Wednesday, October 31, 2007

London to Paris Faster

Tom Worthington at Waterloo InternationalIn 2000 Eurostar gave me a free trip from London to Paris first class, with a quick visit to the UNESCO's Observatory on the Information Society. I posted a report "live" from the train at more than 200 kph using my GSM phone and laptop. Since then I have made a trip from London to Brussels on the same train.

I was reminded of this hearing a Eurostar publicist on the radio in Australia to talk up the opening of St Pancras International station in London. The refurbished St Pancras, opposite the New British Library, replaces Waterloo International as the terminus for the Eurostar high speed train in the UK. Also for the first time this really will be a high speed train in the UK, as the track to the coast has been upgraded, cutting about 20 minutes from the journey as of 14 November. This required track work and upgrading the electric power supply to allow the Eurostar to run faster. Just to keep it in perspective, even the slow UK trains are a lot quicker than Sydney to Brisbane even though the XPT used in NSW is a version of the UK's high speed train (it is slower due to poor Australian track).

The Eurostar plans originally included the trains at high speed beyond London across the UK (called the
Regional Eurostar and Nightstar) but that was never implemented. The rail cars purchased for the UK leg were refurbished and some used in Canada, the UK and France. For the 2012 London Olympics, some of these trains will form the "Olympic Javelin", to shuttle people from St. Pancras to the Olympic site near Stratford International station.

St Pancras was in need of an upgrade. On my visit in 2000 it looked run down, next to the relatively new (but ugly) British Library. Now all we need is somewhere to hire an electric car near the station: electric cars such as the G-Wiz (as the Indian Reva electric car is known in the UK) are not subject to the London congestion tax and have free parking.

ps: If visiting St Pancras, then take time for a walk along the towpath by Regent's Canal from
Thornhill Bridge Community Gardens in Caledonian Road, to the London Canal Museum in New Wharf Road.

Further Information

Zonbu Thin Client Linux Computer for Consumers

Zonbu miniature PCZonbu , are offering a thin client Linux computer for $US249.00. They include a data storage service and the application software in the price. If you pay for more online storage on a long term plan the cost of the hardware is lower.

The hardware is a small PC (apparently made by MSTI and sold as the "eBox mini Green PC"):
  • 1.2 GHz Via Eden CPU (C7 Esther core)
  • VIA CX700M chipset
  • 512 MB RAM
  • Ethernet 10/100 Mbit/s
  • PS/2 keyboard and mouse ports, VGA display port and 6 USB 2.0 ports
  • 4 GB CompactFlash local storage
  • Graphics up to 2048 x 1536 with 16 million colors – hardware graphics and MPEG2 acceleration
From: Zonbu, Wikipedia, 2007
In effect, the computer is sold in a similar way to a mobile phone plan: the more you pay for the monthly service and the longer you commit to the cheaper the hardware is. The service comes with and other typical Linux desktop software. Of course, the catch is that you need a broadband Internet connection for the unit to be usable. Even so this might be a good option for some home users and micro businesses. The business could simply plug the computer in and use it: if it breaks, then get another one, with the data stored on the remote on the server

ps: A similar online support option for the ASUS Eee PC (RM Minibook) sub-notebook diskless Linux computer could also be attractive. A school or micro business could equip students or staff with a computer which they could carry around, but not store too much vital data in.

RM Asus miniBook

RM Asus miniBookThe ASUS Eee PC sub-notebook diskless Linux computer will be sold in the UK as the "RM Asus Minibook", by Research Machines. There is a review of the miniBook from UK PcC Advisor Magazine.

RM is a UK company selling IT products to schools and universities and are positioning the miniBook as a student computer:
The RM Asus miniBook provides individual access to Learning Platforms for every learner at an affordable price.

It can be purchased outright or through flexible financing schemes, including warranty and insurance, spreading the cost to suit the available budget. ...

From: 'RM Asus miniBook -The genuine "anywhere, anytime access" pupil device', RM, 2007.
This approach should work well. The MiniBook is a bit quirky as a mainstream business product, but should work well with support from a school or university. The institution could provide wireless access and even recharging to suit the mini book and also web based education resources which could work within its limitations. The machine should work well with Moodle and similar web based education content management system.

DIY Educational Computer

An enterprising notebook seller could produce a similar product from a low cost notebook computer. That would cost more than the miniBook, but might produce a better computer. As an example start with the Twinhead Slimnote 12KF, which a 12 inch screen subnotebook computer with a AMD 1.8Ghz CPU for $AU1,549. I have the more expensive Twinhead 12D with an Intel processor (Twinheads are also sold as Avertech). Omit the internal DVD/RW Drive and replace the hard disk drive with a 8 GB Sd Flash Card, then install Linux in place of Microsoft Windows.

A cheaper computer, which might be even more desirable for students could be produced by starting with a lower cost computer, such as an Acer for under $AU1,000. The Dell Inspiron would be another option; some models are supported with Linux by Dell. and start at under $AU1,000.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

ABC TV Documentary on Australian F18

F/A-18 E/F Super Hornets (from Wikipedia)Last night (8:30pm, 29 October 2007) the Australian Broadcasting Corporation ran a program "Flying Blind" critical of the decision for Australia to buy F/A-18F Super Hornets as an interim replacement for the F111. It is also critical of the decision to buy the F-35 JSF:

For more than 30 years Australia has rested its security on the seemingly ageless wings of its F-111 fighter fleet.

But in aviation circles these days there are doubts and rumblings. Some experts fear Australia is set to give away its crucial air superiority in the region.

The reason, they claim, is that decision-makers have made the wrong choices about the planes that will replace the F-111s.

From: "Flying Blind"? Four Corners, 8.30 pm Monday 29 October.

Available from the ABC are:
  1. Program Transcript

  2. Video On Demand

  3. Background Reading

  4. Discussion Forum

The program seemed a little one sided, with a few people interviewed at length on the F-18's faults and only a few small segments on its strengths. Also the program seemed to mix up the roles of smaller fighter aircraft, such as the Dassault Rafale and Eurofighter Typhoon larger aircraft such as the Sukhoi Su-30/35/37 'Flanker'.

