Thursday, October 30, 2014

Use of Nuclear Weapons Possible in Sino-Japanese War

Robert Ayson and Desmond Ball will speak on "Escalation in the East China Sea: A Political and Military Possibility" at the Australian National University in Canberra, 5:30pm, 11 November 2014.

Event Details

Presented by the Strategic & Defence Studies Centre
Even if the leaders of China and Japan can lessen the significant political tensions between North Asia’s two biggest powers, the East China Sea dispute could still spark a bilateral war which might also bring in the United States. A recent spate of near misses shows that a minor armed clash is eminently possible. Nationalist sentiment and the lack of crisis management mechanisms could make restraint difficult once this occurs. Japan’s reluctance to use force may be less extensive than some assume and its connections to US strategy and C4SIR systems increase the prospects of early American participation. China’s command and control vulnerabilities could create serious pre-emption pressures if Beijing thought a larger conflict was possible. Moreover American attacks on China’s C4SIR systems and its conventional maritime and missile forces might create perverse incentives for China to use its nuclear weapons early while it was still confident in its physical ability to do so.

Australian defence planners should not assume that China and Japan are going to be able to keep their tense relationship in the East China Sea below the threshold of armed violence. Neither should they assume that China, Japan, and the United States will find it easy to avoid a very serious escalation once minor hostilities have occurred. This seminar presentation marks the launch of a new SDSC Centre of Gravity paper by Robert Ayson and Desmond Ball entitled "Escalation in North Asia: A Strategic Challenge for Australia", based on their forthcoming Survival article "Can a Sino-Japanese War Be Controlled?".

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Half a million warrantless meta data requests

I was interviewed on radio 2SER Sydney this-morning about the release of metadata from Internet Service providers for law enforcement: "Half a million warrantless meta data requests!". For an overview of the issues, see: "Access to and retention of internet 'metadata'" by Jaan Murphy, Australian Parliamentary Library, 18/08/2014.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Barriers to Government Online Service Adoption

Tom Rowlands and Michael Kearney from CSIRO will speak on "Can we find barriers to government online service adoption from call centre interactions?" In the Australian National University, Computer Sicience and Information Technology Building, CSIRO seminar room S206 4pm 27 October 2014:
Government agencies generally wish to encourage their customers to use digital services in preference to ringing call centres or attending a shop front, as digital services are cheaper for the agency and more convenient for the customer. While this has been the case for some time, there are still barriers to adoption. We will discuss preliminary, in-progress research in identifying barriers to digital service adoption by observing relevant portions of customers' interactions with an government call centre.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Mapping the Sharing Economy in Canberra

Greetings from "Share Canberra MapJam" at the Inspire Centre University of Canberra. There are about twenty people in Canberra (and more on-line) looking at mapping community facilities (on open streetmap)in Canberra. This is part of Sharing Cities Network 2nd Annual Global MapJam. Other initiatives are the Melbourne Sharing City Map and Share’n’Save Adelaide

I had some difficulties understanding what this event was about. It seems to be in part about non-profit social organizations making use of the Internet and also in part about for-profit Internet social network based businesses. An example is the "sharing economy", where the Internet can be used to allow for resources to be shared more easily than they could be before. Some of this has been done by charities in the past, collecting and redistributing unwanted items, some by for-profit resellers but much has just gone to landfill, due to the high costs. A good example of a successful business are car share companies, such as GoGet.

One area where this model might be applied is education. There is a long tradition of co-operative forms of education, but these have suffered from the transaction costs and accreditation. The

Learning Exchanges of the 1970s would be an example of a form of cooperative education. At the other extreme, the Australian Prime Minister has proposed major corporations should design the school curriculum to produce trained workers for their company.

An aspect of this sharing approach is how they scale. One speaker this morning commented that their business did not take off until their were 10,000 subscribers. This may be a reason why this sharing approach has been difficult to get to work without the Internet, due to the start-up cost of an organization (even if it is non-profit and run by volunteers) which needs 10,000 participants to start delivering benefits.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Innovation ACT Awards

Greetings from the BoatHouse by the Lake in Canberra, where the winners of this years Innovation ACT have just been announced. This followed the pitch night on Wednesday.

