Monday, December 30, 2013

Wireless Broadband for the Community

The take-up rate for the NBN in Tasmania was reported to be 38.5% after three years. The previous government was not too worried about the NBN take-up rate, as the copper network was to be switched off, so consumers would not have much of a choice. Does anyone have statistics for the take-up rate for high speed broadband in other countries?

One option I suggest for Australian urban areas is to combine 4G wireless mobile services with wireless broadband. This could complement FTTN and FTTP. The existing mobile service has limited capacity, but could service moderate home use. The service could be exp[anded by installing picocells on the same fibre used for FTTN and FTTP. Roaming could be enabled to allow a subscriber to any mobile company to use these cells. Also a lower tariff, comparable to wired services, could be offered for those using the wireless service "at home".

Using mobile broadband would create a virtual NBN at low cost. Rather than have to build an extensive wired network and home there were customers, the existing mobile network could be used and then cells added as demand increases.

With advances in 4G the mobile broadband service could carry 4K TV. The advanced HEVC codec allows compression of a HD TV at 6 Mbps and 4k TV at 12 Mbps to 30 Mbps. This could be carried on a 4G LTE-A network, using the Multicast-broadcast single-frequency network (MBSFN) option.

However, many of the community services envisaged for home broadband do not need high speeds. Instead they need trained staff and well designed applications. As an example  home health care is mentioned as a use for the NBN. But a person's vital signs (body temperature, heart rate, blood pressure, and respiratory rate) would only need about 10 bps to transmit.  More sophisticated monitors require more bandwidth, bit still far short of broadband, such as such as electrocardiography at 4 kbps.

But the greatest benefit from home health monitoring is likely to come from checking on the patient's general level of activity and asking them how they are. Advice to doctors, commissioned by the Department of Health recommends a minimum of 640 x 480 Video, with a minimum throughput on the link of 384kbit/s should be available, which far less than high speed broadband.

On-line education is also an application often given for home broadband. But while students like rich multimedia, this does not necessarily improve learning. The report "Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning: A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies" from the US Department of Education found that video does not improve online learning.

There can be considerable public benefit from broadband without running it to each home. Community centres provide not only a way to consolidate technical services, but also provide experts in health and education. Australia now has free Internet access in public libraries, which is an underrated achievement.

Internet in libraries builds on the library's traditional role providing access to information and literacy. Universities and TAFEs are turning their libraries into learning centres, with computers in place of books. They are keeping the staff to help the students, not only work the computers but with finding, using and creating information. The Gungahlin Town Centre Library in Canberra is a good example, where the one building accommodates the public library, a school library, a TAFE campus and broadband connected community rooms. This could be extended to provide support for university students as well.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Eco Rating of Mobile Phones

Vodafone's Eco Rating
Vodafone have introduced a scheme for Eco Rating of Mobile Phones.The scores are on a scale of 1 to 5, in increments of one tenth, with a higher score indicating more sustainable.The score is calculated based on 162 questions about the
environmental and social impact of a phone, divided into Product (106 questions) and Corporate categories ( 56 questions). A separate scale is used for smartphones (much as different size fridges are rated separately for energy efficiency).

The top ratings for currently sold phones:

Feature phone: Nokia C2 - 01

Overall ECO 3.9:
  • Green design: 3.7
  • Mobile phone life cycle: 4.3
  • Company performance: 3.9

Smart phone: Nokia Lumia 720

Overall ECO 3.3:
  • Green design: 2.3
  • Mobile phone life cycle: 3.6
  • Company performance: 4.1

Monday, December 23, 2013

Sydney Double-Decker Express Commuter Bus

In June, Sydney's private Hillsbus company introduced five Double-Decker buses for the M61 "Metro-bus" express route from the city to Castle Hill, in the North West. The M61 service operates every 10 minutes in peak time, 15 minutes off-peak and 20 minutes on weekends (there is an M61 Castle Hill to City Timetable, but it is 70 pages long). The double deck buses are only used for the morning and afternoon peak services (see times appended). These services take the "MyBus" tickets accepted on Sydney's government buses, as well as cash fares.

