Thursday, May 31, 2007

Automated UAV Operations from Ships

Tenix-Navantia Landing Helicopter Dock Ship Cross Section DiagramAustralia is planning to purchase two "Landing Helicopter Dock" (LHD) ships for its Amphibious Ships Project. These looks like small aircraft carriers, but are intended to operate helicopters, not fixed wing aircraft. However, they would be able to operate some types of small UAVs (Robot Aircraft). The mix of UAVs and helicopters could be made safe and efficient with automation.

In his April talk in Canberra, Systems Safety Engineering expert,
Dr Mark Nicholson, mentioned the safety analysis needed to allow to fly in the same airspace with piloted aircraft. This problem is particularly acute for military ship borne operations, due to the limited space and high tempo of military operations.

The traditional method of achieving separation of parked, landing and departing aircraft on an aircraft carrier is to use an angled flight deck . Neither of the ships on the Australian short list has an angled flight deck, but a small Virtual Angled Deck (VAD) could be created for UAVs. The VAD would be a painted area on the fore deck of the ship. Helicopters, personnel and equipment would be prohibited from this area during UAV operations.

UAVs would approach the ship from one side to land and take off over the other side on the VAD. Aircraft could "go around" after a missed landing. A malfunction during landing or takeoff would result in the aircraft going over the side of the ship into the sea, clear of equipment and personnel. One of the ship designs, the Navantia LHD has a ski-jump ramp area which could be used for the VAD. The ski jump would assist with shorter takeoff and landing, as well as making use of an area of the deck not suited to other purposes.

Very small UAVs could use a conventional rolling takeoff and landing from the VAD, without the use of catapults or arrestor wires. Larger suitably equipped UAVs could us a Shipboard Rolling Vertical Landing (SRVL) and takeoff. This would allow much larger UAVs with higher payloads, than could otherwise be used. Apart from painting the deck, no other modifications to the ship would be required.

Even with a separate deck area, UAVs could impede other ship operations and be a risk to the crew. To minimize this, the UAVs could be set up for remote deck operations. The UAVs would be serviced below decks in a hangar and then transported by a robot tractor to the deck and launched without any crew present. The tractor would recover landed aircraft from the deck and return them to the hangar. The tractor would also be equipped with firefighting equipment and a bull bar to be able to push crashed aircraft over the side of the ship in an emergency.

This would reduce the risk of injuries to crew and increase the efficiency of operations. Aircraft could be launched and recovered far faster than with a conventional aircraft carrier. Only two crew would be needed on duty to maintain continuous flight operations.

Bell Eagle Eye, Model 918, is a tiltrotor unmanned aerial vehicleThe smaller UAVs already in service and planned for the ADF could be used for shipboard operation. However, VSTOL units would be particularly suitable. Like their larger counterparts, UAV helicopters suffer from speed and payload penalties. One option is to use a tiltrotor design, with the craft able to take off and land vertically, then travel as a conventional aircraft. The Bell Eagle Eye, Model 918 tilt rotor uses this approach. However, like the Bell-Boeing V-22 it requires complex mechanical couplings between the engine and the tilting rotors.

MW54 miniature turboprop engine from Wren Turbines Ltd
An alternative would be to use one engine for each rotor, with electrical coupling. An engine would be mounted at the wing tip directly connected to one rotor. A lightweight electrical motor/generator would be integrated with the rotor, similar to the design of the Serafina Miniature Robot Submarine.

Serafina Mark-II Robot SubmarineThe speed, or lift of the craft would be controlled by throttling the engines. The balance of the craft would be controlled electrically, by generating electrical power at one wing tip and transferring it to the electric motor at others. The aircraft would be able to fly and land conventionally with two engines stopped.

As an example four 6 kw MW54 miniature turboprop engines from Wren Turbines Ltd, plus four .5 kw electric motor/generators would weigh approximately 12 kg and produce 26 kw. The UAV could have a launch weight of 80 kilograms and have a speed of 300 kph and a length of 3m. Endurance of 8 hours and range of 2,000 kilometers.

On a runway the aircraft would take off conventionally, with the rotors in the horizontal position, allowing an increased payload. Neither the Eagle Eye nor Osprey can take off or land vertically, due to the diameter of the rotors. Vertical takeoff and landing would use the rotors in the vertical position, with a reduced payload.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

ABC Second Life island not attacked

According to Abigail Thomas, Head of Strategic Innovation & Development, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, the ABC island in Second Life was not damaged due to a cyber attack, as previously reported. There was a server error which caused problems with the site.

Abigail mentioned this at the start of her talk on "Technology and Media in 2020" at the National Library of Australia today.

One of the points she made that many of the new hot web applications sound very "lame" and uninteresting when described. You need to try the application and its social aspects to understand the impact. An example is Twitter.

Abigail pointed out that many of the examples of "new" web applications are not new at all. They existed on the Internet, but were only used by a few geeks before they had a slick web interface.

Some other interesting points were:

* Artificial intelligence will be used on-line.
* User generated content in real time and geo tagging,
* Your on-line activities will be recorded in your "life log",
* Each person will have multiple identities in different on-line worlds to preserve their privacy.

The questions were:

* How do we make money out of this?: How are the content creators compensated for their work, if all the content free and DIY? Abigail's answer was to work out how to integrate professional and user generated content. But it sounded like she was just going to let us rearrange the content from the ABC a little.

* How are professional journalists coping with integration of TV, radio and print: ABC staff now think about what they want to produce first, and the format (TV, radio, web).

