reflect concentrated sunlight onto both sides of the cells (Bifacial concentrator) for most of the day without the need for the panel to be mechanically steered.
  3. Insulation: The Mylar would provide an additional layer of glazing to insulate the building panel.
  4. Filtering: The reflective coating of the Mylar would prevent excessive sunlight entering the building.
  5. Transmissive: The Mylar would be semi-transparent, allowing the panel to be used as a window, with the solar cells forming a decorative pattern.

Pocketable Computer with Keyboard

OQO Version 2 PCOQO have released an upgraded 02 version of their "Pocketable" computer . This is a 5.6 by 3.3 inch device with a slide out keyboard and 800 x 480 pixel 5-inch touch-screen. It is around the size I proposed for a low cost educational computer. But this is a high end unit costing around $US1500 (same price as the current 01 model). It has a low power 1.5 GHz VIA processor.

The OQO units have a transflective screen, which is designed to be read in daylight with the back light turned off. Perhaps screens for these units which have been rejected due to dead pixels could be recycled for low cost computers. If the dead pixels are at the edges of the screen, the display could be masked and used as a 640 x 480 display.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Hybrid Electric Tricycle Taxis in Sydney

Pedapod Hybrid Electric TricycleYou expect to see tricycle taxis (rickshaws or ) in India, but not Australia. In the financial section of Sydney I photographed a pedapod. This is a 3 wheeled recumbent bicycle (tricycle or trike) which seats three people (a driver and two passengers).

The pedapod has a conventional metal bicycle frame but with a plastic hood to provide some protection from the elements. The vehicle looks practical and seems to be able to get up the reasonably steep hills in the Sydney CBD.

These electric autorickshaws have an electric motor powered from a battery to help it go up hills and so technically is a hybrid vehicle. But as it has pedals and only a small motor it is legally a bicycle. As a result such electric tricycles sidestep the regulations on motor vehicles which have stopped the use of some battery powered cars in Australia.

The pedapods do not be available for sale, but there are other electric tricycles you can buy.

University Admission Test

The Australian National University is piloting the use of the uniTEST aptitude test in 2007. Monash University tried it in 2006.

There are some test questions to try online, about: Dealing with information, Problem Solving, Decision Making, Argumentative analysis, Interpretation and "Socio-cultural understanding". I tried the test questions and they are not easy.

The tests allow those with a lower entrance rank to improve their chances and is available to international as well as domestic students.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Small Stealth UAV?

Proposed Small Stealth UAVAn alternative to piloted F-35 stealth aircraft for Australia might be small UAVs. These would cost around $2M each, allowing forty to be purchased for the cost of one F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter or F/A18F. The UAVs would use engines and weapons from the Australian military inventory and off the self electronics.

Scarab UAV Cross SectionThe US built Ryan Model 324 Scarab/BQM-145A UAV is used by the Egyptian Air Force for reconance. The Scarab is launched from a truck mounted rail with rocket assistance, and recovered by parachute. The Scarab is essentially a reusable unarmed cruse missile. In contrast the EADS Barracuda UAV is a larger conventional wheeled aircraft, allowing it to take off from a runway and with provision for weapons to be carried.

The turbojet engine of the Scarab is similar to that of the Harpoon cruse missile currently in service with the RAAF. The Teledyne J402 turbojet gives the missile a high subsonic speed and good fuel economy. The Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM) planned for introduction to the RAAF has a similar engine. The AGM-158A has inertial navigation, GPS, an imaging infrared seeker and data link making it, in effect a disposable armed UAV. However, the cost of JASSM is high, as it can only be used once.

The small turbojet engine design of the Scarab could be combined with the wheels and weapons of the Barracuda to produce a small armed UAV which could operate from a conventional runway. Such an aircraft might be 4 m long, with a 2m wingspan, weigh 1,000 kg, with a speed of 800kph and range of 2,000 km. Typical armament would be one AGM-114 Hellfire air to ground missile or two FIM-92A Stinger air to air missiles (as used on Australian Tiger Helicopters).

The aircraft would be transportable in an NH90 Helicopter or a standard shipping container. To lower the cost, Commercial Off The Shelf (COTS) computers could be used. The aircraft could be equipped with an airborne web server and controlled via a web browser. Automotive components, such as the Controller Area Network (CAN) could be used to further lower cost.

The aircraft would be a limited Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV), unlike systemns such as the Boeing Joint Unmanned Combat Air System X-45. The X-45 is much larger with a 10.31m wingspan comparable with a small piloted aircraft. However, at a much lower cost a small UAV would be useful for limited surveillance and attack. It would cause an adversary considerable difficulties, as they would not easily detected.

The small UAV would be useful for attacking small low value targets such as vehicles and small ships, including improvised fighting vehicles ("technicals") and vessels ("boghammars"). Due to its limited armament, the UAV would be less likely to cause concern to Australia's neighbors than full size stealth aircraft and long range cruse missiles.

