Sunday, August 31, 2008

Cradle Coast Campus a model for flexible learning

The University of Tasmania's (UTas) new Cradle Coast Campus at Burnie might provide a useful model for flexible learning for secondary and tertiary institutions in Australia. The facilities, including a wellness centre are housed in the one building, with computer equipped open plan areas, cafe and library, as well as more formal study areas. It is a shame the building was not avialable when I gave a talk in Burnie last year.

ps: Of course, a cynic might say that the "wellness centre" was a way to get around the former federal government's ban on student union facilities. ;-)

Investigation Reports Needed into Major Public Incidents

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) released a final report on the grounding of the ship Pasha Bulker at Newcastle on 8 June 2007. This is a clearly written technical report into what happened and what to do to stop it happening again. Fortunately there was no loss of life. Perhaps similar independent reports should be prepared where there is any major incident which risks public safety, or large financial loss.

Bodies, such as the coroner's court only have jurisdiction where there is an actual death. Also physical injury may only play a small part in many incidents which could have a large and detrimental impact on the public. At present it is necessary to rely on an uncoordinated array of overlapping investigative agencies and ad-hoc inquiries. Major incidents may require a special public inquiry, but a government may be reluctant to launch an inquiry which may find them at fault. Something like a more general version of the ATSB, can carry out an independent investigation, would be useful.

ps: Perhaps some time could be saved by calling the public inquiry into the Sydney Nort West Metro Project now. This project is quite clearly a disaster in the making. ;-)

Marine Safety Investigation Report - Final

Independent investigation into the grounding of the Panamanian registered bulk carrier Pasha Bulker on Nobbys Beach, Newcastle, New South Wales on 8 June 2007


Occurrence Details
Occurrence Number: 243 Location: Nobbys Beach, Newcastle
Occurrence Date: 08 June 2007 State: NSW
Occurrence Time: 0951 (UTC +10) Highest Injury Level: None
Occurrence Category: Incident Investigation Type: Occurrence Investigation
Occurrence Class:
Investigation Status: Completed
Occurrence Type: Grounding Release Date: 23 May 2008

Vessel Details
Vessel:Pasha BulkerFlag:Panam
IMO:9317729
Type of Operation:Bulk carrier
Damage to Vessel:Substantial
Departure Point:Newcastle anchorageDeparture Time:0748 local time
Destination:To sea

On 23 May 2007, the Panamanian registered bulk carrier Pasha Bulker anchored 2.4 miles off the coast near Newcastle, New South Wales. The ship had sufficient water ballast on board for the good weather at the time, and was not expected to load its coal cargo for about three weeks.

At midday on 7 June, Pasha Bulker's master veered more anchor cable after a gale warning was issued. The weather deteriorated and shortly after midnight, the wind had reached gale force.

At 0500 on 8 June, the wind had increased to strong gale force and the weather was severe. At 0625, Pasha Bulker started to drag its anchor. The master decided to put to sea and at 0748, the anchor was aweigh. The ship was now 1.2 miles from the shore and, with the southeast wind fine on the starboard bow, it made good a north-easterly course. At 0906, the master altered the ship’s course to starboard to put the wind on the port bow in an attempt to make good a southerly course on a south-southeasterly heading. However, its heading became south-westerly and, with the wind on the port beam, the ship started to rapidly approach the coast.

At 0931, with Nobbys Beach 0.8 of a mile away, the master attempted a starboard turn. The manoeuvre did not succeed and at 0946, with grounding imminent, he requested assistance from authorities ashore. At 0951, Pasha Bulker grounded on Nobbys Beach and the ship's momentum carried it further onto the beach. The crew were evacuated by helicopter during the afternoon.

On 2 July, Pasha Bulker was successfully refloated. The ship was temporarily repaired in Newcastle and on 26 July, taken in tow to Vietnam to undergo permanent repairs.

The report identifies a number of safety issues and issues recommendations or safety advisory notices to address them.


Download complete report [4.6 MB PDF]

Marine Safety Recommendations

[MR20080009] [MR20080010] [MR20080011] [MR20080012] [MR20080013] [MR20080014] [MR20080015] [MR20080016] [MR20080017] [MR20080018] [MR20080019]

Safety Advisory Notices

[MS20080015] [MS20080016] [MS20080017] [MS20080018]


Related Links: | Media release | Media conference audio file .avi 55 MB |

Celtx screenwriting software for e-learning

Recently a friend in the mass media asked for advice on preparing documents for presentation to executive management. They asked if they should use Powerpoint or Microsoft word. But perhaps something like the Celtx free screenwriting software is needed. This might also be useful for conference presentations and e-learning.

Celtx is designed for writing plays for stage, screenplays for movies and TV, AV scripts and radio plays. It allows setting out who says what and what is seen and heard. It also allows the creation of an animated storyboard, which is used to give an idea of that the final production will be like. This is conceptually similar to an animated Powerpoint presentation: the software steps through still visuals with text and audio explaining what is happening.

Celtx has versioning and collaboration features using a central server, conceptually similar to the Integrated Content Environment (ICE) courseware tool. A seminar or lecture partly involves giving a performance, and so it might be interesting to consider how the techniques used for live performances might be applied to academia and education.

E-learning can include audio, animation or video. But much of the audiovisual material produced for education has low production values and looks clumsy when compared to professional multimedia the students will have seen. This is partly due to the limited funds and time available for producing education content. But it may also be because educators are not provided with tools or training needed for audio-visual production (I did a course at TAFE to make education videos). Perhaps tools like Celtx could be used and integrated into other e-learning tools.

Friday, August 29, 2008

How many old computers are recycled?

The Australian Bureau of Statistics asked for data sources for measuring Electronic waste. There are mobile phone recycling schemes in Australia, with estimates of how many are recycled. Are there similar figures for recycling of computers and peripherals? Any suggestions would be welcome.

About all I could think of was the AIIA sponsored scheme might have some figures. ByteBack scheme (similar to the phone muster).

Internet Fridge 2.0

LG Refrigerator TVIt appears that several makers have announced new Internet fridges, such as Whirlpool. These have a flat panel touch screen tablet computer in the fridge door. The same claims are made as for failed models five years ago: being able to check e-mail and surf the Internet in the kitchen and a fridge that will reorder what was needed online in the future. Unfortunately the idea of using a computer while standing up in the kitchen makes no more sense than it did last time. None of the fridges can actually automatically scan their contents.