There was also some confusion over "generations" of aircraft. The Wikipedia entry for "Fighter Aircraft" describes the Rafale, Typhoon, 'Flanker' and the Super Hornet as "Generation 4.5 (1990-2000)", which seems reasonable. The F/A-18 Hornet is described as Fourth generation (1970-1990). The F-111 is not listed as it is a medium-range strategic bomber, reconnaissance, and tactical strike aircraft not a fighter.

Also the program seemed to miss the point that the Super Hornets were more stealthily than the F-18, plus have a very advanced radar and electronics, similar to that of the F-35. The Super Hornets are intended to operate in concert with each other, sharing data and with the Boeing Wedgetail Airborne Early Warning & Control (AEW&C) aircraft. It should even be possible to share data with troops on the ground by podcast for Network Centric Warfare.

The program seemed to alternate between criticism of the Super Hornets for being outdated and the F-35 for being not yet available. Given the choices currently available to the Australian Government, it seems to me to be reasonable to buy something proven to work now (Super Hornets) and keep the option to buy something better later, if it works (F-35). It is likely that the Super Hornet will work so well that Australia will skip the F-35 and instead buy UAVs later, along with converted civilian airliners.

Other options

It should also be noted that on 20 July the Australian Minister for Defense announced that Australia will spend $4B on the P-8A Poseidon Maritime Patrol and Response Aircraft (MPRA) to replace the AP-3C Orion. The MPRA is a modified Boeing 737 airliner, but it can carry about the weight of weapons as an F-111 and has a longer range. While not suitable for use in contested airspace, it would be useful for asymmetric warfare.

The RAAF has already ordered the Boeing Wedgetail Airborne Early Warning & Control aircraft (AEW&C) , which is also based on the 737. The P-8A requires more modifications for an internal weapons bay and under wing pylons.

Schematic of the P-8 internal layout from WikipediaIt is likely the aircraft will also be used for electronic surveillance and signals interception (SIGINT and ELINT). The aircraft have a lot of room, compared to the typical military aircraft, to carry rack mounted supercomputers for real time processing of signals and to act as a flying web server to distribute information to other aircraft, ships and vehicles.

Mix of F/A-18F Super Hornets, UAVs and Carrier F-35s for Australia?

The Australian government's decision to buy the F/A-18F Super Hornet fighter/attack aircraft seems a reasonable one. The Super Hornet is a two seat derivative of the F/A-18 Hornet currently in service with the RAAF.

The Super Hornet would be used as a stop gap due to a delay in the availability of the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter. These are to replace the F111s due for retirement in 2010.

The F/A-18F is relatively new design, has the advantage of being proven in service but is not a stealth aircraft like the F-35. While the Australian plan seems to be to only order enough Super Hornets as a temporary stopgap, it may make sense to retain them to replace the older F/A-18s. Australian could then consider if F-35s are needed, or if their job could be better done with UAVs exploiting advanced computers and telecommunications technology.

Lockheed Martin F-35Lockheed Martin have proposed an UAV derivative of the F-35, with a typical mission consisting of four unmanned JSFs controlled from two piloted F-35 or F-22s. Sensor information would be shared between the aircraft via datalinks. However, the F-35 and F-22 are both single seat aircraft, leaving the pilot little time to fly another two aircraft remotely. In contrast the F/A-18F has two seats, making it more feasible for one of the crew to control the UAVs.

Landing Helicopter Dock (from Australian Defence)Australia could also consider a mix of land based F/A-18Fs and F-35B Short Take-Off Vertical Landing (STOVL) aircraft based on the new Landing Helicopter Dock (LHD) ships, which are essentially small aircraft carriers. The F-35B stealth capabilities would complement the longer range of the F/A-18F.

See also books on:

Monday, October 29, 2007

Office of the Information Commissioner Online?

I wrote 14 October 2007, that a group of academics and politicians had suggested Australian government documents in electronic format should be released by default. That was an idea which was not likely to be approved, but I set it as a workshop exercise for students on my Electronic Document Management course. The Australian Labor Party then announced its policy for the reform of Freedom of Information (FOI) laws, creating a new Office of the Information Commissioner. So I set that as an examination question. Most of the students on the course are public servants and if the ALP is elected they will likely have to implement whatever they proposed.

The problem is that the volume of electronic records will overwhelm the current manual FOI process. The proposal from academics was to go to the other extreme, by making all electronic government records available automatically. That proposal has its own problems, which the class pointed out in their answers to the exercise.

One of the class suggested setting up a new government agency to handle the release of records. Coincidentally, during the course the ALP released its policy proposing just such an agency: The Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC). So for the examination on Saturday, I asked the class how to implement the IT system for the OIC, using XML and web technology.

The obvious way to do this is to use the same tools and techniques as now used for transferring electronic records from agencies to the National Archives, but speed it up. The National Archives free open source "XML Electronic Normalising of Archives" (XENA) and "Digital Preservation Recorder" (DPR) software tools are now used to process electronic records extracted from agency systems, such those based on Tower Software's Trim.

The OIC staff could use an online federated system to search the records of all agencies. OIC staff would then place an automated request for relevant records with each agency for retrieval. It would only need a few seconds for the system to extract the records, but perhaps a day would be allowed for the agency to review the records and release them to the OIC. XENA and DPR would catalog and format the records.

The OIC staff would need to be security cleared and their systems would need to be secure. However, this is something that oversight commissions already have to deal with day-to-day in government. When at the Commonwealth Ombudsman's Office I had to look after IT systems for dealing with with sensitive materials from agencies, including security agencies.

ps: Today I bumped into one of the staff from FunnelBack, who mentioned they had already implemented an interface to allow searching Trim.
Their approach would need some tweaking for a government wide service, due to security issues, but would be a start.

How to Create On-line University Courses in Electronic Archiving: Part 13 - How it Went

In Part 12 I looked at the first day of the course on Electronic Document Management course. Most of the problems with room setup were fixed for day two and day three went well.

The computer lab used had no dedicated instructor's workstation. On day one I had used my own laptop, but found that the different setup of software on it caused some confusion when demonstrating to the students. On day two I found that I could plug the video projector into one of the front row student workstations and (after lowering the screen resolution) use that as the instructors system. To allow me the freedom to move, I used a wireless keyboard and mouse, plugging the USB transceiver into the workstation (no problems with Linux).