The winners were:
  • BehavioMatrix: This team is producing a diagnostic aid for depression. This would use sensors rather than a questionnaire or practitioner's opinion.
  • KRIGE TECH: are offering a smart power system using switches controlled by a smart-home app to reduce energy use.
  • OzGuild: This team scans trading cards for the "Magic: The Gathering" card game.
  • Siege Sloth Games: producing more non-violent computer games (from the Academy of Interactive Entertainment).
  • Vacant Space: provides vacant shops to artists and artisans.
There will be a workshop on 22 November 2014 on what is needed for innovation in Canberra.

Also there was mention of a new China Australia Innovation center at Kingston in Canberra, but I have seen any formal announcement of this.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Global Community Has Decided on Renewable Energy

Greetings from the Australian National University where Danny Kennedy founder of Sungevity is speaking on "Rooftop Revolution: The latest trends in solar and wind energy" (video available). He expects 50% solar power and 80% renewable energy by 2050. He described coal fired electricity generation as "stupid and dangerous", criticized the Prime Minister for supporting coal and claimed that they could provide electricity for 17 cents per kWh. Danny used Zeetings for his presentation, which I had not seen before (ihave now set up a Tomw Zeetings).

This was very much a pep talk preaching to the converted (the audience being made up of members of the ANU Energy Change Institute). But we were in need of a pep talk. Being a member of the ANU who teaches how to combat global warming, it is disheartening to be criticized by the Prime Minister, federal cabinet, The Australian newspaper, the Australian Financial Review and some of Australian industry for suggesting investment in fossil fuels is not a good idea.

Dr Renate Egan, Chair of the Australia PV Institute, then provided a more scholarly presentation on trends in solar power. and argued that the PV industry needs to work with utilities She pointed out that in 2013 the cost of the PV panels for a domestic solar installation was less than the cost of the system. As the cells become cheaper, householders are likely to want panels which look better, rather than just generate more power.

Professor Andrew Blakers, Foundation Director of the ANU Centre for Sustainable Energy Systems in his "Renewable Energy Systems" then made the remarkable claim that the cheapest form of solar water heating now is to use a PV panel and a resistive electric water heater. Up to now conventional wisdom has been that hot water is efficiently produced from sunlight by direct absorption (turning sunlight into heat). However, solar hot water systems require a complex systems of pipes, with water (or another fluid) circulated through the roof-top collector. With low cost PV panels, the installation is much simpler, just requiring an electrical cable from the roof, to a tank on the ground.

Paper Bushfire Plans Putting Lives at Risk

ACT Bushfire Survival Plan This is to suggest revising Australia's emergency preparedness advice to householders for fires and other emergencies, replacing long paper based documents, with graphical web pages and Apps. As this is primarily an education exercise, the techniques developed for on-line adult eduction can be applied.

ABC has provided the useful video "What would you do if a bushfire threatened your home?", but the accompanying text points out a flaw in Australian emergency planning. In "Facing a disaster: the brain makes it harder than you expect", it says the video "... demonstrates the need for a plan that is written down ...", but then "It demonstrated in graphic fashion the difficulties people have ...". The key word here is graphic: the video with images is a more effective form of communication than writing.

The Bushfire Survival Plan from the ACT Emergency Services Agency is a 24 page document which is designed to be read on paper. While it is available as a PDF download, the document contains pages which are in landscape mode and appear sideways on screen. This document is hard enough to read on a desktop computer screen, let along a smart-phone. The document includes a photo of a family sitting around a table with one member diligently filling out the paper form in the printed booklet. This is far from the reality of how a 21st Century family interacts, as such a family would typically have several smart-phones and tablet computers at the table, with no paper.

Emergency Exit Sign with Running Man Graphic
People have difficulty reading large amounts of text, particularly when stressed. For this reason emergency exit sings in buildings no longer have the word "EXIT" but instead a pictogram of a running man. I suggest taking the same approach to emergency plans. There should be the option of completing the emergency plan via a web page and app, with more graphics and less text. All the members of the family should then be able to access the plan on their smart phone or Internet account.