The Department of Mechanical Engineering at The University of Adelaide, set the building of a miniature radio controlled F-35 VTOL model aircraft as a project in 2004. A conventional larger model would be much less difficult a task. The development of at least an unarmed UAV would be within the capabilities of Australian university researchers.

The US has had difficulties building such Medium Range UAVs, with one program being cancelled in 1993. However, the technology has advanced since then, with carbon fibre being used for UAVs, such as the Australian Aerosonde and COTS computers and low cost commercial avionics being available.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Web2Pad Educational Computer

Web2Pad Educational ComputerPreviously I proposed a $50 PC as an alternative to the Children's Machine and the Intel Classmate PC for Education. Here are a few more technical details on how an educational computer for developing nations might be built. After a discussion with my brother, Dr John Worthington (who is an Educational Consultant and Psychologist) also some thoughts on educational use.

The name Web Two Pad Educational Computer (Web2Pad), is intended to indicate the unit will use Web 2 applications and is in a similar physical layout to the Personal Access Display Devices (PADD) from the Star Trek TV show.

Web2Pad Specification

Type"candy bar" (landscape) format table "pad" computer
CPUXScale or similar embedded processor
Size148 mm wide x 210 mm high (A5 size) x 40 mm thick
ConnectivityWireless USB, 2 USB ports
Operating SystemLinux based
Media512 MB to 64 GB Flash Drive
InputRubber Keyboard, Touch Screen, Microphone
PowerNiMH battery pack
Display142 mm (5.6 Inch) diagonal TFT LCD Optimized for documents: 640 x 480 monochrome (320 x 240 color)
The Web2Pad, is proposed as a low cost, open source, tablet computer intended for literacy education of children in developing nations. The design is proposed as an open source project, allowing either non-profit or for-profit manufacture, and distribution of the personal computers. The Web2Pad differs from the Children's Machine (the new name for the MIT "$100 Laptop" of the One Laptop per Child (OLPC) project) and the Intel Classmate PC in using lower cost hardware, less compatibility with existing PC hardware and more emphasis on educational content.

The computers will be low power, with no disk drive and using the Linux operating system. Low cost wireless networking will allow Internet access from a node, such as at a school.

The computers will be sold directly to the public and also available as a bulk order by organisations. They may be shared by groups, where one per child is not affordable. Pricing is would be US$50 per unit when ordered in volume.

The case would consist of a back plate holding the batteries and motherboard, covered with one piece of molded rubber incorporating the keyboard. The would be no screws, with the motherboard holding all electronics and the screen, clipped into the back plate and the rubber cover fitted over. The front cover of the unit would be replaceable and customized with different keyboard layouts and languages for different countries. Commercial units for office and vehicle use would use different custom keyboard overlays.

The unit would be wedge shaped with the case 40mm at the back, sloping down to 10 mm at the front. This is to allow a comfortable tying angle for the keyboard and screen display. The unit would be approximately half the size and cost of the Children's Machine. This size of unit has been proven by the millions of pocket size "electronic dictionaries" (see below) in use by students.

The LCD screen would be optimized for black and white static document display, with limited color and motion display. The effective screen resolution would be approximately 640 x 480 pixels (VGA) for monochrome documents and 320 x 240 pixels (QVGA) for color. An LCD back light would be provided for low light conditions. The screen would have a similar per inch pixel resolution to the unit in the Children's Machine but be half the cost, due to the smaller size and more conventional technology (derived from LCD screens used for car dashboards and fish finders). The screen would be able to display the equivalent of half a page from a paperback book.

There would be a loudspeaker and microphone but no camera (to save cost). There would be an MP3 player (software), microphone and earphone sockets. Two USB ports and one USB "flash dock" would be provided as well as Wireless USB.

Flash Dock

To reduce cost there would be no SD card socket (as used on the Children's Machine). Instead one of the USB ports would be positioned in a recess in the back of the unit, large enough to accommodate USB Flash Drives which are commonly available. This would provide removable memory capacity equivalent to an SD card but without the need for additional hardware or software. Similarly Wireless USB (WUSB) would be used in preference to WiFi or Bluetooth. Power would be from low cost off the shelf NiMH batteries mounted in a molded holder in the case.

Ajax and Web 2

The PC would use an embedded version of Linux and a low cost processor designed for mobile phones. An example of such technology is the Australian developed PLEB2 Single Board Computer from an UNSW/NICTA.

There would be no attempt to provide PC compatibility. The emphasis would be on Ajax based Web 2 applications. The unit would be able to display simple animations, video games and limited slow frame video, but not designed for high quality video display.