* Tell us about ABC's second life island: Was an experiment. Started with an Four Corners program on TV and in second life, with discussion afterwards. Volunteers oversee DIY construction on part of the island.

But there will be some limitations to the future. One image of a phone shown on screen had on the bottom: "Available color: Jet black". While technology may expand our horizons, fashion will still dictate that black is the new black.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Victorian Public Transport contactless Smart Card

Miki ticket gate machineThe Victorian state government Transport Ticketing Authority (TTA), is introducing a contactless Smart Card for public transport later in 2007. It will operate on trains, trams and bus in Melbourne city and some transport outside the city. The system is (unfortunately) called "myki". There is a "discovery centre" demonstration set up in the Southern Cross Station where I tried out the cards and readers.

Miki ticket machineTo put credit on the card, the traveler can use a ticket machine in a station. This looks much like other ticket machines, except you wave your card in front of the machine to add the credit, rather than inserting it in a slot. The machine has a large touch sensitive LCD screen for entering payment details. I had difficulty using the machine as the screen has a coating which make it hard to read at an angle (perhaps this is needed for the touch screen or is a privacy measure). The screen is placed at a suitable height for a person in a wheel chair, so I could not read the screen or type comfortably when standing upright. I had to bend over uncomfortably to use it. But then this will not need to be done often for regular commuters.

Miki ticket readerTo check the balance on your card you can use a much smaller pole mounted reader. A similar size unit, with fewer buttons, is used to swipe your card when getting on and off buses and trams, to record the fare. For railway stations the same reader is attached to an automatic gate.

Curiously, while the large ticket machine was placed at wheelchair height, the pole mounted readers were placed very high, or of reach of people in wheelchairs. The gate mounted unit was at a suitable compromise height for both wheelchairs and pedestrians.

While I have not looked at the detail of the project, this system looks far more workable than the problematic Metcard system previously brought in for Melbourne trams. This required a large, complex ticket machine to be installed on the trams. As well as taking up valuable space, these were difficult to operate on a lurching tram.

Smartcard ticketing systems for transport have proved to be difficult ICT projects to implement. It will be interesting to see if the new Melbourne system does better than Sydney's Tcard, or Perth's SmartRider.

Research-Based Education in Computer Science, Canberra, 4 June 2007

Highly recommended seminar for anyone interested in university education:

Research-Based Education in Computer Science at the ANU: Challenges and Opportunities
Peter Strazdins (DCS, ANU)

DATE: 2007-06-04
TIME: 16:00:00 - 17:00:00
LOCATION: CSIT Seminar Room, N101


In 2004, the Australian National University began a strategic shift in its coursework teaching programs, with the goal of orienting it towards what is termed research-led education. In this talk we will given an overview of the key ideas and literature on `research-led' (and more broadly `research-based' education. We will then address opportunities and challenges for this shift in the discipline of computer science. We will explore and evaluate current practices of research-based education. We will also examine staff and student attitudes and experiences in this area, identifying challenges and opportunities in creating an expanded and more coherent use of research-based education through the computer science curriculum.

The talk in particular will highlight perceptions and experiences of the PhB and BCS (Bachelor of Computer Science) degrees, which may be thought of flagships of this approach, and what lessons can be learned so far. Based on a number of student and staff interviews, it will also give a limited evaluation of relevant aspects of the BCS, including project courses and the `community' presented to the students.
The notes from the first of this two part series by Peter "A Survey of 'Best Practice' in Computer Science Teaching" is available online, with extensive hypertext links to source documents: <>.

ps: I found this seminar very useful in providing some intellectual underpinnings to what I have been doing with computer aided courses.

Slides in web pages

Peter Sefton has done a wonderful job getting his ICE education system to produce web based slides, as well as printed and web based learning materials, all from the one word processing document.

ICE uses the remarkable Slidy, which uses some CSS and a lot of Javascrpit, to turn a simple HTML document into a pretty slide show which can be driven from a web browser.

Previously I laboriously hand coded web pages to would work as slides, web documents and printed documents . But my hand coded system has some advantages over Slidy and ICE:
  1. One file: ICE generates a web version of your document, a PDF versions for printing and the slide version. This is three files to keep track of: I just want one. I don't want a PDF version, just a printable web page will do. I want the slide notes in the same file as the slides.
  2. Notes default: Slidy allows for notes to be included along with the presentation slides. You can press a button to see the hidden notes and can print them out. But you have to know to be able to do this. In most cases I want people to be able to see the notes: very rarely will they want to just see the slides. So I want the default changed so you see the notes and press a button to hid them.
  3. Simple web page: Slidy uses H1 as the heading for each slide. But I want my web page to have one H1 for the title and H2 for the slides.
I have tried changing Slidy's behavior, without changing the Slidy code. After some thought I reasoned that it is the Javascript which made Slidy show slides. So if I turn off the Javascript I will get the notes showing by default. To do this I added some commands to the web server. To get the slides you supply the parameter "Slides"; without this, you get the notes:
  1. Slides:
  2. Notes:
This technique has the bonus that, as most people will not be looking at the slides, they will not need to download the Javascript.