Communicating this information can take advantage of the expertise available from on-line adult education, where busy distracted people are helped through the process of learning. One way top do this is to advise the student what they are going to learn and what they will have to do up front. ACT emergency booklet does not do this, taking until page 16, more than half way through, to get to the actual form. Most householders are unlikely to ever read to this point.  I suggest this could be "flipped" and the householder being told they task they have and then the materials in support of that task.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Disruptive Technologies and Change

Greetings from the CSIRO Discovery Centre in Canberra, where Dr Rod Dilnutt is speaking on "Disruptive Technologies and Change" to members of the Australian Computer Society.
Disruptive Technologies and Change Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) are delivering order of magnitude improvements at significantly reduced cost. The ability to create, capture, communicate and process digital information is increasing at exponential rates. By the end of 2013, the 'digital universe' of all digital data created will reach nearly 50 percent more than 2012 volumes and almost a quadrupling of 2010 volumes (IDC 2013). Consequently, deployment of these technologies is causing significant economic, business and social change. In turn, these technological advances, driven by the economic imperative to improve productivity are dramatically changing business practices. This is not necessarily a new phenomenon however, the sheer number, scale and rapidity of these advances is challenging fundamental assumptions we make about the way we live, work and play. The term ‘Disruptive Technology’ has been coined to describe these phenomena and include amongst others: Cloud Computing; Mobile Platforms; The Internet of Things; Big Data and 3D Printing. These advances bring significant benefits however; these changes can also bring about undesirable consequences as workforces shrink or are displaced and as work activities are redesigned, relocated or eliminated. This study explores the impact these advances will have on individuals, communities and societies in the business context. Its aim is to provide leaders with insights into how to best manage the transition into a ‘post-disruption’ environment.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Innovation ACT Pitch Night

Greetings from the pitch night of Innovation ACT, where teams of university students are competing for prizes by presenting their business ideas. The event is being held in the Inspire Center at University of Canberra. This was an excellent event (even though the team I was mentoring did not make it to this round). In August I dropped in on Philippe Kruchten at UBC  in Vancouver to hear about his "New Venture Design" course, where students are encouraged to enter a innovation competition as part of their studies. I am designing a similar course to be run alongside Innovation ACT.

The pitches:

1. The first team "Vacant Space" are promoting an advanced version of the "Renew Leichhardt" initiative in Sydney, which provides vacant shops to artists and artisans.

2. Team "KRIGE Tech" are offering a smart power system using switches controlled by a smart-home app. This is claimed to reduce energy use. However, I am skeptical that such remote controls save any energy, whereas simpler automation in individual devices does.

3. Siege Sloth Games are producing more non-violent computer games. This seemed the most mature of the pitches. The graphics were good (which they should be for a computer game project).

4. Bio-Mine: This initiative is for electronic certificates, similar to the Digitary service (based in Ireland). While ANU already uses Digitary (I was issued with a digital Grad Cert in Higher Education). However, I found Digitary's system clumsy to use and it has not had a high take-up. There is therefore room for a better product.  One interesting aspect is that Bio-Mine proposes to charge the graduate an annual fee and pay the university a commission. Also they plan to link this to the Intellidox product which ANU already has a relationship with. This sounds very promising.

5. BehavioMatrix: This team is producing a diagnostic aid for depression. This would use sensors rather than a questionnaire or practitioner's opinion. I am not qualified to asses the clinical validity of the technique, but if it works this could be a good business.

6. OzGuild: This team scans trading cards so that collectors can search for cards to complete their collection. While pitched for the "Magic: The Gathering" card game, but could be applied to other collectible cards.

7. Ingiv: This team organizes volunteers for non-profit organizations online. While pitched for non-profit organizations this may also be attractive for for-profit organizations who encourage staff to volunteer to work on projects. In many cases the companies have difficulty keeping track of what their staff have volunteered for.

8. CanBAR: This team has the best logo of the night (a stylized cocktail glass with a Google style map pin as the cocktail stick). Their product provides demographics of patrons for cocktail bar owners, via an App.One technique the team might try at their next pitch is to hand out cocktails. I was part of a team pitching a line of boutique spirits at one such event and we handed out drinks to the judges, which put them in a good mood. ;-)

9. Meeting Cost and Timer: This App is billed as "The Taxi Meter for Meetings". It estimates the cost of a meeting, in terms of staff and other resources used. This might be fun to have on a large screen during a meeting. Of course the solution is not to have meetings. I am not so sure about having his in the Microsoft Office Apps store. what I would like is an application for preparing for meetings, which would prompt for all the necessary materials for a good meeting and prompt those involved to try to complete tasks before the meeting, thus eliminating the need for a meeting. I noticed there are some simple Meeting Meters already, such as "Meeting Cost Meter".

10. Young Money: Comparing insurance policies for young people is the topic of this product. It was not clear how this would differ from the many insurance comparison websites already available.