A fridge door is not a good place to mount a computer screen. The fridge is in a high traffic area of the household and the user would be constantly having to get out of people's way as they went past, or wanted to get items out of the fridge. Operating a computer with a vertical touch panel is difficult and uncomfortable at the best of times. Different height people would have to bend over or stretch up to be able to operate the unit.

LG's Internet fridge was modified to be the LG Refrigerator TV: the LCD screen was retained but the controls were simplified and the computer replaced with a TV tuner. This has been more successful than their Internet fridge. There is less operator input needed for a TV and much of the time at breakfast, the TV is not being watched, just listened to. Electrolux have a similar "Screenfridge".

What I suggested last time, and some makers seem to have adopted, is to clip a wireless tablet computer to the door. Samsung attemtoped this with their RH269LBSH which had a 10.4 inch LCD touch pad computer on the front. This could be detached and operated using wireless networking. This makes a little more sense than a computer on a fridge, but not much. It would be much cheaper and more convenient to simply have a small computer, such as one of the new low cost sub-notebooks, on the bench-top, or even attached to the wall, elsewhere in the kitchen.

You could make your own Internet fridge by covering the back of a PDA, or an iPhone with magnetic plastic. This turns the device into a fridge magnet. You can operate it attached to the door, or pull it off and use it. Alternatively a charging cradle for an iPhone, could be attached to the fridge door. This could be similar to units for car dashboards. But keep in mind that an electronic device attached to a fridge door may be easily damaged.

Another problem with the Internet fridge is their high energy consumption. Makers only provide the Internet function on their largest, top of the range two door models. I spoofed this by proposing an Internet Bar Fridge.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Digital Apollo

Digital Apollo: Human and Machine in Spaceflight Digital Apollo: Human and Machine in Spaceflight by David A. Mindell (2008) is a new book covering the technical history of the development of the computer software for the first manned lunar landing. This book would be of value to students of software engineering.

Mindell concentrates on the development of the interface between the computer and the crew, pointing out that there were few precedents for the design. It was not clear if the astronauts should be simply passengers in an automated and remote controlled system, or if they should, or could, pilot the spacecraft like an aeroplane. Previous books have covered the politics of this issue, and Mindell perhaps dwells to much on how this conflicted with the "Right Stuff" macho image of test pilots.
B
ut Mindell provides new technical details of how contemporary systems then worked and how Apollo's approach was developed.

The Apollo systems were developed from ones designed for missiles and designed to be fully automated. This was modified to allow the crew the option to control part of the flight, but via the computer, making an early "fly by wire" system. The techniques and some of the hardware and software, was later adopted for military and then civilian aircraft. The DSKY interface of Apollo will look familiar to operators of civilian airliners and military computers, with a panel of indicator lights, small alphanumeric display and a keypad underneath. The Apollo side stick controllers, with multiple operating modes are the predecessors of military aircraft and Airbus airliner controls.

The early plans for Apollo did not take into account the difficulty of developing software and it was seen as just an adjunct to the hardware development. The software process became a bottleneck in the program, partly due to the success of the digital computer in replacing analogue hardware and so becoming central to the success of the project. This is a lesson military projects routinely fail to learn, with software development being seen as just something you do after the important part of building the hardware. The Australian Seasprite is one recent example of such a failure and the problem is increasing in government and corporate systems.

One of the useful lessons in the book for software engineers is how you end up doing some of the overall project planning for your clients. In the case of Apollo, there were no clear plans as to how the mission was to be structured. The software developers had to make up a structure for their work and this was adopted for the mission overall.

Mindell argues that many of the techniques for the systematic development and testing of software were either developed for, or refined with Apollo. One aspect not touched on was that how with the later Space Shuttle program the software engineering techniques had reached a point where they were superior to those for the hardware. In his comments on the Rogers Commission into the Challenger disaster, Richard Feynman praised the systematic development of the shuttle's software and criticised the processes for hardware.

It will be a startling less for modern students to see photos of little old ladies literally weaving the binary programs into magnetic core memories for Apollo. ;-)

Designing e-learning

One of the resources the Australian Flexible Learning Framework provides is an online introduction to Designing e-Learning. This has a Gallery of strategies as well as information on Learning design and Learning materials. This is all a bit much to take in and it is best to start with the suggested five steps:
  1. Get started in e-learning
  2. Explore e-technologies
  3. Plan an e-learning initiative
  4. Design an e-learning course
  5. Develop an e-learning plan
I find the travel metaphor used confusing, with e-tours, travel packs, itineraries and stops along the way. It would be simpler to use the technical e-learning terminology, than have to work out what these are about. But apart from that, the material is very well structured and clearly written.

Each of the five steps has a short "Itinerary" with the equivalent of about one printed page of text. This has between three and eight (usually four) items ("Stops on this tour"). Each item has a few lines of text, with perhaps three to five bullet points, and a link to material from the "What you'll need from the travel pack". The travel pack materials are Word Processing documents, Power point slides and links to external e-Learning web sites.

eeLearn for Open Access educational material

I am trying to turn some of my university lectures into proper e-leaning modules. Apart from the andragogical issues, there is licensing. I don't mind the material being used by a university as part of a legitimate education, but I don't want it commercially exploited.

The AEShareNet Free for Education licence sounded promising. But it doesn't define what "educational purposes" are. Also it seems to specifically exclude exclude open access documents: "... but not supplied to the public". None of the other licences seem relevant.

The best seems to be the Noncommercial Creative Commons licence, I was already using. CC are working on licence terms specifically for education, but haven't got them yet.

CC are working on several education related projects in their "ccLearn" project. One interesting project is Open Database of Educational Projects and Organizations (ODEPO). This is attempting to build a directory of who is doing what in eLearning. There is also a "Universal Education Search" for education content.

But ccLearn have more to learn about "universal" projects. As an example one of their projects is to be released in "the Spring of 2008", but when it that? I am in the southern hemisphere, so is this my spring, or that of San Francisco, where CC is based?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Study Green ICT at the Australian National Unviersity

The ANU is having an Open Day, 30 August 2008, 9am to 4pm. As well as the topics and projects on display, it is worth keeping in mind that students learn about newly emerging topics (called by the ANU research-led education) and students can make up their own projects. Undergraduates and postgraduates in the College of Engineering and Computer Science, for example, can work on areas such as Green ICT. This is not as easy as doing work from an old textbook, as there are no set answers yet.