This could be a very good arrangement to use for rooms which are only occasionally used for presentations. Instead of having one workstation dedicated full time to the instructor and thus unusable for students most of the time, one of the student machines could be used.

What could also be of use is a mobile lectern. This need not be as sophisticated as RSISE's triple boot lectern. The main point would be that the lectern could be placed where the instructor wants it and then moved out of the way when not needed. A wireless keyboard and mouse could be fixed to the podium and the USB transmitter and video plug attached to an available workstation. By not relying on a workstation in the podium, this would increase flexibility and ensure compatibility with the student machines.

Problems with Moodle on the first day were resolved on day two. The Moodle system provided very effective at administering an open book examination. The examination questions were supplied as a Moodle "assignment". The system was set to provide the examination and accept submissions during a set period. The examination was carried out in the room under supervision (not remotely). The students were instructed to copy the question sheet into the answer window and modify it to add their answers. This was done in preference to using Moodle's "quiz" facility as the student had no used that during the course and so would not be familiar with its use.

Wireless Broadband for Regional Australia

In September I gave a series of talks on broadband in regional Australia. , including the WiMAX/IEEE 802.16 wireless service being set up be the OPEL consortium (with a government subsidy). In October Professor Reg Coutts, Director of the ACS Telecommunications Board, had a very useful article published comparing different WiMax options and 3G for rural broadband.

Professor Coutt argues that the 5.8GHz band Opel proposes to use is not suitable for broad WiMAX deployment, but that 2.3GHz would be for rural Australia except the Northern Territory. As he points out most of the 2.3GHz band is held by another company, Austar. Unwired already provide a service in some Australian cities based on "pre-WiMAX" technology (I use a similar service from iBurst).

I share Professor Coutt's skepticism over the claims for early adoption of WiMax and, as he points out, rooftop antennas will be needed to get adequate range out of it in regional Australia.

However, in my opinion, it is ultimately an issue of economics not technology: can Optel get enough customers for their WiMax service to provide a return on their investment? One way this might happen is by the customers paying for more of the cost of the infrastructure. By requiring the customers to have longer range roof mounted antennas, Opel can build fewer base stations. If they were to also implement a mesh network, or WiFi redistribution, that would further spread the cost and may make the system pay for itself quicker.

...WiMAX has arisen very rapidly in parallel with mobile technologies such as 3G as a serious alternative in many applications. The purpose of this article is to help separate fact from hyperbole that inherently pervades the technology space. ...

WiMAX conforms to two broad standards, the IEEE802.16d standard decided in 2004 for which certified equipment is available and the other mobile WiMAX IEEE802.16e standard decided in 2005 for which certified equipment has yet to appear. ...

In Australia Telstra has rolled out its 3G network Next G at 850MHz to encompass the earlier rural CDMA network which in addition to providing 3G mobile services can with the upgrade to HSPA offer wireless broadband service to rural users. ...

A new player OPEL, jointly owned by Optus and Elders, now has won the Government contract to roll out a wireless broadband service by June 2009 in competition with Telstra based on WiMAX. ...

As well as doing a broad comparative assessment of WiMAX and HSPA for their claimed benefits, my analysis has considered a "hypothetical rural town" where DSL is range limited to 4km from a central exchange. From our modelling and canvassing of industry-wide perspectives, it is my opinion that both WiMAX at 2.3GHz and HSPA at 850MHz for rural application can provide similar user data rates of 8-12 Mbit/s expected of ADSL1 and ADSL2+ within what is termed the dominance zone of a single base station site. ...

While the dominance zone would be about 8km out from the base station, the service area for acceptable service would extend beyond this out to nearly 20km for WiMAX and 35km for HSPA, but where the user data rate would drop to about 2Mbit/s. ...

In summary, I believe that the WiMAX technology developments will divert the longer term technology evolution towards 4G which will exploit the flexibility strengths of WiMAX.

However, in my opinion it is critical that Australia maintain its credibility as a sophisticated, timely adopter of the best of global technology and should resist being used as a test market to reduce technology risk for global suppliers rather than supporting sustainable rural infrastructure investment. ...

From: "Rural broadband wireless", Prof Reg Coutts,Information Age, 23/10/2007 00:37:41

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Local LED Backlighting to Reduce LCD TV Power

LED Backlit LCD TVSome news reports have suggested that plasma and LCD TVs would be banned due to their high energy consumption. But new local LED back lighting for LCD flat screen will reduce their energy consumption. Instead of a florescent tube, these screens have a matrix of LEDs to supply the back light. The LEDs can be turned off in areas of the screen which are dark. This is done to increase the contrast and so improve the picture quality, but a byproduct is to decrease the energy consumption.

So far only a few LCD TVs with Led Backlights and Computer LCD Monitors with LED Backlighting are available (and they are not cheap).

This might also provide some truth to the urban legend that changing the background of the Google search screen from white to black would save electricity. ;-)

ps: LED LCD TV available on

Friday, October 26, 2007

Canberra building gets 6 Star Green Rating

Trevor Pearcey HouseKevin Miller and Katy Mutton talked at the ACS Green IT Group last week about their design for the refurbishment of Trevor Pearcey House. The building has now been granted a 6 Star Green certification and a there will be a seminar about it 20 November 2007:
Breakfast with the stars

6 Stars for CSR

As companies now focus on improving their Corporate Social Responsibility, the search has begun to find a building that incorporates and reflects the organisation’s environmental beliefs. Can green buildings hold the key to showcasing and promoting the correlation between an organisation’s ethics and actions? Will this help to raise the company profile, and attract and retain staff and clients?

This seminar will give you an insight into the newest 6 Star Green Star – Office Design certified building for Australian Ethical Investment. This refurbishment reflects the important elements of design for AEI – structure, environment, people and location.

After a brief presentation on the project, a panel will be convened to allow for audience questions and discussion.

This seminar is recommended for anyone currently involved with, or contemplating using, Green Star.

Attendees to the breakfast are also invited to join the Green Building Council Australia for a site tour of the Australian Ethical Investment building. Places are strictly limited.