Based on the presentations, my ranking of the teams from highest to lowest would be:
  1. Siege Sloth Games
  2. Bio-Mine
  3. OzGuild
  4. Ingiv 
  5. CanBAR
  6. KRIGE Tech
  7. BehavioMatrix
  8. Vacant Space 
  9. Meeting Cost and Timer
  10.  Young Money
ps: The Canberra Innovation Network (CBRIN) will launch on 7 November 2014. An open innovation event will be held on 29 November.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Warm Ice Air-conditioning

Xiaolin Wang will speak on "Warm ice: Gas hydrate energy storage for air-conditioning applications" at the Australian National University in Canberra, 12 noon, 20 October 2014:
The burgeoning popularity of affordable air-conditioning is responsible for peaks in electricity grid loading across the world. This in turn leads either to electricity supply black-outs or a requirement for expensive electricity grid augmentation. By deploying energy storage capacity, the severity of these peak loads may be reduced. For air conditioning applications, we propose the storage of cooling effect as a more cost-effective energy storage mechanism than storage of electricity. The purpose of our research is to demonstrate how practical, low cost and safe energy stores of high energy density may be achieved using gas hydrate formations consisting of water and carbon dioxide. The seminar will cover research to date, the equipment in use and some early results. We will also outline some of the challenges faced and future research plans.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Planing The New Sydney Harbour Bays Precinct

Greetings from the University of Sydney, where a panel of planning experts is speaking on "What’s the Plan? The Bays Precinct panel". The  "Bays Precinct Urban Renewal Program" includes 80 hectares of Government owned land, the White Bay Power Station, Glebe Island, White Bay, Rozelle Bay, Rozelle Rail Yards and Blackwattle Bay and the Sydney Fish Markets.

A two day by-invitation summit on this will be held in Sydney on 19 to 20 November 2014 and workshops for the public in February 2015. This evenings event is in addition, as part of the Festival of Urbanism.

In 2002 students and staff from the "new" Bauhaus Dessau visited Sydney and undertook a planning exercise for the city foreshore. They were interested in the role of computers and telecommunications on the city, so I gave them a talk on Canberra's fibre optic broadband system: "Canberra: Encircled by Light". The results of the Bauhaus study were published in 2003, as the book "Serve City: Interactive urbanism" by Neil Leach, Wilfried Hackenbroich and Regina Sonnabend, available in the libraries of the University of Sydney and Western Sydney and from".  The effect of ICT on city design and innovation industries is even more important today.

One of the urban waterfront mentioned by this evening's panel is Vancouver. A few weeks ago I was on that waterfront on the Eastern side of Vancouver harbor, around  Lonsdale Quay. This development has managed to retain some of the harbor industry, as well as building offices, shops and homes.

Berlin also got a mention as a location which has had significant development. My impression was that Berlin has rushed into high value development and ended up with more than needed.

What interesting aspect of this development is what would attract Google, who are reported to be looking for a new larger Australian headquarters ("Google searches for blue-ribbon HQ - but can it fit in Sydney?", Mercedes Ruehl, BRW, 2 October 2014).

The topic of "affordable housing" and "key worker housing" came up on the panel. In London this seems to be dome by having very small apartments which are reserved for specific  low salary essential staff, such as nurses, police. Islington has a Shared Ownership Scheme.

One issue which came up is corruption.Currently a significant number of NSW government officials are under investigation for corruption for having accepted illegal payments from developers.

An example coted of a successful waterfront redevelopment was Honeysuckle, Newcastle, NSW. However, I found it a little sterile and Disneyland-like.

I got to ask a question: "My question is has the effect digital tech will have on the urban fabric being taken into account in the Bays Precinct planning. I helped a design study by students from the "New" Bauhaus, which included digital. Has anyone got the copy of their report out of the University of Sydney library. Also have you asked Alan Noble at Google what to do?" None of the panel answered.

It was an interesting evening. There is further event tomorrow: Dr Kate Shaw: Melbourne Docklands – where it went wrong and why Australian governments don’t learn,

Low Cost Linux Laptop for Learning

My HP Pavilion DM1-4108AU notebook computer was not working reliably, so I decided to replace it with a Leader Companion 220. The 220 has a 11.6" screen and cost AU$298.00 at Big W.