Some of the students are unhappy because I have set an assignment question asking them how they would reply to the environmental requirements in the recent Government computer tender. At present there are no clear answers (which is what the ICT industry is working on and why it is an interesting topic). But then if this was easy it would not be a suitable topic for Australia's top university. ;-)

ANU College of Engineering & Computer Science

Venue: ANU Sport and Recreation Centre [19]

College staff will be available to discuss degree programs and answer your enquiries.

Venue: Ian Ross Building [31]

A huge range of fantastic activities will be available, with displays, information booths and hands on activities:

All major areas of study will be represented:

  • Engineering: digital systems, electronics, environmental, manufacturing and management, mechanical and materials, mechatronics, photonics, sustainable energy and telecommunications
  • Computing: computer science, software engineering, information systems, new media arts, computer systems and software development
Professional associations such as the Australian Computer Society and Engineers Australia will have information booths – find out what a professional engineer or computer scientist does

The Women in Communication (WiC) group will be available to talk about support they provide for students.

Displays and activities

  • Learn how our students compete in Student Projects in engineering and computing, such as Formula Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) racing car, SAE plane and solar bike on a national and international level.
  • Unmanned mini sub, unmanned aircraft, robotic demolition derby, robots that can write your name on paper.
  • Remote control car racing.
  • Circuit milling machines and other machine demonstrations.
  • Test the strength of a human hair.
  • Telecommunications demonstrations.
  • Virtual reality theatre.
  • Programming activities.
  • Computer graphics.
  • New media gallery.
  • Solar cells, solar dish, solar BBQ and more!

ANU COLLEGE OF ENGINEERING & COMPUTER SCIENCE SEMINARS

A series of informative seminars will be held throughout the day to ensure that prospective students have a proper grasp of the different types of programs we offer at the College.


TIME & VENUESEMINAR
10am–10.30am
Engineering Lecture Theatre
Student Projects in Engineering and Computing: Find out about the exciting projects you can get involved in,
like the formula SAE racing car, SAE plane and solar bike, as well as the fantastic industry projects on offer with real clients in software engineering.
11.30am–12.30pm
Manning Clark Lecture Theatre 2
Engineering at ANU and Careers in Engineering:
  • Overview of Degrees in Engineering
  • Hear from a panel of industry, professional association, University staff and our own graduates about the great career opportunities in engineering
12–1pm
Ian Ross Building (31)
Free BB Q outside Ian Ross Building (31).
12.30–1.30pm
Manning Clark Lecture Theatre 2
Computing at ANU and Careers in Computing:
  • Overview of Degrees in IT, Software Engineering and Computer Science (Honours)
  • Hear from a panel of industry, professional association, University staff and our own graduates about the
    great career opportunities in engineering.
1.45–2.30pm
Engineering Lecture Theatre
Elite Degrees in Engineering and Computer Science: Find out more about our R & D program for high achieving engineering students, as well as the Bachelor of Computer Science (Honours) degree and our Distinguished Scholars Program.


From: 2008 Open Day Program, ANU, 2008

ACS IT SIG End User Computing Group

I just took part in a teleconference with the ACS Green IT SIG about how an End User Computing Group would go about helping with energy reduction for desktop and mobile computers. Appended are some items which I promised to send the group members, relevant to the issues and which may be of interest to others. Those wishing to help with the group's work can register their interest.

Subnotebooks under $350

Last year I predicted a "normal" personal computer would reach a tipping point in early 2008, with $US500 low power computers. We are not quite there yet, but units like the $US350 Eee Box desktop PC should be the norm by the end of 2008.

The popularity of the original ASUS Eee PC subnotebook forced competitors to bring out their own models and now the prices are dropping. The Aspire netbook, is down from $US399 to $US349 for the Windows XP model and from $US379 to $US329 for the Linux model.

The "Eee Box", desktop version of ASUS's Eee PC is now on sale for $US350 and getting good reviews for performance and power saving (see test and video demo). If this has the same effect on desktop computer prices the Eee PC had on subnotebooks, then we can expect usable desktops (minus the screen) for around $US300 by the end of the year. The Box has Microsoft Windows XP Home, an Intel Atom N270 (1.6 GHz) CPU, 1 GB RAM and a 80 GB Hard Disk and uses 22.3 Watts.

The typical computer bought for home or business in 2007 had a DVD drive, multi-hundred gigabyte hard disk, Microsoft Windows Vista and multi-hundred Watt power supply and cost around $1,000.

By the end of 2008 the idea that you might spend thousands of dollars on a computer will be considered more than just odd. If energy awareness campaigns work, then to buy a computer which consumes hundreds of Watts of power will be considered anti-social (if not actually illegal).

ASUS initially brought out the Eee PC with Linux and only flash memory, with no hard disk. But competitors brought out subnotebooks with small disk drives and Windows XP. It looks like most people will not give up their disk drives by the end of the year, nor Microsoft Windows. HP brought out their subnotebook with Windows Vista, but other vendors have stuck with Windows XP. Microsoft will probably bring out some sort of Vista Lite in response.

The cheap and green low power computer is here, but revolution to Linux and Internet storage will have to wait until 2009.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Smarter Than Smart Car

In 2005 I suggested Diahatsu cut the back seat out of a Cuore to make a two seater car about the same length as the Smart Car. Toyota, who own Diahatsu, went one better by making the Toyota iQ which still has a back seat.

Toyota iQ CarAt 2980 mm the iQ is it 845 mm shorter than a Toyota Yaris , 120 mm shorter than the Tata Nano and 290 mm longer than the Smart. The iQ has a conventional front mounted engine like the Yaris, unlike the Smart and Nano's rear mounted ones. The iQ is made shorter by making the engine, dashboard and seat backs thinner. It also compromises on rear legroom.

Birth of the Beetle: The Development of the Volkswagen by Porsche, cover of bookThe car is described as seating thee adults and one child. When I first read this I thought of a small bucket seat sideways in the back, next to a full size one. In fact there is a conventional bench seat. It is just that there is not enough leg room behind the driver for an adult's legs. The rear adult passenger is accommodated by the front passenger pushing their seat forward.