But so far I have not worked out an easy way to change the H1 headings to H2. I could modify the Slidy Javascript to use H2, but am reluctant to create my own version of Slidy. Another option would be some XSLT to turn the H1s to H2s for Slidy.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Computers and Environment Internationally

The International Federation for Information Processing (IFIP) has a Working Group (5.11), on Computers and Environment.
The goal of the WG is to foster the improved application of Information Technology in environmental research, monitoring, assessment, management and policy.
The WG tries to achieve this goal by:
  • establishing a forum for exchange amongst and between Environmental and IT professionals
  • communicating knowledge about state-of-the-art and innovative technology
  • providing expert advice to government, multinational organisations and industry
  • fostering Enviromatics education and capacity building
  • collaborating with third parties
From: IFIP Working Group 5.11 Mission, IFIP, 2007
IFIP sponsors the International Symposium on Environmental Software Systems (ISESS), which has held conferences and workshops since 1995. The 2007 conference was recently held in Prague. Some topics this year were:
  • Next Generation of Environmental Information and Risk Management Systems (EIS/RMS)
  • ICT Tools for Ecological and Human Risk Assessment
  • Artificial and Computational Intelligence for Environmental Modelling
  • Environmental Engineering Education and Presentation of Environmental Information to Non Scientists
  • Integrated Modelling and Decision Support Systems for Watershed and Lake Management – Design and Application
  • Human Factors in Enviromatics
Also there was an ICT for Environmental Management and Energy Efficiency day by the European Commission.

The Australian Computer Society represents Australia on IFIP. The Computers and Environment Working Group lists seven Australian members:
  1. Robert Argent, University of Melbourne, Australia
  2. Ian Bishop, University of Melbourne, Australia
  3. Trevor Dowling, CSIRO Land and Water Resources, Australia
  4. Anthony Jakeman, Australian National University, Australia
  5. Simon Veitch, Bureau of Rural Sciences, Australia
  6. Joe Walker, CSIRO Land and Water, Australia
  7. William Young, CSIRO, Australia
Also on ICT and environment see:

Friday, May 25, 2007

Using Moodle live in the classroom

This week I used Moodle for a one day course on "Writing for the Web" with 24 participants in a training room in Australia. It was only after the event that I realized that this may not be the usual way such online course management systems are used and others may benefit from a description of how I did it.


This course was prepared for presentation in a one day in-person workshop. However, it was intended the content could also be adapted for online self paced delivery later. Therefore the Moodle system was used. In addition I needed a web based authoring tool for the students to use for web authoring exercises. While I had planned to use Google Aps for this, it turned out to be easier to use the web editor built into Moodle. This turned out to be useful for use in the classroom. Moodle was used to supplement person to person interaction.

Having been asked to deliver training for local government staff I had to see what content I had available and how it could be delivered. Previously I had run a week long course for 24 museum staff from around the Pacific in Samoa, in 2005.

The course is divided into four sections, each with introductory material, exercises and references. As the participants would not necessarily have access to locally installed software, the emphasis was on the use of tools available via the web.

I adapted material I had prepared for:
The format for the course came from the course in Samoa.


First of all I took the description of what the client had asked for in the course and what materials I had to hand and pasted these into a topic outline of a new Moodle course. I then created each of the four sections of the course, starting with a title. Under each title I then added a paragraph summary and bullet point outline.

Under the outline of each topic I then added a link to an exercise using Moodle's "assignment" resource requiring submission of a text document prepared with the Moodle editor. These were not intended to be assessed, but Moodle system was very useful for me to monitor progress, by seeing how many students had submitted the assignment.

Then I added a set of student notes and set of slides. The notes and slides are edited versions of those I have previously presented. The notes and slides files are actually the same web document, using the Slidy format. I used some web server instructions to tweak the Slidy format so that by default the students would see the detailed notes when they opened the document, not the usual slide format.

With the assignment and notes done, I then added links to some relevant web based resources. Some of these are documents for the student to read. Others were web based tools to be used.

The Classroom

The classroom was arranged with two rows of desks in a "U" shape. Inside the U was a desk for the presenter and a video projector for the class to see presentations on. Each two students shared a desktop PC and undertook exercises together. In Samoa the students each had a computer of their own, but tended to end up working in groups, with useful mutual support, so one PC per two or three people seems to work well.

The format of each section of the course was that I would present the slides suing the projection screen. At the same time the students were encouraged to follow the notes on their PC. They were welcome to read ahead if they got bored. After some questions they were introduced the exercise, to be done in pairs. The students used the Moodle editor to prepare their responses, along with web based tools and documents in multiple windows. I monitored how many students had completed the exercise and answered queries. When it appeared most were finished we had discussion.

Wireless MouseThe presenter desk was equipped with a standard keyboard and mouse. To this I added a USB wireless mouse. The mouse was particularly useful as I could hold it in my hand while standing up and use the mouse buttons and scroll wheel to move through a presentation. There are specialist wireless presenter control units, but the wireless mouse is cheap, readily available and easy to work.

The Results

Moodle proved to be reliable and response in the classroom environment. The Moodle system was running on a server remote (several hundred kilometers) from the classroom and worked well. There was one database error during the initial startup, but the students didn't notice.

Enrolling students in the Moodle system turned out to be the most difficult part of the process. Rather than use bulk registration I had each student register individually using a secret key for registration. The students logged into their usual workplace account on their corporate computer system in order to be able to receive the message confirming their identity. The problem was than when they then entered the Moodle system it was difficult to find the link needed to enroll in the course.

Using the Moodle system to obtain course material and enter an assignment did not prove difficult for the students (who were all experienced computer users). The students did have difficulty keeping the course open in one browser window and other material in another. The students needed a practice exercise to avoid loosing what they had typed.

What I would do differently

The entire Moodle course content turned out to be a remarkably small 24kbytes. It would have been feasible to have all the slides and notes on the Moodle system as well. It may also have been useful to run a Moodle server on one of the PCs in the classroom, in case of communications problems.

It would seem quite feasible to create a portable classroom system from one laptop running Moodle and communicating with WiFi to low cost web terminals. The student terminals need only a minimal operating system and web browser.