This building has a number of environmental features that have been developed to maximise the potential for passive systems such as natural ventilation and lighting. The atrium area on the first floor tempers the air in both winter and summer to allow fresh air intake without mechanical

Lighting to the perimeter and adjacent to the atrium are separately switched which allows maximum advantage of available daylight. Lighting is also timer and occupancy controlled to allow lights to be switched off when not required and the base level lighting is low and supplemented with task light at individual work areas.

One of the most interesting features of the refurbishment has been the level of recycling and reuse of materials. The Architects and Construction managers worked collaboratively to ensure as many materials as possible were reused in the construction.

For example, carpet tiles were reused and supplemented with more recycled carpet tiles, steel hanging frames and mesh found in the ceiling space were reused to make a bike enclosure, 90% of the joinery cupboards were made from old cupboards found in the building and recycled timber was used for feature floors and walls.

Some of the recycling led to inspired elements within the building such as two walls made from old timber palettes and, most notably, art work made from old computer floor tiles.

Owner Howard Pender - Australian Ethical Investment
ES D Consultant (Green Star Professional) Warren Overton - Viridis
Architect Kevin Miller - Collard Clarke Jackson
Interior Designer Katy Mutton - Collard Clarke Jackson

DATE : Tuesday 20 November 2007
For further information contact Green Building Council of Australia

How to Create On-line University Courses in Electronic Archiving: Part 12 - First Day

In Part 11 I looked at the first draft of the material for an Electronic Document Management course. The first four hours of the course was last night and overall it worked.

There were some difficulties with the physical layout of the room and equipment, which confirms my wish for designed flexible learning spaces. Having a room with the equipment in place and no doors to get locked out of by the security system would greatly improve efficiency.

The computer lab used is designed for individual students working each at a computer. While there is a projection screen at the front of the room there is no projector installed and no provision for placing one, nor for a presenter to present from. I improvised by standing the projector on a overhead projector trolley and my laptop on a cardboard box. The result was I was stuck in a dark corner of the room with the fan from the projector blowing hot air on me, while stopping my laptop from falling off the box. This should be sorted out for the next session.

Only one student had used Linux before, but none had difficulty logging in and starting the Firefox web browser. Once in the web browser they had few difficulties navigating the Moodle course ware system. One glitch was that some of the exercises were not opening the HTML editor to allow the students to type (this appears to be a problem with how I configured with Moodle student access). At that point I had the students work in groups with the working screens.

The students were far more reluctant to type exercise answers into the system than I have experienced with previous courses. This may be that as public servants they are reluctant to commit an opinion to writing, even when assured it is just a class exercise. As a result we used more discussion, and less typing, which worked well.

As expected there was far more content than the time allowed. I was difficult to choose which material to concentrate on, given the diverse backgrounds of the class.Three students are very inexperience in records management, working in senior capacities in major government agencies, one is working on e-archives and the others have less experience. What they all appeared to appreciate were learning about the details of Wikis, blogs and the details of thew web. The problem here is to retain the focus on business document use, rather than entertainment.

One aspect which worked well was the student access to the notes. The students opened the notes accompanying my screen slides and explored some of the links, while listening to presentations.

What might be useful for subsequent courses is to have part of it by distance education. The students might, for example, come for a one or two hour group class, then have the equivalent of eight hours of distance education, then another group session.

Converting web pages to work on mobile phones

The World Wide Web consortium are doing some useful work on how to get the web on to mobile phones. Ideally content should be designed from the start with this in mind and their W3C Mobile Web Best Practices checker is useful. For converting existing web pages they have just produced a new guide called the: "Content Transformation Landscape":

Mobile Web Best Practices [BestPractices] encourages content providers to produce "made for mobile" experiences of their Web sites. While the number of such Web sites continues to increase, there are still many Web sites that are unaware of mobile presentation. Those Web sites, when accessed from mobile devices, do not present a satisfactory user experience or may indeed cause failure of the user's device. In order to mitigate this unsatisfactory experience, mobile network operators and others use proxies to transform the content of these sites.

At the same time there are an increasing number of highly capable mobile devices that offer enhanced browsing experiences designed to assist users of mobile devices with their typically small screen and limited input capabilities to navigate sites designed with larger displays, pointing devices and full keyboards in mind.

The W3C MWI Best Practices Working Group recognizes that on the one hand transforming proxies can diminish the value of sites that have been designed specifically for mobile presentation. On the other hand transforming proxies can enhance the mobile experience of sites unaware of mobile presentation. Yet again, transforming proxies can diminish the value of such sites when presented on devices that are capable of simulating a desktop experience while mobile. ...

From: Content Transformation Landscape 1.0, W3C Working Draft 25 October 2007

ps: Just for fun here is what the W3C Web Site looks like on a mobile phone.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Tsunami Warning Spam

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center Issued a Tsunami Watch for Indonesia at 2114z 24 Oct 2007. Fortunately there was no Tsunami, but the warning message was rated 1.4 by the Spam Assen Spam filter. As I noted previously, there is a risk such messages may be blocked in transmission by Spam filters. The format of such messages need to be changed to make them look less like spam. This could be done at the same time as other changes to make the messages more readable.
Subject: {SPAM 01.4} [Tsunami Message - IOC] Local Tsunami Watch Bulletin
X-Spam: spam
X-Spam-score: 1.4
X-Spam-hits: BAYES_00 -2.599, DCC_CHECK 2.5, UPPERCASE_75_100 1.528, BAYES_USED user
Date: Wed, 24 Oct 2007 21:16:09 GMT
X-Spam-orig-subject: [Tsunami Message - IOC] Local Tsunami Watch Bulletin
Precedence: list
X-no-archive: yes
List-Archive: <>
List-Help: <>
List-Owner: <>
List-Post: <>
List-Subscribe: <>
List-Unsubscribe: <>
X-Virus-Scanned: by amavisd-new-20030616-p10 (Debian) at

ISSUED AT 2114Z 24 OCT 2007







ORIGIN TIME - 2103Z 24 OCT 2007






-------------------------------- ------------ ------------



Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Flexible Learning Space Design

Some recent useful resources on designing flexible learning centers, are the EduCase Learning Space Design Constituent Group and Building Futures - Creating Flexible Learning Spaces from the Victorian Department of Education and Early Childhood Development. One frustration is that the tertiary discussions of learning spaces tend to be a bit abstract, whereas the primary and secondary ones tend to have actual floor plans to look at.