The underside of the dashboard is higher on the passenger side to accommodate their legs, so they can sit further forward than the driver. This asymmetrical design is not a new idea: it was used on the second prototype
(Type 62 "Der Stuka") of the VW K├╝belwagen military adaptation of the Volkswagen Beetle in January 1938 (mentioned on page 222 of "Birth of the Beetle"). The extra room was to operate a machine gun.

Reducing rear leg room in a small car makes sense, as most of the time the rear seat is not used. It seems likely that if the iQ is popular, other makers will adopt similar techniques to give more interior room. Modifying the engine to make it slimmer would be difficult, but thinner the dashboards and seat backs could be retrofitted to existing car designs.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Vocational training e-learning newsletter

The Australian Flexible Learning Framework provide a free newsletter "Flex e-News" about federally funded e-learning tools and training for vocational sector training. The August edition has items on E-standards, e-Portfolios, m-Learning and some podcasts. However, there are some catches with this: the newsletter is poorly formatted (which detracts from the message about e-Learning) and some activities are restricted to state registered training organisations (so you can't necessarily attend if your organisation is a national one, but registered in a different state).

Newsletter Formatting

The newsletter failed a W3C Markup Validation, with 463 Errors, the highest number I have seen for a web page. It also had problems with an automated accessibility test for the disabled:
Test summary outcome

AutomaticHuman review
Priority 10268
Priority 2245249
Priority 31977

From: Testing outcome: http://flexenews.flexiblelearning.net.au/, TAW 3.0 (8/25/08 4:56 AM) Validation conform to WAI guidelines, W3C Recommendation 5 May 1999
The newsletter format could be made bit simpler, as well as fixing the technical errors. One way would be to design it for a mobile phone. Not that anyone would read it on a mobile phone, but that would curb some of the web designers excesses. Another way would be to have an RSS feed which strips off the formatting and gives short, readable items.

State Based Administration of VET

The Australian Flexible Learning Framework is a national training e-learning strategy, but is administered by state governments. As a result, training organisations taking part have to be registered in a state and obtain funding and support via that state. This does not make a lot of sense for developing e-learning systems which are designed to be location independent.

This adds to the problem that e-learning initiatives for the vocational sector are separate to those for universities. As a result it will be very difficult to get cooperation on standards for e-learning and e-portfolios and much of the government funding will be wasted on duplicated and conflicting efforts.

The Federal Government is conducting a Review of Australian Higher Education. The Discussion Paper (June 2008) touches on the high cost of e-learning. One way to reduce those costs would be to merge university and vocational e-learning programs. Another would be to make the vocational programs national, with no distinction made for what state a training organisation happens to be physically located in. Courses, tools and standards could then be developed for educational use across Australia and across education sectors.

e-learning and virtual classroom workshops

The Australian Flexible Learning Framework has a free (government funded) two-day intensive 'E-learning Explorers' workshop (Tuesday 26 and Wednesday 27 August) and 'Virtual Classrooms' e-tools workshop (Thursday 28 August), both in Canberra:
E-explorers for private providers - Tuesday 26 and Wednesday 27 August

Moir Holmes (2007 ACT LearnScope Facilitator) will facilitate this two-day workshop, which is designed for teachers who are beginners to e-learning. It will enable teachers to develop online resources and use them in an online environment, like Moodle (an open sourced learning management platform).

To register for this free E-explorers workshop on Tuesday 26 and Wednesday 27 August at CIT Bruce Campus, email kerry.manikis@cit.act.edu.au ASAP.

For more information about other upcoming e-pd in the @CT events visit the ACT Framework webpage at http://flexiblelearning.net.au/act

Virtual Classrooms e-tools workshop - Thursday 28 August, 1pm - 3pm

This workshop will explore the following free virtual classrooms (each has different features and limitations):
  • VETVirtual (Framework's free virtual classroom)
  • dimdim (twenty for free webconferencing)
  • vRoom (three for free webconferencing).
e-tools workshops are free short and sharp hands-on afternoon workshops which enable practitioners to use e-learning tools and resources to create engaging learning content.

To register for this free virtual classrooms e-tools workshop on Thursday 28 August at CIT Reid Campus, email kerry.manikis@cit.act.edu.au by cob Wednesday 27 August.
For more information about other upcoming e-pd in the @CT events visit the ACT Framework webpage at http://flexiblelearning.net.au/act

Digital Archive System for New Zealand

Archives New Zealand has invited companies to register interest in "The Supply and Implementation of a Digital Archive System". They are planning to create a system to store electronic government records for long term preservation. They are looking for organisations already providing software and hardware for this sort of application. There is a detailed seven page document describing the project. They will obviously want to look at the approach National Archives of Australia took with its digital archive.
GETS Reference: 23046
Title New Zealand based opportunityThe Supply and Implementation of a Digital Archive System
Registration of Interest

General Information

Archives New Zealand is planning to create a digital archive system in which to store electronic public sector records for long term preservation and access. We wish to identify organisations already active in providing software and hardware solutions to address this.

Archives New Zealand has produced the attached Registration of Interest (ROI) to help identify organisations interested in working with us on a digital archive system.

Archives New Zealand is mandated by the Public Records Act 2005 for the custody, care, control, and administration of public archives. This includes information created and stored in digital format.

Archives NZ are using the ROI process to gain a greater understanding of the availability of applications that might meet their requirements.

Archives New Zealand’s next step following the ROI is the development of a business case. Further information may be sought from respondents as input to the development of this case. Respondents will be advised of subsequent procurement steps. ...

Relates to the following TenderWatch Categories
842 Software implementation services
844 Database services
847 Records and information management
849 Other computer services ...

From: The Supply and Implementation of a Digital Archive System, Archives New Zealand, 22 Aug 2008

Google AdSense for Feeds

Google now provide for advertisements in RSS and Atom feeds, including podcasts. Google's AdSense system allows someone who has a feed to have a text or image advertisement added to the top or bottom of each feed item (bottom is the default and seems a better idea to me). Google tracks who clicks on the ads, charges the advertiser and give the feed owner a commission. I have created one to try it out for my Net Traveller blog.