This approach to teaching would seem to have potential for longer and more formal university courses, combining the benefits of computer based and live teaching.

What also could prove useful would be more web based tools specific to the subject topic. As an example tools which would give feedback as to the quality of writing for the web would be useful.

Getting ready for eResearch


eResearch: policy and practical perspectives

When: Friday, June 1, 12.30pm
Where: McDonald Room
Speakers: Adrian Burton, Margaret Henty, Danny Kingsley

Two well-attended and riotously-received talks given by APSR staff at the EduCause Conference in May will be offered again next week.

Eresearch is the world where academia, computational power and high-speed telecommunications intersect. Adrian Burton, Project Leader of the Australian Partership for Sustainable Repositories, will reprise his talk entitled Eresearch, National Perspectives. This addresses questions of the national and international perspectives for policy and infrastructure to enable and support eResearch and looks at overseas trends and models.

Margaret Henty and Danny Kingsley, both with APSR, use the analogy of the pantry in presenting their talk entitled "Readiness and responsibility for managing research data: The Institutional Perspective". Items in repositories on their own are like the basic ingredients in a pantry - potentially useful, if bland. But when they are put together in different ways the results can be spectacular. Thinking about repositories in this way shows how repositories can be reconceptualised as service demands change. This way of thinking offers a significant part of the solution to the eResearch challenge.

The talks will be videorecorded for use in APSR publicity. Come along and find what treats might be in store from the APSR kitchens.

Margaret Henty
National Services Program Coordinator
Australian Partnership for Sustainable Repositories
W. K. Hancock Building (#43)
The Australian National University
Canberra, ACT, 0200, AUSTRALIA ...

Doing the ICT Vision Thing

Greetings from the Australian Computer Society National Council meeting in Canberra. On Monday a consortium of Australian ICT bodies released "A 10 year Strategic Vision for the Australian Information and Communications Technology Sector".

This morning Senator Helen Coonan, Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts (DCITA), talked to the council about ICT policy. She began her talk by referring to a "future history" I presented in 1996, and seeing which had come true:
In 1996, the then President of the Australian Computer Society, Mr Tom Worthington — whom I am pleased to see is here today—gave a speech in which he envisioned the world 10 years on in 2005.
In this tongue-in-cheek vision, he predicted the winner of the 1996 election would de-regulate the Telecommunications industry; I am happy to report his skills as a seer were spot on when we were elected a year later, and did in fact get the Telstra privatisation underway.
Tom also predicted that Telstra and Optus would rollout a significant cable network for Pay TV; and they certainly have.
And he predicted that competition from Internet voice applications would start to destroy the long distance monopoly the telcos had enjoyed.
Again, Tom was on the money.
So when the Australian Computer Society heralded the launch of their ICT Vision for 2017 – on the back of past performance, I sat up ready to listen! ...
From: Developing a National ICT Capability, Address to ACS Council Breakfast, Senator the Hon Helen Coonan, Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate, Canberra, Friday 25 May 2007
This was flattering as the Minister only quoted a few predictions I got right on broadband and telecommunications regulation and left out all the ones I got wrong.

Later Senator Stephen Conroy, Shadow Minister for Communications and Information Technology, talked to the council, but did not call on my Nostradamus skills. ;-)

Strategic Vision for the Australian ICT Sector

The National ICT Industry Alliance (NICTIA) released "A 10 year Strategic Vision for the Australian Information and Communications Technology Sector" on Monday. There are some thoughts on how to do some of this in my "Building Arcadia - Emulating Cambridge's High Technology Success". For the NICTIA report there is a media release and eight page summary. from NICTIA and the full twenty four page report is available from the ACS.

This got a reasonable amount of media coverage, but many in the ICT business may not have seen the details. Note that, despite the similarity of acronyms, NICTIA is different to NICTA (National ICT Australia).

The twelve vision statements from NICTIA are:
Vision Statement 1 - National 10 Year Strategy

Australia to have a vibrant, innovative and globally competitive ICT industry that strategically plans for the future and underpins future productivity gains in all other sectors of the economy.

Vision Statement 2 - National Marketing and Branding

An Australian ICT sector to be well supported by the Australian, State and Territory Governments under a strong national Australian ICT brand, that presents a united front globally and is well known for its innovation and quality ICT services in key international markets.

Vision Statement 3 - Innovation

An Australian ICT industry that is a magnet for private investment to support R&D and commercialisation of technology through large, multi-disciplinary commercial R&D and product realisation centres.

Vision Statement 4 - Innovation in Procurement Practices

Government as a model ICT purchaser of Australian innovation, recognising that as the largest single ICT customer in Australia, its procurement practices have a substantial impact on innovation in the ICT industry and provide reference sites to facilitate global market penetration.

Vision Statement 5 - Skills

An Australian ICT industry with a leading skill base by world standards with the Australian, State and Territory Governments, industry and education providers working collaboratively to improve skills foresighting, skills development and enhance enrolments in ICT courses.
Vision Statement 6 - International Opportunities

Australian technology businesses to have the capacity and necessary government market intelligence and support to readily identify and respond to real international business opportunities and consistently convert these to positive business wins. Australia has a competitive investment environment, benchmarked against global standards, which seeks to promote Australia as an attractive destination for ICT investment.

Vision Statement 7 - Collaboration and Global Integration

Australian ICT SMEs to be competing successfully on the world stage with the capability and necessary expertise available to access markets, attract venture capital and commercialise their technology solutions.

Vision Statement 8 - Entrepreneurship

Our ICT entrepreneurs to possess the managerial, technical and marketing skills to develop their businesses, compete for growth capital and move forward on national and international business opportunities.