The case study of Chaffey School has a useful plan showing class group areas, break out space
lecture/data area, discussion and projection areas. The case study for Belmont High School shows one type of modular desks being used together in different configurations for groups of six and 12 students. These plans should translate well from the secondary college to tertiary environment.

Another thought is that LCD screens of more than 1m are now available for under $2,000. These should be suitable for small groups of use up to about 6m from the screen. An LCD screen can be built into the wall protected by anti-reflective glass and left running all day.

See also: Books on flexible learning and Blended Learning.

National ICT Center Opening in Canberra

NICTA will be opening their new national ICT center building in Canberra next month, with a free seminar on "Semantic Technologies for Business and Government", 13 November . Unfortunately NICTA prepared the invitation as a PDF file which is 9 times larger than it need be, so here is text version of the details:
Semantic Technologies for Business and Government
A half-day seminar in Canberra co-ordinated by NICTA’s e-Government Project


We live in an age of information overload, surrounded by masses of digital data, but lacking the tools to process it based on its meaning or semantics. Consequently, a lot of human time and effort is spent manually transforming and processing data when porting it from one application or data store to another, or when aggregating it into a form suited for analysis and execution. Semantic Technologies represent a new wave in computing which aims to make the meaning of data and services explicit and machine processible for improved interoperability, searching and querying.
This seminar will focus on the core concepts and issues of semantic technologies, covering these topics:
  • Overview of semantic technologies — Semantic Web, Web2.0, Ontologies, Metamodels and Metadata creation, Modelling Languages, OWL, Knowledge Sharing and Utilization;
  • Overview of current tools, languages, and notations;
  • Applicability to government services, processes, and infrastructure;
  • Case studies of the use of semantic technologies in government;
  • Survey of industry opinion in Australia on the future of semantic technologies.
Rather than comparing vendor technologies or detailing specific languages and notations, the seminar will focus on presenting the core technical ideas and approach of semantic technologies, providing attendees with a firm basis for further investigation and evaluation.

Intended Audience

This seminar is designed for senior technical staff and business managers in government, involved in business transformation, digital preservation and record keeping, knowledge management, enterprise planning and enterprise architecting,
inter-agency interoperability, and organisational process improvement. It will also be of interest to representatives of the ICT industry involved in enabling these activities.

Format of the Seminar

9:00 Registration
9:15–10:30 Session 1:
Overview of Semantic Technologies (Anne Cregan and Paul Brebner, NICTA).
Government case study (Don Bartley, ABS).
10:30–11:00 Morning Tea
11:00–12:00 Session 2:
Case Study 2 Industry Survey — Towards the Semantic Web: Standards and Interoperability across Document Management and Publishing Supply Chains (Anni Rowland-Campbell, Fuji-Xerox and RMIT).
12:00–12:30 Panel Session.
Includes the above presenters plus representatives from AGIMO.
12:30–13:30 Light Lunch and Networking

Bookings for this free event are essential

Please RSVP by no later than 6 November, 2007:
Phone: (08) 8302 3928
Fax: (08) 8302 3115

Seminar Room NICTA Building 7 London Circuit Canberra ACT

Date: Tuesday, 13th November 2007 9:00am--1:30pm

From: Semantic Technologies for Business and Government, NICTA, 2007
ps: While NICTA's PDF files are too big, they are not as bad as National Archives of Australia invitations. The invitation I was emailed for their National Speaker's Corner, was 5.2 Mbytes, which is 200 times larger than it need be. By doing so NAA is wasting public money and contributing to the greenhouse effect.

To see how to do elelctronic documents, and therefore government, more efficiently, there are still some places on my course available.

Flexible Learning for Law Students

Benjamin Pynt wrote "The Flexible Learning Environment @ ANU" in a 2007 edition of "Peppercorn", the publication of the ANU Law Students Society. This looked at the current online education systems provided by ANU and discussed what might be done in the future. This is a very useful article. Perhaps someone could point me to an online copy.

Benjamin makes the point that other world class universities have made moves to flexible learning. One of the ways I can see the ANU could accommodate this is by a blended approach using online materials for group teaching sessions on campus in a flexible learning center. This way the university does not just become a web server for students sitting at home.

Tea in the Library

Tea in the Library (Paperback) by Annette FreemanAnnette Freeman has written the book "Tea in the Library" about her experiences in setting up a bookstore in Sydney. It will be launched at the State Library of NSW, 25 October.

Some years ago I was walking behind the Queen Victoria Building in Sydney and came across "Tea in The Library". This was an old fashioned bookstore downstairs in a basement, with comfy chairs, where you could have tea and browse a book.

I attended the launch of the book "Cycling Around Sydney" at Tea in the Library in 2004. No doubt the venue was excellent for writers and for those wanting a nostalgic look at what perhaps bookstores used to look like, but the shop never looked quite real; more like a set designer's idea of what a bookstore looks like:
Fulfilling the dream of many a book-lover, Annette Freeman bravely stepped outside her mid-life comfort zone and opened a bookshop café in the heart of Sydney. Tea In The Library became a beloved haven of readers and a cosy forum for writers. Plus a great place for coffee - and nineteen varieties of tea. But behind the scenes were anxieties large and small, frustrations, challenges, and - now and again - glorious moments of success. Welcome to retail! "How hard can it be to run a successful small business?" Annette asked herself. "People do it every day. It can't be rocket science." We find the answer to that question, and it is sobering news for those wannabe bookshop or café owners out there. The triumphs and disasters, the eccentric characters and the myriad challenges of retail are spiced with wry observation and a good sprinkling of literary references. In the end, everyone will have a view on what could have been done differently to save a small bookshop café that briefly lit up the Sydney literary scene.
From: Book Description,, 2007
Tea in the Library looked to me like a pleasant fantasy, a bookstore like that in, "You've Got Mail". The publicity for the Tea in the Library launch reads like a synopsis of the film: "Annette Freeman's dream became reality and then went bust in an industry ruled by the big players ...".