If this is too much for your readers, you can select ads to display every 2nd, 3rd or 4th item. By default the AdSense system will choose the colors and format of the ads (choosing the ad format can be bewildering for the beginner, so this is useful).

One issue may be with big ads in short postings. I have my feeds to only provide the first few lines of each posting. The idea is that this saves bandwidth: you then click on the link to get the full item, if you want it. But if each small item has a big ad on the bottom, it will get very annoying. Also I suspect there will be an arms race between designers of feed readers who will try to block the ads and Google making them appear.

The most confusing part of the process I found was that the feed ads only seem to work using Google's own Feedburner. That is you can't just put a code in your own feed code, as is done for ads on web pages. Instead you give AdSense the address of your feed and then it gets FeedBurner to create a version of it with the ads, supplied from the server. So your existing subscribers will not see the ads: you have to give them a new feedburner address.

Using FeedBurner might have advantages, if caches the feed. The feeds from my web server make up a lot of the download traffic and if I can get someone elee to do that it might be useful. It might be worth then providing the whole item via the feed, not just a summary.

FeedBurner provides facilities for checking on readership of feeds, but this is a whole new management system I have to learn about.

Point-of-Use Electric Water Heaters

Delving into the issue of how to avoid wasting cold water while waiting for the hot to arrive, I found there are small "Point of use" indoor electric water heaters. There are
tankless models and ones with tanks. The tank less models are rated by their flow (in litres or gallons per minute) and the ones with tanks by the tank capacity.

The tank less ("instant") units have the advantage that they can heat water continuously, but require more power to do this than is available from a normal power point (they have to be specially wired). The units with tanks can be plugged into a normal power point, but only supply a limited about of water.

The units are designed to be used on their own, or placed at the end of a long line from a larger hot water system. For this purpose the smallest units (2 gallons, or about 8 Litres) would seem suitable. In my case the point of use hot water system would supply the first 4 Litres of hot water, at which point hot water would arrive from the main system and the unit's thermostat would cut out. The unit would not need to heat the remaining water arriving and would have its supply of hot water replenished. But it would use power keeping the 8 Litres of water hot, when the tap was not used for extended periods.

US Model point of use water heaters:
  1. Point of use water heaters
  2. water heater point of use tankless
  3. water heater point of use with tank

ps: Some bloggers have suggested turning the thermostat down or hot water system off when not needed to save power. It should be noted that authorities in Australia require a minimum temperature of 60°C to inhibit the growth of legionella bacteria. Also some of the POU heaters are designed for use with one tap and cannot be plumbed to several, nor connected to a shower.

Amazon.com eBook for Students

 Amazon Kindle eBook readerNews reports suggest Amazon.com are planning a new version of their Kindle eBook reader with a a bigger screen for college and university students. But a subnotebook computer would seem more useful.

The current Kindle has limited functionality as a computer, is US$399, has an electronic-paper display, wireless Internet, a QWERTY keyboard and week long battery life.

There are now several sub-notebook computers for around $US500, which would be about the same size as a larger Kindle. These have a shorter battery life than the Kindle, but have a larger keyboard and more general purpose software. It seems unlikely that a university student would want to purchase and carry around both an eBook and a notebook computer. Given the choice, they are likely to prefer a slightly more expensive but more useful computer (perhaps supplemented with a large screen smartphone).

The Kindle includes a wireless modem for downloading content via a US cellphone network, with Amazon.com are paying the access charge when the US wireless network is used to download a ebook content from Amazon's store. But this is not a great advantage for university students, who are likely to have WiFi access on the campus.

Also while the eBook may be able to display electronic books and play podcasts of lectures, it is less likely to be able to usefully work with other educational content. Students will have to be able to interact with a web based Learning management system (LMS), such as WebCT or Moodle, carry out research using open access electronic libraries (such as the IFIP DL), write and submit their assignments. They are unlikely to want to do that on a tiny monochrome screen and calculator like keyboard. In contrast the sub notebooks have usable keyboards and readable colour screens (and can be plugged into a full size keyboard and screen for desktop use).

The move seems to designed to lock universities and students into purchasing textbooks from large publishers, in much the same way that Apple locked them into buying music for the iPod. Apple have had some success at convincing universities to provide audio lecture podcasts via its store. It will be interesting to see if any universities attempt similar deals for textbooks.
Carrier Sprint
Available November 19, 2007
Screen 600×800 px,
167 ppi resolution, 6" diagonal, 7.5" x 5.3" size, 4-level grayscale
Electronic paper, LCD side scroller.
Operating system Linux (2.6.10 kernel)
Input QWERTY keyboard,
select wheel, next/prev/back buttons.
CPU Intel PXA255.
Memory 64 MB RAM,
256 MB (180 MB available) internal storage, SD expansion slot.
Networks Amazon Whispernet
Connectivity EVDO/CDMA AnyDATA wireless modem, USB 2.0 port (mini-B connector),
3.5 mm stereo headphone jack, built-in speaker, AC power adapter jack.
Battery 3.7V, 1530mAh lithium polymer, BA1001 model.
Physical size 7.5 × 5.3 × 0.7 in
(19.1 × 13.5 × 1.8 cm)
Weight 10.3 oz
(292 g)
Media capabilities Kindle (.azw), Plain text (.txt),
Unprotected Mobipocket (.mobi, .prc),
MP3 (.mp3),
Audible (.aa).
From: Amazon Kindle, Wikipedia, 2007

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Less than lethal active protection systems for vehicles

"Seizing the initiative: tanks take active protection system advances on board" (by RM Ogorkiewicz, Janes International Defence Review, August 2008), discusses option for protecting military vehicles from attack. It mentions "collateral damage" where the protection system injures people, but none of the systems mentioned seem to place enough emphasis on this for urban warfare. Also they seem to be single use systems only suited to mounting on large and expensive tanks. Perhaps a cleverer, lower cost, and less than lethal system is needed for peacekeepers.

Active protection system (APS) are mounted on a vehicle to protect it typically from rocket propelled grenades (RPGs). The APS could use jamming or decoys to defeat smart missiles, but an unguided RPG needs a hard kill system exploding next to it or hitting it. The problem is to hit the RPG but not harm those around it.

Systems typically use small missiles which explode near the target, such as TROPHY and Drozd. All such systems have the problem of collateral damage, some try to limit this by attacking from above and others by using very precise and focused explosives or showers of particles.