One reason for selecting the 220 was that it has a VGA video socket, as well as HDMI. Many of the locations I give presentations in have older VGA projectors and it is handy not to have to use a HDMI to VGA adaptor (the ASUS X200CA also has VGA). The unit also has a full complement of sockets, with 1 USB 3, 2 x USB 2, Ethernet, and an SD card slot. In contrast many of the new slim notebooks have touch-screens and origami hinges to run them into clumsy tablet computers, but lack VGA and Ethernet sockets. The 220 looks similar to Chromebooks, such as the ASUS 11.6" Chromebook (C200MA-KX002), but with more ports and a hard disk.

The 220 has a plastic case with the top painted silver. It is slimmer than the HP DM1 and looks elegant. The "Leader" brand on the outside is hard to see which is good). The unit has the same footprint as a sheet of A4 paper and so fits easily in a portfolio. One problem the 200 shares with other notebooks is that the bezel and screen are both very glossy, resulting in reflections which make the screen hard to see.

The 220 comes with 2GB RAM, but Ian Chase at Leader Computers Pty Ltd advised the it can take a 4GB or 8GB DDR3L 1600MHz SODIMM Module (in place of the 2GB module). The computer is a bit sluggish with only the supplied 2GB of RAM when running the supplied Windows 8.1, but is fast enough for everyday use with Linux Mint 17 (Qiana) 64-bit with the  MATE desktop.

I tried the computer first booting Linux from a flash card (after dealing with UEFI firmware and Secure Boot). Even running Linux just from the flash drive it was faster than Windows 8.1 (I simply had the Linux ISO image on the flash drive without any permanent memory allocated). After finding Linux worked from the USB drive, I made the Windows 8.1 partition smaller and then installed Linux on the hard disk, which ran much better than Windows 8.1 (but retaining the ability to boot  Windows).

The 220 is sold in other countries as a Clevo W510TU and I found a user manual and service manual for it under this name. The 200 has an Intel Celeron Dual Core N2807 2.16GHz Processor, whereas other, presumably more expensive, models have an Intel N3530 2.58GHz processor.

The 220 came with a Toshiba 2.5" 500GB 5400rpm SATA Hard Drive. What is more interesting is that there is an empty mSATA slot for a second Solid State Disk (SSD) drive. So to increase performance it would be possible to install a small capacity SSD drive for the operating system and keep the hard disk for data. But the 220 has only a small battery (48.84WH) good for 4 hours, so I decided to remove the hard disk and replace it with a 64GB SSD (more than enough for Linux and some data files, as my current computer has only about 32 GB of its storage used). So I purchased a Plextor M5M PX-64M5M 64GB mSATA III Solid State Drive (SSD) for AU$50.00.

Curious about the relative speed of different disks, I ran the Benchmark utility which comes with Linux Mint:

DiskInterfaceAverage Read Rate MB/sAverage Access Time msec
Plextor 64GB M5M PX-64M5M SSDmSATA2750.1
Patriot 60 GB Pyro SSDSATA1920.3
Patriot 60 GB Pyro SSDUSB 31090.4
Toshiba 500GB MQ01 ABF050USB 39017
Toshiba 500GB MQ01 ABF050SATA9117
Western Digital 160 GB WD1600BEVTUSB 35617
Western Digital 160 GB WD1600BEVTSATA5717
EMTEC 8GB Flash USBUSB 3260.7

What this suggests to me is that the SSDs are much faster than the mechanical disks. That is no surprise, but it is interesting that the mechanical disks are not much slower on the USB 3 interface than SATA. So I might as well leave the Toshiba 500GB disk which came with the Leader as an external USB connected device for backup, there is no great speed improvement installing it in the laptop with the SATA interface.

One problem with the 220 is that it is very difficult to disassemble, even with the instructions in the  service manual. First the keyboard has to be removed, depressing four small tabs and removing a delicate ribbon cable. Then five  screws are removed from under the keyboard and five from the back. With that done the back can be prised off, showing the hard disk (which is not otherwise secured), the empty mSATA slot and one memory slot.

Once I worked out how to get the back off the 220, removing the hard disk was easy (it just pulls out). Adding the mSATA SSD required unscrewing one screw, inserting the card and replacing the screw to hold the card in place. Rebooting with the Linix on USB showed the mSATA card and I was able to install Linux in a few minutes.