Vision Statement 9 - ICT Infrastructure

A high speed, affordable national broadband infrastructure and complementary e-security network that puts Australia amongst the leaders in the OECD in terms of its broadband capabilities. Be one of the first nations to gain the benefits from migrating to IPv6.

Vision Statement 10 - ICT Literacy

Australia to become a highly ICT literate and truly technology proficient society that adopts, adapts and confidently embraces and exploits technology to its advantage and on an equitable basis.

Vision Statement 11 - ICT Standards and Conduct

Australia to increase its development and application of open technical and professional standards, at both a national and international level. Trustworthy technology to be increasingly attained by strongly encouraging professionalism and the ethical and principled conduct of ICT practitioners.

Vision Statement 12 - Regulatory Policy

Australia’s regulatory policy to be proportionate to need and not to become an impediment to innovation and investment in ICT.

From: "A 10 year Strategic Vision for the Australian Information and Communications Technology Sector", NICTIA, May 2007

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Mobile Internet Devices to Take Away the PC Market?

Intel is now promoting two categories of hand held computers: Mobile Internet Devices (MIDs) and Ultra Mobile PCs (UMPCs). The MID is a low cost Internet terminal, intended to work with web based applications, while the UMPC is a more powerful device which can run standalone applications. These differ from Microsoft's failed Ultra-Mobile PC, by having a keyboard, a slightly smaller screen and Linux as the default operating system:
Mobile Internet Devices (MIDs)
MIDs personalize a new category of small, truly mobile consumer devices enabling a PC-like Internet experience, coupled with the capability to communicate with others, enjoy entertainment, and access information on-the-go.

Ultra Mobile PCs (UMPCs)
UMPCs combine the benefits of a mobile Internet experience, with the practicality of security and manageability capabilities expected for business or education use. While these devices can be used for communication and entertainment, they also have access to a variety of PC software applications for productivity on-the-go.

From: Intel Ultra Mobile Platform, Intel 2007

These devices will look very similar to pocket computers from a decade ago, but with much better screens and more powerful processors. If the price is low enough, a Mobile Internet Device with WiFi could provide a useful replacement for a home computer and the UMP for a business computer.

Computer manufacturers will face the dilemma, that if they make small cheap useful computers, why would anyone buy their full size, more expensive laptops and desktops? A Mobile Internet Device with a full size screen and keyboard plugged in would make an adequate desktop web terminal for using with web based applications. But if traditional computer companies do not offer these products, then companies which make calculators and consumer electronics will step in and take most of the laptop and desktop computer market from them.

Cut your own hair

Remington HC-912 Precision 100 15 Piece Haircut Kit CordedI decided to follow the advice of John Birmingham and Dirk Flinthart in their book "How To Be a Man". Not all the advice in the book is to be taken seriously (such as "How to land a jumbo jet"), but that on hair seems sound: when a gentleman's hair starts to thin, do not try and hide it; go for a very short haircut (Number 3 with the electric clippers).

But why pay $AU10 to have someone run a set of electric hair clippers over your head? So I bought a Remington hair cut kit for $AU14 from the supermarket. There are similar units on Amazon starting from $US11. The clippers come with a set of attached combs to set the hair length. These are numbered one to four and cut from 1/8 Inch for Number 1, to 1/2 Inch for Number 4 (the numbers seem to indicate the hair length in eights of an inch).

I went for the longest (Number 4) and following the instructions with the clippers: starting at the back, cutting upwards. Then I did the sides, similarly cutting up and then the front. I then changed to the Number 3 and did the back of my neck and sides, to create a slight layered effect.

The instructions say to remove the comb to trim the line across the back of the neck. There are many web sites saying how this should be shaped. Worried about creating a jagged line and taking chunks out of the hair, I found I could put one hand over the hair I wanted to keep on the back of the neck (with a thumb just under one ear lobe and foe finger under the other) and use this as a guide for the clippers.

manual hair clippersA simple set of mains powered electric clippers seems the simplest. Replacement blades and combs seem to be readily available. If you have someone else doing the clipping, you might save some energy by using a manual set of clippers.

Sideburns were also an issue. But I wear glasses and found that putting them on created a guideline I could cut parallel to. Cutting your own hair is a hot topic of conversation on the web.

vacuum cleaner powered hair clippersCutting hair creates a mess. One proposed solution I am not sure about is the Fowbee, vacuum cleaner powered unit. If you are going to cut in the bathroom or outdoors, keep in mind that mains powered electric clippers should be kept away from wet areas for safety. A rechargeable battery operated set might be good alternative.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Writing for the web course: request for comment

Next Wednesday I am presenting a one day course on "Writing for the web" to about two dozen people from local government. I would appreciate any comments, corrections and suggestions The outline for the course is online. So far I have prepared the outline and exercises. The next step is to take the content I normally present to university students, trim out the technical stuff and add a little more on writing.

The idea is to use a similar format and content to the course I ran in Samoa for the International Council for Museums.

I am using Moodle for assembling the material, although initially this is intended as a face-to-face course, not an online one. This is my first attempt at Moodle and it has gone well overall. The only problem I have had was with a very long URL which the Moodle HTML editor refused to accept and gave an obscure error message for.

Re-imagining Software Engineering

After a long lunchtime discussion of how to get ICT professionals to use more systematic techniques for developing systems, I got to thinking about how you would describe the process. More importantly than correctly describing the process is to use words which are topical and likely to get attention.