Another problem with such weapons is that they can only be used on large armoured vehicles. The vehicle needs to be large enough to carry the APS and needed to be armoured protection from the effects of the APS. This precludes use in small light vehicles.

Less Lethal Ammunition

The APS currently about to be fielded all use either high explosive or projectiles to intercept an RPG. It would be feasible to use a less than lethal warhead, such as a flexible baton round or high strength net to intercept the RPG. This would cause less injury to bystanders. Currently produced less than lethal rounds might be able to be used, fired from standard weapons, removing the need for new development, testing and manufacture. This would provide a dual use device which could be used as an APS and for riot control.

Lightweight fast RWS for APS

Another problem with such weapons is that they are single use. The 1980s UK Marconi TAMS system was to use 7.62 mm machine guns, much as naval Close-in weapon systems (CIWS) do, but this was not further developed. With the availability of low cost sensors, computer control and need for urban combat, relatively lightweight remote weapon stations (RWS) are now widely used. These might be adapted for an APS. This would provide a dual use system which could be for offence and well as defence.

A machine gun or automatic mortar on a lightweight RWS could be automatically targeted on RPGs. Special ammunition could be used which would be effective over a limited range, to reduce collateral damage and increase the probability of interception. A smaller calibre weapon could be used, reducing the weight and increasing the rate at which it could be aimed. RWS commonly allow for dual feed weapons so the weapon could be switched automatically from offensive to defensive ammunition.

The RWS' electronic sight would be supplemented by an additional 360 degree optical and/or radar surveillance system. When an incoming RPG was detected, the RWS would be slewed in the correct direction and then its own sights would automatically track the target and fire.

Such a system could be made small and light enough to be mounted on a Land Rover sized vehicle. As well as being used for defence the sensors and weapons could be used for surveillance and attack. A version having only less than lethal ammunition could be used by peacekeepers.

Cooperating APS

All the APS in development appear to be single vehicle systems. A more effective and safer system would network several vehicles. The sensors of all vehicles in a vicinity could share the surveillance and the most appropriate weapon used. This could greatly reduce the risk of collateral damage and increase the effectiveness of the system. The system could also track people, assuming them to be either friendly forces or non-combatants and so minimise causalities.

IFIP Digital Library on an iPhone

A few weeks ago I sent out a request for people to test the IFIP Digital Library I am helping set up. One reply complained about the sideways scrolling needed. I didn't understand what this was about until I happened to be in the foyer of Apple's offices in Sydney. There was an iPod touch on demonstration and so I typed in the IFIP DL address. The web page came up but with a very narrow column of text, too small to read. I used the iPod's pinch interface to zoom out and it was readable. I was also able to select a paper and read the full PDF text on the little screen. I don't know how many will want to read technical ICT research papers on a pocket size device, but it was impressive it worked.

But why did the text start out so small? I noticed the banner image in a thin strip across the top of the page. IFIP wanted the Digital Library to have the same corporate look as the rest of their web site. So I had to work out how to change the standard interface of the Open Journal Systems (OJS) free open source publishing software to have IFIP's colours and layout. Changing the colours was not too hard, but getting the layout was harder. I used an extra CSS style sheet, which OJS has provision for, to override the defaults. This was made a little more complicated as I wanted a design which would be efficient in the use of bandwidth, would be accessible for the disabled and work on hand held devices.

One compromise I made was to use the same banner as on IFIP's home page. But what I hadn't noticed was that this image was thousands of pixels wide. The image was trimmed to fit the full screen width, using CSS on their site. But in my implementation the banner made the page wider. This did not normally matter as the extra was off the side of the screen. But the Apple Safari web browser shrank the page to fit the whole width of the banner, reducing the column of text under it in proportion and making it tiny. The iPhone presumably does this as scrolling sideways on the tiny screen is a problem.

The most efficient way to fix this problem is to trim the image to the width of a typical screen (it is a waste to send an image and then have the browser throw away half of it). I did this and it worked fine on my own display. I then got more adventurous and decided to remove the text "International Federation for Information Processing " from the banner. Good design says that you should not have text in an image as this is harder to read and makes the image larger. So I carefully blurred out the text, told OJS to insert it as text and then changed the CSS to put the banner image under the text.

Aligning the text with the IFIP banner so it looked like the original took a lot of trial and error. The result is not perfect: the original text has a grey shadow around it which can't be reproduced easily with CSS (current browsers do not support CSS's text shadow function). I then spent hours trying to duplicate the shadow in a portable way, before realising this was a waste of time. But then I thought it did not look too bad and looks much better for people who can't see the image.

However, when I looked at the result on a higher resolution screen (at the National Library of Australia) I found the shortened image did not fill the whole screen and was being repeated. I will need to make the image longer, stretch it to fit or just fill the space with plain color.

Also I find that I had changed the "Contents" screen earlier to insert the banner. To do this I had to change the OJS source code. The result was that the system was inserting two copies of the banner one over the other. I will need to manually adjust the code.

Electric Trace Heating For Domestic Hot Water Pipes?

Hot Water Temperature Maintenance Self-Regulating Heating CableMy apartment shares a central gas boosted solar hot water system with the rest of the block at "City Edge" in Canberra's Inner North. This results in low hot water bills and minimal green house gas production, but wastes water. Perhaps I should install Electric Trace Heating, which would increase the energy use, but lower the water waste.

Water is heated by a large solar collector on the roof and when the sun is not shining by a large gas burner in the basement. The water is continuously pumped throughout the building, so it is hot when it gets to my apartment. But then there are several metres of pipe between where it arrives at the apartment and the taps. About 4 Litres of cold water has to come out of the internal plumbing before the hot water reaches the shower.

My efficient Australian made "Ecoshower" shower head uses only about 7.5 litres a minute, or 22.5 Litres for a three minute shower. So the cold water wasted is increasing the shower water consumption by 18%. In the kitchen this is a bigger problem with many litres of cold water going down the drain before the hot arrives.

By the way, a
s a subtle reminder to only have short showers, I have set the bathroom "tastic" heater to turn off after three minutes. So you see the light dim slightly to remind you you have been in too long. This is done using a motion sensor/timer, so the heater comes back on automatically when you step out of the shower.