Regrettably the reality is that few are willing to pay for a bookstore atmosphere. While I browsed in Tea in the Library several times and even had coffee there (not tea), I only ever bought one book. Similarly I still like to browse printed magazines in the library, while at the same time helping to replace them with online publications. Recently in Melbourne I visited the marvelous reading room of the State Library, but while the institution is flourishing, books and magazines have almost disappeared from the public areas.

One indications of the crushing economics of book selling, is that even before the launch of Tea in the Library, several online booksellers were offering discounted second hand copies.

There will be still room in the world for a few bookstores, but they will have to pay their way. One example of a very atmospheric bookstore is at Bangalore airport in India. This is packed floor to ceiling with an eclectic mix of books on topics from religion to engineering and packed with people browsing and buying. Similarly Blackwell's bookshop in Oxford has an atmosphere, as does the Cambridge University Press bookstore. Also there is still some cachet to buy a books where it is from.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Big Wheels in Melbourne

Southern Star Observation Wheel, under construction in MelbourneOn my way out of Melbourne today, I noticed the Southern Star Observation Wheel, under construction. This will be a bit smaller than the London Eye, but will still give a good view of the city. The other big wheels in Melbourne were the members of the ACS Professional Development Board. We were setting the program for training IT professionals next year. Some random notes I took:

Monday, October 22, 2007

ASUS Eee PC as a Thin Client

There are more Thin Client computers coming out, but they still tend to be a niche product and so more expensive than regular PCs. One way around this would be to adapt laptop/notebook computers as thin clients. These could be second hand units or cut down ones specially made by the manufacturer, leaving out the components not needed for a desktop thin client.

I toyed with the idea of a "Portable learning centre" made up of a airline carry on bag with a couple of dozen ASUS Eee PCs in it. These would essentially be portable thin clients. The Eee PC is a disk less Lunux subnotebook computer for about $US199 to $US400.

The Eee PC has sockets for USB and an external monitor. So if you plugged in a keyboard, mouse and LCD screen it could also be used as a desktop thin client.
The screen, keyboard and battery of the Eee PC are not really needed for a desktop thin client. But they could prove useful for a smart VoIP phone. Having the battery would be useful for a phone as it would provide continued operation during a power failure.

ASUS, and other laptop makers, could make models omitting the LCD screen, keyboard and battery, and stick a label over the latch to make it a desktop thin client. This would save the cost of having to design and manufacture a specialised thin client device. They simply have to tell the people to not install some of the components for a production run. This shoudl reduce the cost of the ASUS unit, for example, to well under $US199.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Low voltage plug standard?

The Chinese government requires new mobile phones to use a standard USB plug for charging. But USB can only supply 5 Volts at up to 500 mA. Perhaps another standard could be set for higher power devices, such as laptop computers and cordless battery appliances. At present these require a bewildering array of different plugs using different voltages and polarities. Plugging the wrong adapter can destroy the adapter and/or the appliance.

The leading option for a standard low power supply would be 12 Volts (as used in cars). Another option would be the 42 volts, as agreed by the automotive industry for new accessories and PoweredUSB: 5V (30 watts), 12V (72 watts), and 24 volts (144 watts).

Another option would be the plugs provided on some airline seats, tecnically know as ARINC 628, Part 2 or more commonly called called an "air adapter". These are typically 15 Volt.

Does anyone know if there is a standard plug and voltage in common use?

Friday, October 19, 2007

How to Create On-line University Courses in Electronic Archiving: Part 11 - First Draft

In Part 10 I looked at requirements. Now I have incorporated that into a first draft of the course web site in Moodle. All are welcome to read and review the course, using "guest" access". The students expect a printed set of notes, so I copied and pasted the 12 units into to make 70 pages of notes (not including the exercises or reading material).

Electronic Document Management

By Tom Worthington FACS HLM

Module 2 of Systems Approach to the Management of Government Information, ANU, 2007

The Electronic Document Management course introduces two topics: metadata and data management (digital library, electronic document management). Use of the technology for practical e-commerce and e-publishing applications is emphasized using case studies and anecdotes drawing on the lecturer's experience.

Identifying steps that can be taken to accelerate the uptake of e-commerce by Australian small- and medium-sized enterprises, this course enables the participant to learn practical skills for incorporating e-commerce into their businesses.

This course is based on Tom Worthington's lectures on Metadata and Electronic Document Management for IT in e-Commerce (COMP3410/COMP6341) 2007.

Structure: The course is 12 hours in total spread over 3 days with 4 teaching hours per day. The course consists of 6 hours of lectures, 2 hours of practical classes, 2 hours of tutorials and 2 hours of assessment exercises.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Green Buildings in Canberra

Trevor Pearcey HouseKevin Miller, Architect, and Katy Mutton, Interior Designer, talked last night at the at the ACS Green IT Special Interest Group about environmental offices and educational buildings they had designed in Canberra recently.

Kevin and Katy are from Collard Clarke Jackson Canberra Pty Ltd, who undertook an award winning sustainable refurbishment of Trevor Pearcey House for Australian Ethical Investment.
Kevin talked about progress with environmental design since the completion of the ANU - Ian Ross Building and other projects.

One insight was the practicalities of computer versus human control of temperature in a building. The Ian Ross building has electrically operated windows which open and close under computer control. There are switches for the occupant to override the automated system, but Keven commented that the control was not fine enough. The AEI building, in contrast has some windows under automated control and some which can be opened by hand. The manual windows are design to provide a small amount of extra ventilation, without confusing the automated system.

Another insight was with the reuse of existing materials. Katy pointed out that much of the furniture and fittings of the existing AEI building were repaired and reused. This was mostly cost neutral: the material costs were lower as they were recycled, but more work was needed to make them usable.

I asked Kevin about the design of flexible learning centres for universities equipped with computers, and he commented that they had studies these for secondary schools and much of this should be applicable to universities.

The next meeting of the Green IT Special Interest Group is Reducing The IT Sectors Carbon Footprint with Michael Smith, Wednesday 21 November 2007.

Trevor Pearcey House is named in honor of Australian computer pioneer Dr Trevor Pearcy, who led the team which built CSIRAC, the fifth stored program computer in the world (and the oldest still in existence).