So here is a Tag Cloud created from the Software Engineering Institute (SEI) list of announcements:



I the live version doesn't show on your screen, here is as it was when first created:

CH2 Green Building Up Close

It was a overcast cool and rainy day in Melbourne, perhaps not the best day to look at the Melbourne City Council's new CH2 green building, but a typical Melbourne day (at least it was before the drought). The bright yellow windmills on the top of the building were muted in the dull light and were not moving.

The building looks more cubic in reality, than in the publicity photos. This is accentuated by all the automatic wooden shutters being closed. At first glance the building looks solid, but then you notice movement through the wall. A back of lifts are just viable through the wooden slats in the shutters.

The building looks different on the three sides presented to the public. The most prominent western wall, facing Swanston Street is weathered looking wood, like an old packing case left out in the rain. The effect is not unpleasant, just different to the solid stone Beaux Arts architecture surrounding it.

The southern wall on Little Collins street has metal mesh cylinders suspended up the side of the building. These look like fishing nets, or escape slides. No doubt they have some practical use.

The Northern wall on an anonymous lane way is the most interesting. This has metal balconies with plants like a 21th century hanging gardens of Babylon, or perhaps an up market Paris apartment block.

The inside of the building is a disappointment. The ground floor is divided into a small reception for council offices and a large area for up market shops. The council area is a glass walled box, with a reception desk, turnstiles for card controlled staff access and a display area. At the present the display area has some architectural renderings of the building left over from the opening.

None of the building's active "green" systems are readily apparent. Perhaps this is as the occupants of the building want it. But it is a shame there is not a screen in the foyer showing the current status of the systems.

Apart from this small area, there appears to be no public access to the building. Despite the limited public access, for a government office security does not appear to have been given a high priority in the design.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Capturing expert knowledge in Arnhem Land

Photo of  Western Arnhem Land from Bidwern ProjectRecommended free talk at National Library of Australia, in Canberra, 15 June 2007:

Please join us for the next in our Digital Culture series of talks:

Bidwern: capturing expert knowledge

Most scientific research is based on examining objects from a specific perspective. The danger in this approach is that some information, which might be considered non-relevant to the specific discipline, can be omitted. Researchers are good at capturing data and metadata in their field, but they might unwittingly neglect other usable data.

Bidwern is a tool that discovers and captures knowledge by using experts'
field knowledge. It provides a way of bringing together research data from various sources and integrating them under one discovery system via implicit or explicit relationships.

Users can tag objects with appropriate metadata, for example Indigenous knowledge (ecoterms), language, mythology or geographic location, to trace and discover relationships. Bidwern uses standard metadata capture and access tools that make archiving the information easy.

Time: 12.30 to 13.30
Date: Friday, 15 June 2007
Venue: Library Theatre
Entry: Free
Speakers: Kim Mackenzie and Leo Monus
Introduced by Colin Webb, Director Web Archiving & Digital Preservation Branch,
National Library of Australia

This talk is open to the public.

Bidwern is an ARC eResearch Project for digital tools to document projects in Northern Australia:
A pilot project will use a selection of visual and audio data created by social and environmental scientists working with Indigenous communities on a major land management project across the western Arnhem Land Plateau.

The key innovations of the research will be to develop new methods for cataloging and preparing digital data for uploading to the DSpace digital repository at the Australian National University. Once in the repository, the data will be preserved for long term access by researchers and Indigenous communities in the western Arnhem Land Plateau.

From: Bidwern Project, ANU, 2006

See also my "Ten Canoes: From Samoa to Arafura Swamp".

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Telstra claims Interent will combat global warming

According to a report in the Age newspaper, Telstra claims that its new broadband network would help reduce global warming:
TELSTRA chief Sol Trujillo has renewed his assault on the Federal Government, this time adding a new and topical twist: failure to accede to the company's demands in exchange for building a new broadband network, he said yesterday, would hamper the fight against global warming. ...

Until yesterday, this dispute had nothing to do with global warming. But Mr Trujillo told the Future Summit in Melbourne that Telstra's desire to build and own a next-generation high-speed broadband network was "about changing the game on climate change".

Mr Trujillo said that an FTTN network would help tackle global warming because faster and more powerful internet services would lessen the amount of travel needed to conduct business and enable more efficient management of electricity grids. ...

While Telstra has built NextG and IP networks - used for mobile phone and some broadband services - its FTTN plans have been shelved. ...

Mr Trujillo also said that FTTN technology would remove the wastage caused by unused electrical devices, saying that mobile phones could be equipped with locators that turned on computers and other devices when a person entered the room. ...

Trujillo turns green in his quest for broadband, Dan Silkstone, The Age, May 15, 2007
This makes some sense, particularly if Access Grid technology, with large high resolution video screens becomes popular for networked meetings. This could be used in home offices, to save having to travel to the office, as well as in offices.

The relevance of Fibre to the Node (FTTN) to this is that it is one technology for delivering higher speed broadband to homes. However, for most working meetings, where the participants know each other and are trying to get work done, rather than impress each other, I have phone a very modest 64 kbps connection is sufficient. This is enough to have a telephone quality audio conference and look at documents and slide show presentations. Existing ADSL speeds would be more than enough to add a good quality video conference.

Cheap widespread access to wireless data networks could be very useful for reducing electricity consumption, by allowing more intelligent metering. Customers would have an incentive to switch off power at peak times, if the wireless network could tell them when that was and they could be billed second by second for it.