Replacing the hard disk with SSD seems to have have added one hour to the computer's running time (from four to five hours). There is a fan in the 220, but with the SSD installed the computer is noticeably quieter (I have to put my ear to the case to hear the fan).

ps: The now surplus 500 GB Hard disk (worth about AU$50), I put into a Orico 2595US3-BK 2.5" SATA to USB 3.0 Aluminium External Enclosure  (AU$18.00), to backup data.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Maker Space at the Italian Forum, Leichhardt, Sydney

I came across Three Farm's Maker Space, in the Italian Forum, in the inner west of Sydney (on my way to the Leichhardt Library). Shop 39 in the forum (at 19-23 Norton St) has been turned into a high-tech workshop. For a small fee you can use the  3D Printers, Sewing Machines, pottery wheels, Belt Sander and other tools. Three Farm does not seem so hard core as "Make Hack Void" in Canberra, with pottery and photography added to the mix and no UAV construction in evidence.This appears to be part of Leichhardt Council's excellent "Renew Leichhardt" initiative, with artisans taking over unused shop-space. It would be interesting to see if any maker spaces have been combined with co-working offices for micro-business.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Cold War Radar as Art in Sydney

Abandoned Nuclear Missile Detection Station, Greenland Icesheet
© Murray Fredericks 2013
digital pigment print on cotton rag
100 x 165 cm framed
(Ref. MF11)
Murray Fredericks Greenland Project  is on exhibition at Annandale Galleries in Sydney until 8 November 2014. These are large scale photographic prints on canvas of stark landscapes of the Greenland ice sheet, which look like paintings. There are also scenes of the USA's Cold War era Dye-3 Distant Early Warning Radar Station. This looks like the fictional Severnaya satellite ground station in the James Bond film "Goldeneye".

The gallery also has a spellbinding video installation "Topophilia" with video and sound of the Borealis.

 There was also a documentary film made about the Dye-3 station: "Nothing On Earth".

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Origins of the First World War

Greetings from the Australian National University in Canberra, where Professor Gary Sheffield, University of Wolverhampton, is speaking on "Not sleepwalking: The origins of the First World War revisited". He is taking to task  Christopher Clark author of "The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914" for the view that nations stumbled into WW1.

Professor Sheffield is the author of numerous war history books. He suggested the idea of WW1 happening by accident is part of a current disillusionment with the effectiveness of the use of military force and not a reading of the history of the early 20th century. In contrast he argues that WW1 was caused by contrast Germany and Austria.

These issues are not just a matter of historical interest. Australia currently has military forces in the middle east and the Prime Minister of Australia has accused Russia of being complicit in the murder of 28 Australians and threatened to physically assault the President of Russia. Wars have been started over smaller incidents.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Rosie Effect in Canberra

Greetings from the Australian National University in Canberra, where Graeme Simsion is talking about his new book "The Rosie Effect: A Novel". In his introduction Colin Steele mentioned how most of the women in the audience at the talk for his previous book "The Rosie Project", were in love with the leading character in the book and projected this on to Graeme (I confess these were my comments). Graeme related story of how he went from a computer geek to a best selling author with much laughter (and some gently digs at acadmeia) along the way.

The central character on Graeme's books is Professor Don Tillman. The running joke in the books is that Don Tilman is a classic nerd, who applies the scientific method to social situations. Graeme explained that the character was based on a computer nerd and only did others ascribe this to Asperger syndrome. Graeme points out that he did not put this label on the character.

Graeme has also written the script for the film version of the Rosie Effect, to be made by Sony.

One of the unexpected laughs for the evening when Graeme was asked about how hard writing was. He replied that he had written two books about data analysis before a novel. The laugh came when he said "I realise that data analysis is not the same as romantic comedy", but then explained that writing s novel or s script is a process which requires structure and so data analysis skills apply. This is described in detail in a TEDx talk: "It's all design, from IT projects to The Rosie Project" (TEDxUniMelb, Oct 4, 2013).

I felt a little conspicuous sitting in the front row typing this blog posting, wearing a waterproof jacket (like Don Tillman).

ps: Australian now has the Autism CRC, the world’s first national, cooperative research effort focused on Autism. Perhaps Professor Don Tillman should be on the staff. ;-)

Monday, October 13, 2014

International Disaster Risk Reduction Day

Greetings from the International Disaster Risk Reduction Day Forum at the Australian National University in Canberra. The event is sponsored by the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC and there are four speakers today, from Attorney General's Department, Red Cross, and two from the ANU.