As described in the brochure, the buses have 92 seats and look huge from the outside but a little cramped on the inside. The stairway on the right behind the driver takes up a lot of room, making it hard to get past. But the stairs are wide (for a bus) and well lighted (with luminous treads). Upstairs is a little roomier but with a low ceiling (one passenger hit their had on the LCD display screen at the front, which fortunately was padded.

There are two double bench seats upstairs at the front with a very large window in front. The view is excellent, but leg room cramped in the front row. Also it can be a little unnerving watching trees, bridges and traffic lights rushing towards you (some trees in George Street did seem to be scraping on the bus roof). Those without a head for heights, or long legs, might choose the second row of seats.

The bus has a much more compliant ride that the regular single deck Hills buses. The double deck buses seem to float over bumps, rather than crashing. However, high up this can induce a slight feeling of seasickness (some magnetorheological dampers might help).

Next to the bus stop at Castle Hill is the information office for the North West Rail Link. Work on the Castle Hill station is under-way across the road, but given the stop-start nature of previous Sydney metro projects, it is difficult to believe this will be built. In contrast the Metro-buses and transit lanes along the main roads are cost effective and tangible parts of a a transport system.

While at Castle Hill, I visited the excellent Castle Hill Library, which has a cafe where you can browse the magazines and newspapers. The easiest way to get to the library from the bus stop is to walk along Castle Street and under the enormous Castle Towers Shopping Centre (there seems to be no pedestrian exit to the centre on the library side).

M61 Double-Decker Times

The bus operator CDC advised that the Double-Decker buses usually run on these services:
WEEKDAYS: The weekday timetables are run during peak hours only as follows:
CASTLE HILL: AM 06.50, 07.00, 07.50, 08.00, PM 16.01, 16.11, 16.51, 17.01, 17.11
RAILWAY SQUARE: AM 08.18, 08.28, 09.02, 09.17, 09.32 PM 17.15, 17.25, 8.05, 18.15, 18.25
WEEKENDS: The weekend timetable is a little more frequent as follows:
CASTLE HILL: AM 07.30, 07.50, 08.10, 08.30, 08.50, 09.50, 10.10, 10.30, 10.50, 11.10, PM 12.50, 13.01, 13.30, 13.50, 14.30, 16.30
RAILWAY SQUARE: AM 08.40, 09.00, 09.20, 09.40, 10.00, 11.40, PM 12.00, 12.20, 13.20, 14.20, 15.00, 17.40

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Mango Trees Hazard on Queensland Railway

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) issued its final report on "Collision of passenger trainT842 with station platform, Cleveland,Queensland, 31 January 2013", 20 December 2013. The ATSB found the train wheels slipped due to contamination from nearby trees. "Slippery rail" is a well known in the railway industry. While the cause is usually due to leaves on the track, it can be remarkably hard to predict or combat. As part of the investigation ATSB found there were trees next to, or overhanging the railway line at the top 10 locations where trains had overrun station platforms. One aspect not covered in the report is if the type of vegetation effects rail slip.

The most instances on the Brisbane rail network of station overrun occurred at Lindum railway station. Figure 19 on page 31 of the report shows an overhead shot of the station, pointing to trees nearby. I attended school nearby and recognise the grove of Mango trees in the photo. These trees have a much more dense foliage than native eucalyptus and drop sticky sap filled leaves and twigs as well as fruit. I have suggested to the ATSB that perhaps this causes more wheel slip that other vegetation.

Finnish Green ICT Sector Action Program

The Finnish Ministry of Transport and Communications announced "An action programme for a green ICT sector" 18 December 2013. Unfortunately I could only find the media release in English, not the actual plan. The plan is available in Finnish as "Vihreän ICT:n toimintaohjelma", appended is an excerpt from a machine translation "Green ICT: Programme of Action". The plan targets three areas: data centres, telecommunications networks and audiovisual services.The third area concerns the energy impact of the change from watching broadcast TV to streamed video on computers.

Green ICT: Programme of Action


The Ministry of Transport and Communications, the aim is to promote the material and energy efficiency and reduce carbon dioxide emissions from information and communication technology based products and services. More and more green ICT initiatives combining traditional communication and environmental policy. At present, green ICT key technologies seen as a greater use of communication tools, electronic services and improving energy efficiency.