Having equipment turned on when people enter a room (or more importantly turned off when they leave) is not a new idea. I tried several such devices in my "Smart Apartment" and ended up with the simplest and cheapest: a security sensor which turns off lights automatically. In a Cambridge computer lab I wore an infrared tag which tracked me around the building, but these were not liked by the staff. Putting the sensor in a phone is clever, but requires no new mobile network, just a $10 RFID tag stuck onto the phone.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Did the shipping container change the world?

Cover of The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger by Marc LevinsonThe book "The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger" by Marc Levinson says it all in the subtitle. This is a book about how standardization of containers for transporting goods lowered shipping costs. This made it possible for factories in China to compete internationally. The book is worth a read for those interested in the interplay between business and technology. Technologists may want to skip some of the chapters on the economics of shipping.

The book is mostly about Malcolm McLean, "the father of containerization". It is argued that as an outsider, McLean was able to see the value of shipping goods in standardised boxes on ships. The boxes could be loaded from trucks and trains onto ships by crane, without the need to unpack and repack each load.

Levinson argues that standardized containers forced a rationalization in manufacturing as well as shipping. He also makes the point that the early adopters were not the most successful. Those who waited until the container was developed and then invested had the more successful business.

The computerized systems which allow shipping containers to be scheduled and tracked around the world get mentioned in several places in the book, as does Toyota's "Just in Time" manufacturing process. Currently another revolution may, or may not be taking place, as businesses adopt web based standards and learn to tightly integrate their processes.

The book covers the actual process by which the process McLean demonstrated was turned into a formal standard, in only a few pages. Anyone who has been on a standards committee will be familiar with the agony of slow standards processes, competing interests and egos which Levinson discusses. I would have liked some more detail on the details of the shipping container standard and some of the more unusual things people do with them.

empoHousing two bedroom four TEU homeOne of the more unusual spinoffs of shipping containers, are containerized apartment blocks. You can order a six story apartment block of six hundred units from a factory in China. It will arrive on a ship as six hundred containers and be erected in a few days.

Web microformats and accessible PDF

Microformats: Empowering Your Markup for Web 2.0, cover of book by John AllsoppThe 31 May Web Services Group meeting would be worth attending just for John Allsopp on Microformats, or Brian Hardy on PDF. John talked at a previous WSG meeting, the slides, podcast and photos are available. Brian I were speakers at a university accessibility forum at the AVCC a few weeks ago.

Ninth Canberra WSG meeting
When: Thursday 31 May
Time: 2.30 pm - 4.50 pm
Where: NLA Theatre, lower ground floor, National Library of Australia ...
Cost: Free
RSVP: Become a WSG member and RSVP at

First speaker: John Allsopp, Westciv
Topic 1: Microformats
John is a founder of Westciv, head developer of Style Master, an organiser of Web Directions (North and South) and author of a book about Microformats.

Second speaker: Brian Hardy, Vision Australia
Topic 2: Accessibility of PDF files
Brian established Vision Australia's web accessibility consultancy service and has been working on access to information issues for more than eight years. He has provided strategic consultancy services on Information and Communication Technology (ICT) accessibility for governments and major corporations throughout Australia and internationally. His particular interest is in how accessible design can enhance ICT products and services for all users. ...

Sunday, May 13, 2007

News Corporation use computers to save the planet?

News Corporation's Global Energy InitiativeLast week News Corporation announced that it would be carbon neutral by 2010 and encourage others to do the same. As News Corp is an information organization, techniques for sustainable development of ICT could have a large part in their strategy.
News Corporation today announced its strategy to address its use of energy and impact on the climate. The company's goals are to reduce its operations' carbon emissions significantly and to engage its 47,000 employees and its millions of readers, viewers and web users around the world on this issue.

All News Corporation business units will become carbon neutral by 2010 – through energy efficiency, buying renewable power and offsetting otherwise unavoidable emissions. Becoming carbon neutral is only the beginning of the company's permanent commitment to change the way it uses energy and to reach its audiences on this issue.

From: News Corporation Launches Global Energy Initiative, Press Release, News Corporation, 9 May 2007
After the opening of a green office building in Canberra, I got to thinking about how the computer profession could help the environment. We might have a Green IT Special Interest Group, or work with the Australian Information Industry Association's Environment Special Interest Group. Technologies such as Thin Client computers could be used to reduce energy and materials use (as well as reduce Australia's balance of payments deficit).

But the reaction from colleagues has has mostly been: so what? Some energy could be saved with more efficient computers and some materials saved by recycling, but computers don't use much energy and materials, so the savings would be minimal, compared to consumption from transport, homes, offices and factories. They argued this was not a mainstream interest for ICT professionals and should be left to engineers and environmental specialists.

However, I suspect that the environmental impact of computers is far higher than realized, particularly in service industries and economies. In places where there is little farming, mining or manufacturing, such as Canberra, and in the CBD's of Australian cities, computers and telecommunications will have a significant impact. As more home owners install broadband routers, wireless networks and digital home entertainment networks, the energy consumption from computers will increase.

As an example, News Corporation estimates its operations produced 641,150 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2006. But News Corp is in the business of film, television, magazines, newspapers and other publishing. So they don't manufacture much physical product, apart from printed material. They can provide employee incentives to use hybrid cars, increase energy efficiency and buy renewable power. But most of their business is in producing information. Therefore ICT should be able to help make that business more efficient.

News Corporation has released a 34 page document dealing its aims and outlining techniques for greenhouse reduction. The Global Energy Initiative has eight sections:
  1. Commitments, Targets and Goals
  2. Carbon Footprint
  3. Strategy: Reductions, Renewables, Offsets
  4. Working with Partners
  5. Engaging Our People
  6. Offsetting Unavoidable Emissions
  7. Reaching Our Audiences
  8. Supporting Materials
As Peter Chernin, President and Chief Operating Officer, News Corporation, says in the report:
We're not an industrial company, or an airline, but we do use energy in our activities: publishing newspapers, producing films and television programs, operating 24-hour newsrooms and so forth.