As well as wasting water, the cold water is increasing my hot water bill. There is a meter on the hot water pipe and I am charged for a share of the building gas bill, according to how much water is used. So I am charged gas use for the cold water coming out of the pipe, before the hot water arrives. In my case this might be as much as 50% of the cost.

Electric Trace Heating (also known as Heat Tape and Pipe Heating Cable ) uses a fat flat electrical cable with a resistive element built in, which gets warm when current is put through it. A length of the cable is taped along the hot water pipe, between the normal hot water supply and the tap. Insulation is then wrapped around the pipe, and the cable plugged into an ordinary power point. A few watts of electricity is used to warm the pipe (about 14 Watts per metre). The cable is manufactured from a material which automatically regulates the temperature, so having its own built in thermostat and is designed for a set temperature.

I saw Thermon’s Warmtrace System on display at the 2006 Canberra Spring Home and Leisure Show , but haven't seen it mentioned elsewhere. Presumably the element only draws maximum power when the water in the pipe is cold, so it would not add much to the heating bill (or greenhouse effect).

Heat Tape seems to be common in the USA for preventing pipes from freezing. Amazon.com has Heat Tape for about $4 per meter. But note that the anti-freezing tape may heat to a lower temperature than that needed for domestic hot water. Also the USA uses a lower voltage than Australia and US tape can't be used in Australia. Also many of the tapes do not appear to be self regulating: they have a thermostat installed somewhere along the pipe, which would be less able to regulate the temperature.

There are also some practical problems with the heat tape: you have to run it along the length of the pipes and so need to be able to get to them where they run through the walls. The tape needs to be carefully installed, following detailed procedures. Also there has to be a power point handy somewhere to plug the tape into.

So the questions I have are:
  1. Is heat tape used for domestic hot water in Australia?
  2. Is the saving in water worth the increase in energy use?
  3. How much energy does the heat tape use in actual conditions?
Another option would be to install small electric water heaters near the taps. These would heat the first few litres of water.

Of course this all assumes that there is a reasonable charging system is used for the cost of the gas used for hot water. At present most of the bill I get is not for the cost of the gas used, but a fixed minimum charge. As a result there is little financial incentive to reduce energy use. It would be more cost effective to disconnect the solar and gas system and replace it with a conventional electric heater. This would be bad for the environment, but cheaper to run, as there would be no separate gas bill with its high minimum charge.

One interesting possibility would be to replace the complex pumping system and gas booster of the central solar system with the heat tape. At present water has to be continuously circulated with a pump to have hot water available. The pumps do not use much electricity, but when the sun is not shining, it is gas heated water which is being circulated. If the tape was installed on the pipes, that would remove the need for the pumps. It may also remove the need for the gas booster. Electricity is more expensive and less greenhouse friendly than gas, but this is only needed as a supplement and might make solar systems more practical.


See also:

Saturday, August 23, 2008

UK Government Data Missing on Memory Stick

Retractor LanyardLinkA USB flash drive with tens of thousands of prison and police records on it is missing in the UK. Perhaps Jacqui Smith, the government minister responsible, should have the contractor (PA Consulting) purchase some heavy duty retractable reel lanyards to secure the flash drives.

When a similar incident happened in Australia with a military officer leaving important data behind, I jokingly suggested that military personnel should be issued with a retractable cable clipped to their uniform. The officer could then clip the flash drive to the other end of the cable. If they forgot the flash drive, the cable would pull it out of the computer and retract when they got up.

Reels with nylon cable are commonly issued to staff with security swipe cards, but the clips and cables on most are flimsy. So I found on Amazon.com a stainless steel lanyard sold to sailors for attaching then penknives to. These are much stronger than the nylon cables and they have a secure steel clip on each end. While this started off as a joke, I found that people were ordering batches of these lanyards, presumably to hold flash drives. So I created an Amazon.com store for lanyards.

Coil LanyardFor those needing more security there are coiled plastic cable lanyards. Smaller ones of these are designed for divers and have a stainless steel clip on each end. Even stronger units are pistol lanyards. Some of these are actually a steel cable coated with plastic. One end of the cable has a wide nylon loop for attaching to a belt and the other a thin loop or a clip. They are designed for military and police handguns. One manufacturer claims that the cable is so strong it can help stop an attacker turning the gun on the owner. Because the lanyard is attached to the butt of the gun, the tension of the cable makes it naturally point away from the holder. As a result it is difficult for someone to point the gun at themselves or for anyone else to do that.

The military lanyards are more than would be needed for holding a flash drive, but then for security personnel, this sort of lanyard might fit better with their uniform than a shiny stainless steel reel. To complement this, there are also
Waterproof USB Flash Drives.

See the Amazon.com store:
  1. Retractable Lanyards
  2. Coiled Lanyards
  3. Pistol Lanyards
  4. USB Flash Drive
  5. Waterproof USB Flash Drives

Friday, August 22, 2008

TiVo and the Australian Standard for Power Consumption

My TiVo uses 27 Watt during boot and 24 Watt when running normally. It doesn't appear to use any less power when in standby mode (my low cost Electricity Usage Monitor only measures to the nearest Watt). This may seem like a lot of power but my previous "Digital Crystal" PVR consumed 33 Watt.

The Minimum Energy Performance Standard (MEPS) proposed for simple Digital Set Top Boxes is 1 W in passive standby and 8 W On mode. For Pay TV and Other STBs (which would cover the TiVo) the standard is 1 W in passive standby and 15 W Active Standby. There is no level set for power use when on for STBs with hard disks.
On a generous interpretation the TiVo would meet the standard as it doesn't have a standby mode: it is always recording programs. A less generous interpretation is that it has an Active Standby which is 60% over the standard.

TiVo games medal tally

I wondered why Channel Seven introduced TiVo to Australia and how it sees this competing with cable TV. Perhaps one reason popped up on the box during the Olympics. One day there was an extra option on the TiVo Central menu: "Beijing Medal Tally". This provided a simple table showing Gold, Silver, Bronze and total medals. This seems to be a custom "Showcase" where TiVo provides extra content via the Internet.

Curiously, given Channels 7's investment in TiVo and the Olympics, they do not seem to have made much of it. I had assumed that the medal tally page would be the first of many Olympic extras which would tie into 7's free to air coverage and web site. But that one screen is all there was and no more Showcases have been provided. Perhaps there was a technical hitch or they discovered they not have the rights to provide Olympic content via TiVo.