Green ICT agenda is based on the Ministry of Transport and Communications, the strategic research, development and innovation policies for the period 2013-2015, as well as traffic environmental strategy for the years 2013-2020. The program seeks to establish a priority ICT infrastructure required for energy needs. In addition, the aim is cross-sectoral and research-based collaboration, which allows ICT's negative effects can be minimized.

The Action Plan includes three priority areas: energy efficiency, sustainable development and timely research. In addition, the program measures are shown in the first stage, data centers, telecommunications networks, and audio-visual services areas.

Green ICT Programme of Action is part of the communication policy älystrategiaa, Quartz program. Crystal-program is an essential part of continuous development principle. According to this principle in this action plan objectives and actions developed to meet the changes in the operating environment and practices. The progress of actions and the impact of monitored annually and the data are collected from the administrative sector, as well as other authorities and the research needs of the parties.

Table of contents

3.1 Focus 1 - Energy Efficiency .. 5
3.2 Focus 2 - Sustainable Development .. 5
3.3 Focus 3 - Updated research information .. 6
3.4 Measures to .. 6
4.1 Climate change and other environmental impacts .. 7
4.1.1 Information society development and climate change .. 7
4.1.2 ICT and the environment interrelationship between .. 8
4.2 Information and communication technologies, increasing energy consumption .. 9
4.2.1 ICT ecosystem energy .. 9
4.2.2 ICT's energy consumption growth in the underlying factors 10
4.3 Digital service culture and green growth .. 13
4.3.1 Digital service culture .. 13
4.3.2 Green growth .. . 14
4.3.3 Reliable and fast service infrastructure for sustainable development
prerequisite .. 15
5.1 The server centers .. 16
5.2 Telecommunication networks . .. 17
5.3 Audiovisual services .. 17
From: "Green ICT: Programme of Action" (machine translation) of Publication 34/2013, Finnish Ministry of Transport and Communications,  12/13/2013, ISSN (online) 1795-4045, ISBN (online) 978-952-243-369-5, URN

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Wireless Broadband for Regional Australia

NBN trounced by regional offering from locals with an eye for enterprise wireless broadband being offered in the town of Harden in New South Wales.

South Western Wireless Communications is offering broadband from $19.95 a month. But the customer has to purchase the Customer-premises equipment (CPE) and it is not clear what frequencies (licensed or unlicensed) are being used.

I get a mention in the article with my likening the of ALP and Coalition broadband proposals as being like the choice between a Lexus and a 10-year-old Camry and suggesting what younger customers want is wireless broadband.

The distinction between fixed wireless and mobile broadband is now largely one of business model, rather than technology. Ericsson were contracted by NBN Co. to provide a 4G / LTE TDD for fixed wireless rural broadband. The base stations and protocols used are essentially the same as for mobile broadband. The difference is that the customer receives the service via an antenna fixed to their home or business, rather than via a mobile device.

Both ALP and Collation broadband proposals have aimed at fixed location home and small business users. Also these have assumed a high density of new users served by new fibre into each home or terminated at new equipment cabinets in each street connecting the last few hundred metres of copper cable.

The major cost with FTTP is running the cable from street to the home, with FTTN, is installing new optical cabinets  in the street and reconnecting all the copper cables to it. However, an alternative would be to install the optical fibre in the street and then only connecting customers as they require a service. For FTTN, this would require rugged miniature waterproof optical modems, which could be installed in existing pits and cabinets. When a customer ordered a service, the technician would open the pit in the street outside the house and place an optical modem in it. This would be plugged into a fibre cable and power. Copper cable can be used for up to 1 GBPS, but limited to a distance of about 100 m. So each modem need only be designed to provide service to about eight to sixteen homes.

If the customer wanted FTTH, this would require a cable to be run though the existing conduit, or more likely, a new trench and conduit laid, at the householder's expense.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Universal Startup Pitch Deck

Greetings from the "Optus SydEduTech Pitchfest" at the UTS Business School in Sydney. This is being streamed live.One of the judges suggested use of the Pollenizer Universal Startup Pitch Deck.