While most interest is in the hardware for such projects, it is the educational content and support which is more important. The Web2Pad would be intended primarily for basic literacy. The touch screen could be used with a stylus to teach writing in cursive scripts as well emulating a brush for pictographic languages.

Accessible Educational Content

In addition to a spelling dictionary, the unit would have basic grammar for selected languages. Basic readers would be provided in the local language to encourage the child to read (using the Wikibooks format or other electronic book format). Web based educational packages using Moodle (or similar) would assist teachers and educators to develop further learning materials.

An emphasis would be placed on accessible design of the material, using the W3C Web Accessibility Guidelines. This would allow the use of material on the small screens of the $50 PCs, as well as use of the material by the disabled and for those with limited literacy. The materials would be designed to be upward compatible with ordinary PCs and web browsers. On a larger screen the format of the documents would automatically adjust to fit.

The Web2Pad could be used standalone, with data transferred by USB flash drive. In the classroom the units could communicate via a wireless network and to an Internet gateway. An ad-hoc village mesh network could be used to extend the range of the wireless system without the need for extra hardware. The computers would cooperate to relay data from the school node, with sufficient bandwidth for web browsing and audio. With the built in microphone and speaker (or a low cost headset), the unit could be used as a VoIP phone. An SMS client would also be provided.

A mounting point on the back of the unit would allow it to be securely attached to a wall or desk. With a suction cup, the same mounting point would allow the computer to be attached to the windscreen of a vehicle. Higher priced commercial units may have extra features, such as an A6 clam shell design and more memory, but could use the same educational content.

The computers would be available as a commercial product for anyone to purchase. Use of the units for commercial, business and government activities would not be restricted. It would be expected, for example, that the children would show their parents how to use the computers for the family business. In areas where one laptop per child was not affordable, a unit could be shared by several children or a whole village. The unit might be rented out, much as mobile phones are in some areas.

Cooperation not Individualism the Key

The Children's' Machine and Classroom PC projects assume that widespread provision of computers to children in developing nations will help with their education. The Children's Machine in particular, emphasizes the idea of each child having a unit for themselves for personal use at home and school, rather than share units. However, one laptop per child may not be affordable, nor educationally desirable. An emphasis on cooperation, rather than individualism, both for the students and teachers would be useful.

These educational computers are essentially low cost laptop computers, made cheaper and more rugged by leaving out non-essential components. The question this is what and how much can be left out. The Web2Pad leaves out more hardware and adds more educational content.

But what is needed in an educational computer and how large does it need to be? Should an educational computer be like a regular computer at all? Already I have discussed if the educational computer should be more like a PDA or a smart phone. Apart from mobile phones, are there any examples of widespread popular electronic gadgets used by children?

Electronic Pocket Dictionary as the Model for the Educational PC

Hundreds of models of pocket size
electronic dictionaries are sold in the millions every year. These devices have an LCD screen and a QWERTY keyboard. Most are a clam shell design, like a miniature laptop computer (about A6 paper size: 148 x 105 mm and 25 mm thick when closed). These devices are popular, sold on a large commercial scale and are of a similar size. They may therefore be the most common form of educational computer in use in the world.

Less sophisticated units are sold for crossword enthusiasts. They also have use for children with learning difficulties. Some units provide speech output. Different models built in the same case may be designed for native language dictionaries, multiple language dictionaries and for use by the disabled. Some high range units have card slots to add extra dictionaries or learning software.

At the high end there are devices such as the Besta CD-628 English/Chinese dictionary. This has a 4.1" LCD touch screen, 2 SD/MMC card slots, MP3 player and a USB interface.

SHARP produce versions of their Zaurus Linux handheld computer running language translation software. The Zaurus computer has a swivel screen which can be folded over the keyboard to make a tablet computer, the same format as the Children's Machine (but in a smaller size with lower solution screen).

The electronic dictionaries are a similar "pocket" size, which suggests this size might be a good one for a more general purpose educational computer. In contrast the Children's Machine and the Intel Classmate PC are larger sub notebook PCs. Rather than build a cut down sub notebook educational computer, it might be better to start with the pocket size electronic dictionary and increase its functionality.

Small Computers for Small Hands

Why the electronic dictionaries are the size they are? Is it an accident of marketing, due to some standard, so they can fit in a pocket, the largest size which is still affordable, the smallest screen which is usable, the smallest keyboard usable? Laptop computers are sized to fit a qwerty keyboard, which is in turn sized to fit the hand of an adult typist. The electronic dictionary may be similarly designed to fit a child's hands.

The Cornell University Ergonomics Web uses the "Little Fingers" child's keyboard. The Assistive Technology Training Online Project of the University at Buffalo List the "Little Fingers" and similar keyboards with 15mm pitch keys. These are designed for kindergarten to year six (K-6) students. The QWERTY part of the keyboard is 182 mm wide. These are not much smaller than a standard QWERTY keyboard of 19 mm. There are other children's keyboards 2/3 standard size.