China adopts USB standard phone charger

The Chinese government requires new mobile phones to use a standard USB plug for charging, as of 14 June 2007. As well as saving materials and lowering costs, this should also save energy, as having one charger plugged in to charge all mobile the phones in a household will be more efficient:
"The Chinese government is to set a single national standard on mobile phone chargers sold in the country to avoid waste and to lower costs, the Ministry of Information Industry (MII) has announced.

Under the new standard, all mobile phones, regardless of the brand, will be able to share one charger with a USB access, allowing users to charge handsets through laptops.

The unified standard will cut the cost of a new handset and reduce electronic waste and consumption of resources, an MII official said. ...

Lou Peide, executive secretary general with China Mobile Communications Association, estimated the new standard could save nearly 2.4 billion yuan (306 million U.S. dollars) each year for handsets made in China if the cost of each charger was seven to eight yuan."

From: "China spells out national standard for cell phone chargers", People's Daily Online , 20:31, December 19, 2006, <>

"China's standard of cell phone charger interface was initially implemented on June 14th. All domestic cell phones and chargers must match the standard. For chargers that are incompatible with each other only render more chargers useless after switching cell phones. ...

From: Unified standard of cell phone charger interface", People's Daily Online , 16:52, June 19, 2007 <>.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

How to Create On-line University Courses in Electronic Archiving: Part 10 - Requirements

In Part 9 I looked at how to turn eight exsiting units in Electronic Document Management. into twelve new ones.

In the first unit I thought the introduction should cover legal and administrative requirements: essentially the why of EDM, before getting into the how. Some useful reference materials are:
  • Report on recordkeeping in the Australian Public Service
  • Improving Electronic Document Management - Guidelines For Australian Government Agencies
  • Records management - Why records matter- National Archives of Australia
  • Management of Electronic Records - Victorian Electronic Records Strategy (VERS)
  • RMAA Professional Status Guidelines
  • Model requirements for the management of electronic records (MoReq)
  • DoD Electronic Records Management Software Applications Design Criteria Standard
Some of this is a little frustrating. As an example NAA are offering "Check-up: A Tool for Assessing your Agency’s Information and Records Management". However, this is only available to Australian Government agencies, as a result it can't be used for educational purposes, even for in teaching potential users of the tool.

To divide up the material I thought I would start with the skills identified by the RMAA:
  1. Legislation, standards, administrative policies and procedures
  2. Compliance auditing
  3. Archival Science
  4. Recordkeeping Ethics
  5. Classification
  6. Metadata
  7. Recordkeeping Systems: DIRKS (Designing & Implementing of Recordkeeping Systems) or VERS (VictorianElectronic Recordkeeping Strategy)
  8. Record creation and Capture
  9. Storage and maintenance of records
  10. Vital Records
  11. Business Continuation Plan / Disaster Response / Recovery Plan/Risk Management
  12. Access to records: Security, Privacy, FOI, Access determinations
  13. Appraisal and Disposal
Concentrating on those aspects most relevant to EDM:
  1. Legislation, standards, administrative policies and procedures
  2. Classification and Metadata
  3. Recordkeeping Systems: VERS (VictorianElectronic Recordkeeping Strategy)
  4. Record creation and Capture
  5. Storage and maintenance of records: Vital Records;Business Continuation Plan / Disaster Response / Recovery Plan/Risk Management
  6. Access to records: Security, Privacy, FOI, Access determinations; Appraisal and Disposal
Adding some extra topics:
  1. Digital Library and E-Publishing
  2. Basic Web technologies: HTML, XHTML, CSS, XML
  3. Web publishing: Document Formats, RSS, Podcasting, Wikis
  4. Advanced Web technologies: XSLT, Web Services
  5. eGovernment/ eCommerce,
  6. Search engines: e-discovery
  7. The Future
Blending these together:
  1. Legislation, standards, administrative policies and procedures
  2. Record creation and Capture
  3. Basic Web technologies: HTML, XHTML, CSS, XML
  4. Classification, Metadata and Search engines: e-discovery
  5. Recordkeeping Systems: VERS (Victorian Electronic Recordkeeping Strategy) and NAA e-Archive
  6. Digital Library and E-Publishing
  7. Storage and maintenance of records: Vital Records;Business Continuation Plan / Disaster Response / Recovery Plan/Risk Management
  8. Access to records: Security, Privacy, FOI, Access determinations; Appraisal and Disposal
  9. Web publishing: Document Formats, RSS, Podcasting, Wikis
  10. Advanced Web technologies: XSLT, Web Services
  11. eGovernment/ eCommerce,
  12. Advanced applications: EDM for mobile and emergency applications

One interesting item I came across was the Attorney-General's speech at the E-Discovery 2007 Conference, 26 September 2007

Monday, October 15, 2007

Australian energy efficiency standards for personal computers and monitors

The Australian Greenhouse Office (AGO) is looking at energy efficiency standards in Australia and NZ, for personal computers and monitors, similar to those on other consumer products. A Steering Committee of stakeholders is being formed. I have been nominated by the ACS. Other organizations interested may want to contact the Equipment Energy Efficiency Team at AGO.

What is planned is detailed in the six page "Computers And Monitors The Case For Minimum Energy Performance Standards":

The Australian and New Zealand Regulatory Plan

In October 2004, energy efficiency regulators announced plans to consider mandatory energy performance standards for computers and monitors. The intention to push efficiency through regulatory means was reiterated at the 2006 Standby Conference. This fact sheet launches the consultation process for regulating computers and monitors in Australia and New Zealand and will be supported by a more detailed technical case.

Australian and New Zealand energy efficiency regulators are proposing to recommend basing regulatory energy performance and labelling schemes upon the US Energy Star specifications – specifically the existing Computers Version 4.0 and Monitors Version 4.1 as these specifications are essentially the defacto global test and performance standards.

Australian and New Zealand energy efficiency regulators are proposing to recommend mandating energy performance standards from not earlier than October 2009, or more than 3 years after they were first adopted as Energy Star levels.