Hawkei Australian Protected Vehicle for Prime Minister

This is to suggest the Australian Government order Hawkei Australian made protected vehicles for transporting the Prime Minister and senior officials securely. Media reports indicate that the Australian government will be buying imported vehicles, such as the High Security BMW 7-series, for the Prime Minister, as no Australian car maker can provide a bomb proof car. However, Thales Australia is testing prototypes of its Hawkei Protected Mobility Vehicle for the Australian Army. These are made in Australia and meet military standards for protecting the passengers. A version equipped with a luxury interior could be quickly produced. The Hawkei can carry six people and looks like a uber-SUV. This would project a popular image with the Australian community and send a "don't mess with us" message to those who may wish  Australia harm.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Bulk Energy Storage for Renewable Energy

Greetings from the Australian National University Energy Change Institute, where Peter Rood from General Compression is speaking on Bulk Energy Storage. He discussed two types of bulk storage: Pumped-storage hydroelectricity and Compressed Air Energy Storage (CAES). Pumped hydro has a low capital cost where an existing hydro-electric system is used, such as Snowy Hydro's Tumut 3. Natural Gas Fired CAES is added to natural gas turbine power station. At times of surplus power, compressed air is pumped into a reservoir, usually an underground chamber. At times of energy need the compressed air is used to drive the turbine, without the need for natural gas fuel. More advanced systems extract heat from the compressed air and stores it separately in a liquid. The heat is then added back into the air during decompression.

Peter pointed out that as well as supplementing a conventional power station, energy storage can be used to allow a renewable intermittent energy source (such as wind and solar) to be used as a base-load supply.

General Compression uses a electric motor/generator connected to water cooled two stage pistons to compress the air. Interestingly the system uses a hydraulic motor/pump between the electric and air systems. Their pilot system is 2MW, but the system can be expanded.

Peter commented that the engineer technology used is based on that of automotive engines (whereas to me it is reminiscent of steam engines). Perhaps the Australian Government would be interested in a grant to investigate having former automotive workers manufacture this equipment in Australia using surplus capacity at car plants. This would provide Australian jobs as well as lowering Australia's carbon emissions.

Bulk energy storage projects offer unique benefits over smaller distributed storage technologies. Primarily driven by the significantly lower relative costs achieved though economies of scale and the ability to store energy for tens of hours, bulk energy storage projects allow for energy storage to be deployed at the megawatt scale on transmission and distribution networks. Core bulk storage applications include firm renewable energy projects, network level integration of distributed PV generation, and no or low-carbon supply of ancillary services.
Compressed air energy storage (CAES) is one of two primary types of bulk energy storage , the other being pumped hydro, and store energy as compressed air in under or above ground vessels. General Compression is a Boston, USA based technology development company that has developed a near-isothermal compressed air energy storage system. Traditionally CAES projects have used natural gas to add heat to the generation portion of the process, General Compression's technology captures heat generated as electricity is converted to compressed air and reintroduces that heat during the generation process eliminating the need to burn natural gas making the technology fuel & emissions free.

More information, please see

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Random Hacks of Kindness Sydney Judging

Greetings from  Random Hacks of Kindness Global Hackathon in Sydney. Three teams having been working on community computer applications (RHoK Sydney problems) for the last two days. Myself and two other judges will be looking at the team presentations shortly, then scoring using the standard RHoK Judging Criteria
  1. creativity / innovative / unique
  2. utility, can it be used in the field?
  3. applicable, does it solve a problem
  4. impact, local or global
  5. progress (on existing work, or starting from nothing)
  6. usability
The first team is developing a system to help with donations for the Bagong Barrio Education Fund. (BBEF). The Bagong Barrio Education Fund is a not-for-profit program for education of children in the village of Bagong Barrio, Manila, in the Philippines.

The second team was Zspaces  who aim to match up people who have empty office, retail or warehouse space with those having a short term need. This is conceptually similar to Renew Newcastle, which makes use of vacant shop-fronts for artists to sell their works.  An example of a use of space in Sydney is the Leichhardt Pop In Space. But Zspaces would allow for much more short term use of just a few days. This could be popular with councils who don't like to see empty shops in their streets.

The third team is adding extra features to Open Development Cambodia (ODC), to help about Cambodia's economic and social development. They interface to a MySQL database, to extract and visualize data about Cambodia.