It appears there is surprisingly little research on the size a keyboard needs to be:
Reduction of key and keyboard size is another way to minimize digit travel. Public demand in recent years has encouraged the major manufacturers of electronic equipment to produce smaller and lighter credit card calculators, electronic agendas, and notebook computers. This interest in miniaturization has been motivated primarily by a growing appreciation of the convenience and efficiency of portable units. Regrettably, such factors have had a much greater impact on the design and construction of these devices than have considerations of user accuracy, speed, and productivity. In view of the very large differences between the physical dimensions of standard (approximately 190 mm2) and miniature (approximately 30 mm2) keys, it is highly likely that significant differences in performance do occur. However, user performance on miniature keyboards has not been extensively examined. The only avail- able systematic study examining the effect of key size on ten-key push button telephone sets was published more than 30 years ago (24). ...

From: "A human factors approach to adapted access device prescription and customization", S August, PL Weiss, Journal of Rehabilitation Research & Development, 1992.
Also there is a US patent issued for a child's keyboard, 60-86% of a full size one:

Input apparatus scaled for non-adult humans and adult humans having small hands. The input apparatus are especially well suited for use as computer keyboards for use by schoolchildren. Also disclosed is a computing system including the input apparatus. ... Fixed key input apparatus of claim 1 having individual key widths within the range of 7.2 mm to 13 mm.

From: Input apparatus scaled for non-adults and adults having small hands, Dennis W. Nusser, Patent number: 5531529, Issue date: Jul 2, 1996
One study found Portuguese students 5 and 14 years had hands 80.85 mm wide. The male adult hand is approximately 96.2 mm wide, with a school age child's 84% this size. The A6 format for an educational computer therefore looks reasonable.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Australian Alps in Summer

Thredo ChairliftJust back from new year's at Thredbo in the Australian Alps. The weather was fine most days. The most popular activity in summer is walking to Mt Kosciuszko (Australia's highest mountain).

But as I had done that before, instead went up the gentle walking track beside the Thredbo River river 4 km to Deadhorse Gap. There were many wildflowers in bloom along the river. Then back up Ramshead Range and 4 km back to the chairlift at Thredbo. At this point it would have been a good idea to take the chairlift down, but instead walked.

There are what seem like thousands of stairs down the range to Thredbo village. At several points the walking track crosses the mountain bike track and you have to be careful of the cyclists coming down at breakneck speed.

There is a web cam and automated weather station on top of the chairlift. But keep in mind that conditions are generally much warmer, calmer and clearer in the valley where the village is, than on top of the range.

The village is equipped for summer and winter sports and all conveniences, including WiFi access (buy a card with time at the gift shop).

Accommodation ranges from luxury hotel style (where I stayed last time) to self catering apartments, to ski club lodges. If you are on your own or with a small group and willing to share facilities, the ski lodges are good value and good fun. The Currawong Lodge was basic but comfortable and similar to lodges I have stayed in at Charlotte Pass. You can use the central Thredbo booking system if not sure what you want, or save a few dollars and book directly with the lodge.

There are Trout in the river and you can fly fish with a licence (available for a few dollars from the chairlift shop). You can fish a few dozen steps from the bar of the hotel or find a more secluded spot. I used a $20 fishing kit I got at the supermarket in Canberra, complete with a telescopic rod and tackle box. You may want to buy a local "fly" (live bait is not permitted). Fishing is a wonderful excuse for not doing anything of the more active mountain sports.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Mercedes A Class Hybrid?

battery A-ClassOn a visit to Brisbane I had a test drive of Shaun Williams' battery powered Electric-Echo car. Shawn commented that the Mercedes Benz A Class car I arrived in would be a good choice for similar conversion to an electric car.

The A Class has a sandwich floor, with an empty space under the passenger cabin. According to BCC and Times car reviewer, Jeremy Clarkson, "... the A-class had been originally conceived as an electric car and the cavity had been created as somewhere to store the batteries".

There was a prototype electric a-class but using the advanced ZEBRA sodium/nickel chloride battery technology and Mercedes are now trying the same technology in the smaller Smart car and it is also used in the Indian Reva NXG Electric Car.

Mercedes Benz A Class loading a filing cabinetThe A class also makes efficient use of space. The result is a small car with a large load. This is especially important for energy efficient cars. The space in the A class is shown by these two photos, the first shows a skeptical office supplies employee wondering how a four drawer filing cabinet will fit in such a small car (the counter staff had asked if the vehicles was a four wheel drive, assuming that one was needed). Mercedes Benz A Class with filing cabinet loaded The second photo shows the cabinet in the car, with room left for three people.

Mercedes-Benz have produced a S-Class Hybrid prototype. Perhaps some of the technology will trickle down to the A-Class.