We want to make energy efficiency part of our everyday operations and switch to renewable sources of energy wherever economically feasible.

We intend to reduce our use of energy and find energy from renewable sources – enough to decrease our carbon footprint in 2012 by 10 percent compared with 2006.

We plan to become carbon neutral by 2010 – by offsetting emissions we can't avoid.

We want this to impact every single part of this corporation.

From: Global Energy Initiative, News Corporation, May 2007
The plan includes IT as one area for energy reduction:
Information Technology

Electricity consumption associated with computer use in our offices data centers is growing. As our operations and employees rely more on technology, this component of our carbon footprint will continue grow. We are actively pursuing initiatives that will lower the electricity of our computers and servers while continuing to increase productivity performance. We are also encouraging our people to turn off PCs, lights when they're not in use.

In one office we discovered that just by turning off an automatic screensaver we could reduce power consumption of computers by a third.

From: Global Energy Initiative, News Corporation, May 2007
News Corp could reduce computer energy use further by careful configuration of the energy saving features already built into their PCs. Another way would be by providing efficiently formatted electronic documents. The Global Energy Initiative document itself is distributed as a 2 Mbyte PDF file. Millions of copies of this document will be transmitted and stored on computer systems around the world, each one consuming energy and resources. Only 2% (37 kbytes) of this document is text, the other 98% is high resolution images and formatting. If the document was provided as a series of web pages, with appropriately sized images, the environmental cost of storing and transmitting the document could be reduced by about 90%. Australia leads the world in technology for producing efficient electronic documents.

This is an example of how ICT professionals could help with environmental sustainability. Some others might be:

Energy and materials reduction of ICT systems: This is direct savings from more efficient computer and telecommunications systems. Examples are using energy efficient equipment, such as thin clients and enabling energy savings options such as screen savers. New technologies need to be evaluated to see if they can be used in practice.

Motorola Motofone F3 cell phoneAs an example of a new technology which needs evaluation, Motorola's MOTOFONE F3 mobile phone uses an Electronic Paper Display (EPD). EPDs use much less power than other display technologies. However, they have limitations, such as limited (or no) color, and a slow refresh rate. This may limit their use or require applications to be modified for use. But just as Motorola have used the EPD to build a low power, low cost cell phone, the technology could be used to build low power, low cost tablet computers.

Smart control systems: The use of energy and materials can be reduced by using computer control. An example is the Melbourne City Council's CH2 green office building, with computer controlled water and energy systems. These systems can be made smarter to take into account the individual needs of each person in the building, to make them more comfortable, while reducing environmental impact further.

DUX Hot Water Recirculation SystemAt the domestic level, as example would be a smart controller for a hot water recirculating system. A householder can save money using a solar hot water system. But the hot water tank may then be a long way from the taps. As a result water is wasted waiting for the hot water to arrive at the tap. A hot water recirculating system has a pump to circulate the hot water past all the taps. This reduces water use, but may increase energy consumption from the pump and heat lost from circulated water. An intelligent controller could observe the water use by the household and optimize the use of the pump, to balance water and energy use.

Smart E-Commerce Systems: Energy and materials consuming processes can be redesigned using new electronic commerce systems. People can be encouraged to use less, by more efficient computer based market mechanisms. As an example, renewable energy and water recycling systems are expensive, capital intensive and require expert installation and maintenance. It is difficult for each householder, or business, to afford such systems. If the equipment can be shared in a remote plant, on cluster housing or a multi-tenant office building, that reduces cost. However, the cost of the system has to be shared out amongst the users and the cost of using a conventional billing system may more than the cost of the equipment. Also a conventional billing system may not be able to give the customer enough feedback on their use to give them an inventive to act environmentally responsibly.

Electronic Training for Energy Efficiency: Sustainable development will require retraining of ICT professionals and many other people in industry. If this was done in the conventional way with people traveling to purpose built classrooms, it would have an adverse environmental impact in itself. Computers and the Internet can be used to help undertake this training, with a lower environmental impact.

There have been a large number of amendments to the Australian Building Codes for energy efficiency:
Annual energy Amended by deleting subclauses (a), (b) and (c) because the ABCB Protocol for consumption Building Energy Analysis Software details the requirements applicable to the methods used to determine the annual energy consumption of a building. ...

ABCB 2006 Protocol for House Energy Rating Software, Version 2006.1: New Protocol referenced to facilitate acceptance of new generation of house energy rating software. The 2005 version is retained to allow current software to continue to be used. ...

JV3(b)(i)(C) A new condition has been added for lighting when calculating the annual energy consumption of a referenced building. ...

Specification JV Clarification added that there is a credit equal to 50% of the renewable energy generated on Clause 2(e) site rather than 50% of the annual energy consumption. ...

J5.4(a)(i) Exemption added for equipment with insulation levels already controlled under the Minimum Energy Performance Standard program. ...

Table J5.4c Unit of energy efficiency ratio added. ...

From: List of Amendments to the Building Code of Australia 2007 - Volume 1, 22 February, 2007
The construction industry will need considerable assistance to train personnel in the codes, keep up with the changes. Computers and telecommunications can be used in the training and to provide computer support to implement the codes.

The Housing Industry Association's GreenSmart principles for builders provides information for builders on how to construct environmental homes. They provide easy to read online guides to introduce builders to the concepts.