The range of applications and approaches were very interesting.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Santa-land Under the Archway in Sydney

The play "The Santaland Diaries" by the Archway One Theatre Company in Sydney would be good for a hens night. As the only male in the audience, I felt a little out of place. Andrew Fritz gave an excellent one man performance in tights, as an actor who has to swallow their pride and spend Christmas as one of the elves in Macey's Department store.

Archway 1 Theatre is located in the brick viaduct under the Sydney Light Rail line. The play is set in a New York loft apartment and Santa's house in Macey's store. The solid old brick vault over the stage provides an atmospheric setting (with trams rumbling overhead reminiscent of the NY EL). The layers of white Christmas decoration add whimsy. But some of the play's NY references do not translate well for an Australian audience, particularly the racial issues.

There are a few laughs, but perhaps not enough to sustain the performance. A one man show is always difficult and in this case the material lets the actor down. SantaLand Diaries was an essay by David Sedaris, read on US NPR and later adapted for the stage by by Joe Mantello.

There are three more performances Santaland Diaries, 13, 14 and 15 December. The theater can be very difficult to find: park in Chapman Road and continue down the street on foot, past the bollards, to the archway under the viaduct.

Humanitarian Computing Completion in Sydney

Greetings from  Random Hacks of Kindness Global Hackathon at the offices of Ninefold in Sydney. This is an application development competition, where teams hear about a problem effecting a community group and then develop an application to help. At the moment I have volunteered to be one of the judges for RHoK, given my past work on free open source disaster management.

process used with for-profit ventures does not suit social enterprises. Small ventures could use crowd funding, but need to keep coming up with new attention getting ("disruptive") ideas. But she cautioned about using some of the less ethical tactics of commercial ventures.

It is a cool sunny day and Ninefold's office has a panoramic view of Darling Harbor and the Blue Mountains.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Salvage Shipping Containers Using Twistlocks

In "Don't abandon ship! How to salvage a mega-vessel" (New Scientist, 26 November 2013), Will Gray describes the problems with salvaging cargo from mega-container ships. As they point out, without the ship upright the containers can be difficult to remove. However, Gray mentions chains having to be placed around the container to lift them, which I don' t think should be necessary. Standard shipping containers have three slots in each corner designed to fit a "T" shaped Twistlock connector. The containers are designed to be lifted, fully loaded, using the four connectors on the top face. The twistlocks can be attached by hand, or with a remote mechanism on a crane. It should be possible for a diver to attach a twistlock by hand to a submerged container, or for this to be done by a remotely operated underwater vehicle (ROV).

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Kamerian Defence Force Threat to Australia

The general public who stumble across the article "Swift and Sure Future Communications" in Asia Pacific Defence Reporter magazine (Geoff Slocombe, November 2013), might be perplexed or alarmed by a description of a powerful invasion force heading for Australia. The article doesn't explain, for non-military readers, that the "Kamerian Defence Force" mentioned is a fictional one, commonly used in Australian Defence Force exercises for an imagined enemy (also known as the "red force"). The article describes how the enemy is detected in in Indonesia's Lombok Strait, by the JORN Radar (which is real), RAAF Triton UAVs (not yet ordered for Australia) , Collins Class submarines (in service, but of uncertain reliability), HQJOC Bungendore (real), HMAS Hobart (due to be launched 2016), F/A-18G Growlers  (ordered), KC-30A Tanker Aircraft (in service except for the tail boom, which tends to fall off), C-27J (ordered) and C-130J (in service).

Australian Designed High Speed Warships for Australian Based US Marines

Jane's Defence Weekly reports that the US Navy is planning to have an Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) to support US Marines based in Darwin ("USN contemplates two-ship ARG concept to support Australia-based marines",  Grace Jean, Jane's Defence Weekly, 29 October 201). This may include the Australian designed JHSVs (Joint High Speed Vessels). The JHSVs are a militarized car ferries, designed by Austral in Western Australia, built built in the USA. The potential for such vessels to be sued for military supply first came to the US Navy's attention when HMAS Jervis Bay was used by the Australian Navy to supply the peacekeeping forces in East Timor.  The RAN will have a similar capability to a US ARG, with its two Canberra-class landing helicopter dock ships., but lacking the US Marines fixed wing aviation combat element.