Review of Australian Higher Education

The Federal Government's Review of Australian Higher Education is due to report by October. The Discussion Paper (June 2008) touches on the high cost of e-learning:
Universities are also confronting the very major costs of moving to computer-mediated, electronic and flexible delivery modes, while at the same time attempting to sustain, as far as possible, their campus-based and face-to-face teaching approaches. While there may arguably be some downstream savings from increased use of ‘e-learning’, there are enormous transitional costs in creating digital libraries, converting existing courses and developing new ones, and establishing new electronic infrastructure. International evidence also suggests that these costs will recur frequently due to the rate of change in technology and student expectations for both e-learning and face-to-face teaching.
One way for universities and other tertiary institutions to lower the cost is to share infrastructure. Universities already do this for their Internet access via AARnet. The TAFEs are cooperating with e-learning content via the Australian Flexible Learning Framework. However, the TAFEs are tending to charge small amounts of money for other TAFEs to use their courseware. This is restricting the use of the content due to the need for accounting, without providing significant revenue. The federal government could change its rules to encourage tertiary institutions to develop free open access courseware. As an example some federal funding could require open access results as a condition of funding. The government could also offer the TAFEs a one off fee to make the existing courseware open access.

The distinction between vocational and the rest of the higher education sector for funding of the development of e-learning content, tools and training could also be removed. Te vocational education sector in Australia has a coordinated approach to e-learning development, with cooperation encouraged by federal government funding programs. In contrast the universities each have their own overlapping uncoordinated and competing programs. This is a waste of public money. The federal programs should be modified to encourage cooperation between universities and with the vocational sector (which has much to teach universities).

Vocational and university sectors have separate e-portfolio programs. These could also be usefully brought together.

In addition the universities could be encouraged to work with professional bodies. As an example the ACS is working on global standards for education of ICT professionals. This will likely include e-portfolios, as well as curriculum standards.

I am not sure that cooperation by universities with each other and with the vocational sector is the "big, bold idea" which Professor Bradley, review chair, is looking for, but it might help.

Australian Open Source Disaster Management Software Released

Renato Iannella from NICTA has announced that they have released open source software for disaster management: Cooperative Alert Information and Resource Notification System (CAIRNS). This is intended to demonstrate interoperability of Crisis Information Management Systems (CIMS). It uses XML standards: Emergency Data Exchange Language Distribution Element (EDXL-DE), Emergency Data Exchange Language Resource Messaging (EDXL-RM) and Common Alerting Protocol (CAP).

Robot Sub Protects Pope

REMUS 100 AUV autonomous underwater vehicleAccording to a media report 'Operation Testament' to protect the Pope at the recent Sydney World Youth Day included a miniature robot submarine to check for underwater bombs in Sydney harbour.
A torpedo-shaped autonomous underwater vehicle was used to scan the base of Sydney Harbour at Barangaroo prior to the Pope’s arrival in July. Dubbed ‘Operation Testament’, approximately nine kilometres of the sea floor was surveyed in six passes using a Remus 100 AUV. ...

From: 'Operation Testament' protects the Pope, Ry Crozier , ItNEWS, 20 August 2008 12:34PM

Microsoft Research on Energy-Efficient Computing

Microsoft is supporting research into Energy-Efficient Computing. I came accross this recently when a collogigue mentioned they had attedned a attended a symposium on Sustainable Design-Make-Serve at Microsoft Research Cambridge.

REDMOND, Wash. — April 28, 2008 — As part of its Sustainable Computing Program, Microsoft Corp. today announced it will support four academic research projects focused on energy efficiency in computing in the areas of datacenter power efficiency, power management and the creation of parallel computing architecture with decreased power demands. ...

The Sustainable Computing Program explores two main areas of research that can have a major impact. The first is the principle of “pay for play,” which is the idea that the power consumed by a computing device should be proportional to the demand placed upon it, lowering the amount of energy consumed at low load and idle. Secondly, energy efficiency, even at peak loads, is equally important in reducing the overall consumption of electricity and should be managed as a first-class resource. The program encourages researchers to use novel approaches in hardware design, software, networking, benchmarking, analysis, virtualization and any other avenue that might provide improvements in the field.

Under the program, a total of $500,000 will be awarded among the four winners. A summary of the winners and descriptions of their projects follows:

“Control-Theoretic Power and Performance Management for Green Data Centers”; University of Tennessee; aimed at developing frameworks for integrating power and performance improvements in virtualized datacenters

“Building a Building-scale Power Analysis Infrastructure”; Stanford University; for the design and deployment of a dense sensor network for power analysis, producing data for future research on power-aware computing

“A Synergistic Approach to Adaptive Power Management”; Harvard University; for the development of a dynamic runtime environment that ensures that power consumption is proportional to the computational demands made on the system

“Simulating Low Power x86 Architectures with Sooner, a Phoenix-based Simulation Framework”; University of Oklahoma; for the development of a simulation framework that supports the study of low-power microarchitectures for innovative multicore systems

Microsoft Research is committed to delivering breakthrough innovations in research in the areas of energy efficiency and conservation, weather study and prediction, air pollution and quality, climate change, and hydrology. Other efforts range from sensor networks to assist scientists in understanding global ecological issues by tracking animals, to Web-enabled sensors that could be used in businesses and homes to monitor energy consumption. For example, research with the Berkeley Water Center, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and National Marine Fisheries Service will use these technologies to help form a “digital” picture of watershed health. ...

From: Microsoft Research Supports Exploration Into Energy-Efficient Computing, April 28, 2008

Sydney Ideas to green your life

The City of Sydney ran "Live Green - Ideas to green your life" in Victoria Park, Camperdown, Sunday 17 August. I went along and was impressed with the "City of Sydney Green House". This is display in the shape of a house, fitted with environmental products.

Also impressive was a shipping container turned into a second hand clothing boutique. Windows and doors had been cut into the container, but it was otherwise unchanged, giving it an industrial aesthetic. Instead of using conventional windows and doors the steel cut from the container had been simply hinged. At the end of the day the windows and doors had been closed ready for it to be moved. It then looked like any shipping container.

Visi had some clever cardboard tables and chairs made from recycled paper.