The Australian Government will also develop a strategy for computers covering the next 10 years that will include:
  • An initial focus on desktop computers, laptops and computer monitors.
  • The use of measures to cover all modes of operation: potentially ranging through off, passive standby, active standby and on, as technology and testing becomes available.
  • Further measures for workstations and servers at a later stage.
  • Research on the energy implications of networked homes.
  • Data centre energy performance – direct energy consumption and air-conditioning energy consumption.
The Australian Government is proposing to advocate international adoption of standards based upon the Energy Star computer and monitor specifications.
The steering committee work has been outlined:
The steering committee members will operate as an advisory committee to government agencies involved in energy efficiency.

Members will:
  1. Comment upon the consultants’ proposals for government regulatory agencies. This advice will be considered by the consultants and government agency staff in an effort to improve the accuracy and content of published papers.
  2. Participate on the basis of not binding their employers to the outcome of the regulatory process while retain their own capacity to not support publicly the outcomes of the steering committee process
  3. Meet their own costs of participation though every effort will be made to minimize meetings (through email and virtual meetings or convening meetings adjacent to existing industry events)
  4. Provide information or comments on errors or inconsistencies within a series of reports to be developed over the next 12 months, specifically:
    1. Technical Report
    2. Cost Benefit Analysis and
    3. Regulatory Impact Statement;
  5. Work with consultants engaged to prepare these reports, the first of which will be drafted by Richard Collins (Punchline Energy) ...
  6. The benefits for you personally in participating in the steering committee process might include:
    • Being able to provide your organisation with accurate and early advice on the proposed regulatory proposals
    • Being able to influence the direction of those regulatory proposals beyond the usual consultation processes required of such regulatory proposals
    • Being able to decide that your or your employer will or will not support the eventual proposals proposed by government agencies after participating in the steering committee process. ...
From: Steering Committee for Computers and Monitors, Equipment Energy Efficiency Team, Australian Greenhouse Office , 5 September 2007

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Government electronic documents released by default

A group of academics and politicians have made the interesting suggestion that government documents in electronic format should be released by default. The idea is that releasing electronic documents is cheap compared to the cost of having someone go through and check them:

There are other reforms that we believe should be considered as part of a wider review of the Act’s operation. Modern information technology (ICT) enables the large scale disclosure of government documents to be achieved at very low cost. ICT allows all documents created by government organisations to be automatically uploaded and published on websites at the time of their creation. There is no reason why this should not be done for all documents except those protected by privacy legislation and the specific, narrow legislative xemptions.

By default, electronic documents would be released to the public, leading to large cost savings in the administration of FOI legislation. Contests would be limited to those few cases in which non-disclosure was based on claims that a document’s disclosure would be contrary to the public interest. ...

From: Be Honest, Minister! RESTORING HONEST GOVERNMENT IN AUSTRALIA, Accountability Working Party, Australasian Study of Parliament Group, 2007

One catch with this proposal is that the cataloging of the information would have to be correct to prevent any privacy or security breeches. Previously public servants could write relatively freely in an internal file, on the assumption most of it would never be made public and what was would be carefully checked before release. If electronic records are freely available, they can be pured over by millions of eyes (and automated search programs) looking for embarrassing, or financially useful, information.

See also books on:

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Company reports online by default

A little noticed legal change took place in 2007: companies can publish their annual reports online as the default option. The companies have to tell the shareholders they are doing this and give them the option of requesting a paper copy. But the default has changed from opting-out (say if you don't want a printed copy), to opt-in (say if you do want one). This should reduce paper consumption and transport costs.
... (1AB) For the purposes of paragraph (1AA)(a), a company, registered scheme or disclosing entity must, on at least one occasion, directly notify in writing each member that:

(a) the member may elect to receive, free of charge, a copy of the reports for each financial year, or a copy of the concise report for each financial year; and

(b) if the member does not so elect--the member may access the reports, or the concise report, on a specified web site; and

(c) if the member does so elect and the company, scheme or entity offers to send the report either as a hard copy or an electronic copy--the member may elect to receive the copy as either a hard copy or an electronic copy.

From: Corporations Legislation Amendment (Simpler Regulatory System) Bill 2007, 004-2005-2006-2007, The Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia,

Friday, October 12, 2007

Nobel Peace Prize 2007 to IPCC and Al Gore

Climate Change 2007 - The Physical Science Basis: Working Group I Contribution to the Fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and Albert Arnold "Al" Gore Jr. have won the Nobel Peace Prize 2007, "for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change".

IPCC members such as Dr Rajendra K Pachauri, have done much hard work over many years to bring climate change to world attention. It seems odd that they all have to share half the prize with Al Gore, who produced little more than the Powerpoint presentation of an "An Inconvenient Truth" (and DVD). However, Mr. Gore's presentation probably had more effect on public opinion than all of the experts on the IPCC, as the Nobel committee notes:An Inconvenient Truth - Book Cover

... Through the scientific reports it has issued over the past two decades, the IPCC has created an ever-broader informed consensus about the connection between human activities and global warming. Thousands of scientists and officials from over one hundred countries have collaborated to achieve greater certainty as to the scale of the warming. Whereas in the 1980s global warming seemed to be merely an interesting hypothesis, the 1990s produced firmer evidence in its support. In the last few years, the connections have become even clearer and the consequences still more apparent.

Al Gore has for a long time been one of the world's leading environmentalist politicians. He became aware at an early stage of the climatic challenges the world is facing. His strong commitment, reflected in political activity, lectures, films and books, has strengthened the struggle against climate change. He is probably the single individual who has done most to create greater worldwide understanding of the measures that need to be adopted...

From: The Nobel Peace Prize for 2007, Media Release, Nobel Foundation, Oslo, 12 October 2007

Some books available on the topic:

Africa by bike project

Outside Schreufa, Hessen Germany photographed by Andreas NarfströmJust got a message from Andreas Narfström about his africabybike project. According to his web site he started in June 2007 cycling from Sweden to South Africa, via dozens of cities. The early postings from are in Swedish, but he changed over to English when at Schreufa, Hessen Germany July 28th, 2007.

The photos are interesting, but I will suggest some changes for the web pages to Andreas. There is so much content on the home page that it took several minutes to download. While that was happening the black text was hard to read, displayed on a gray concrete background.

ps: For my more limited trips, see my
series: By Bending Bicycle