  • Andrew Coghlan - Australian Red Cross, National Manager, Emergency Services.
  • Dr Helen James - ANU - specialist in Asian disasters, governance and sustainable development.
  • Professor Stephen Dovers - ANU - Director of the Fenner School of Environment and Society.
  • Samantha Chard - Attorney-General's Department - Assistant Secretary Emergency Management Policy
Most interesting was Dr Helen James discussion of how disasters effect the young, old and females more.

ps: It is an appropriate time to consider if the Australian Government has the correct priorities for protecting the Australian community. The Ebola virus epidemic in West Africa poses a far higher and more intimidate threat to the Australian community than does ISIL in the Middle East. However, the Australian Government is not contributing any of its emergency medical and logistical facilities to the African emergency.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Julie Bishop has stated that Australia does not have the ability to evacuate health workers back to Australia from West Africa as a reason to send no support. However, Australian personnel take part in international operations in cooperation with other countries with mutual support. There is no reason this would not apply in Africa, As it has done in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Last year in Colombo I took part in an event to discuss how the Sahana Software Foundation could enhance the disaster management software it provides free so it can be used to combat a pandemic.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Research Improving Target Detection for Australian Defence

Greetings from the Australian National University in Canberra, where Professor Brian Anderson is speaking on "Optimal Path Planning and Sensor Placement for Mobile Target Detection". This is a problem from the Australian Defence Science and Technology (DSTO), which is looking to improve the effectiveness of radar for detecting aircraft. The same research methods could be used for airborne sensors looking for ground targets. Australia has purchased new military aircraft with sophisticated sensors which could be networked to improve their performance. As an example, the  RAAF's F/A-18 Hornets could exchange digital data with their datalink transceivers.

These techniques can also be used to plot a path for an aircraft to avoid detection. This is currently done in advance of a mission, but that provides limited ability to react if a new radar is detected in mid-flight. 

Go With The Flow a Waste of Water

The University of East Anglia (UEA) reported that two students started a "Go with the flow" campaign encouraging people to urinate in the shower to save water. It was claimed this would save 12 litres of water per day. However, this assumes that the person has the same length shower. If this lengthens the shower, then it may increase the amount of water used. Males in particular are said not to be able to multi-task. ;-)

UEA appears to not have put in place any effective water saving practices. The university quotes the figure of 12 litres of water used to flush a toilet, which is twice  the figure for an Australian standard dual flush toilet. Also UEA could install low or waterless urinals. In addition, low flow shower heads can halve the amount of water used. The water savings from implementing what is routine in Australia would save UEA (and the UK) far more water than publicity stunts like "Go with the flow".

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Official History of Australian Security Intelligence Organisation

Greetings from the Australian National University in Canberra, where Professor David Horner is talking on writing of "Spy Catchers: Official History of ASIO 1949-1963". He explained that this was the result of a government tender, but the book was written independently by university scholars and able to include the names of former ASIO officers (with their permission). Two more volumes are in production, the last to be released in 2015.

The release of the history is timely with the issue of national security and political freedom being publicly debated. The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) was set up to combat the threat of soviet communism (specifically spying on UK and Australian government revealed by the Venona project). However, ASIO assumed that anyone with communist political views was a threat to national security. This has resulted in some amusing reading with the release of ASIO files on now respectable citizens who held radical (bit mostly harmless) political views during their university student days.

There were real communist spies in government agencies and for senior members of the Australian Labour Party (ALP). As Professor Horner pointed out, the exposure of these spies were seen by some in the ALP as politically motived and poisoned the relationship between ASIO and the ALP for decades.

At question time one of the audience explained that their father was a Russian spy  who worked in the Australian government and was ordered by the KGB to undermine the Australian war effort during WW2, when the USSR was allied with Germany. The questioner then asked if the psychopathology of those who take up causes such as spies should be a matter for medical research, not intelligence.

Professor Horner commented that some former ASIO agents were reluctant to be named in the books, but after hearing their collogues would be mentioned also wanted to be mentioned.

Professor Horner  said that two mistakes which ASIO made were to investigate every communist (however irrelivant) and to exceed their authority by taking direct action. ASIO's job was (and is) to collect information which is then acted on by government and the police force.

ps: ANU has also been recently used as the set for the ABC TV series "The Code" and a fictional "Cyber Crime Unit".

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Festival of Social Change in Canberra

Changemakers National Festival of Social Change is being held 17 to 26 October. As part of the festival Canberra is hosting YWCA'  Women leading change and the Deloitte Canberra Social Innovation Pitch. Meetings are being held 8am to 10am each Friday morning up to the festival about organising events this year and next year.
"... a nationwide celebration of the great work happening in our community, an exploration of the ideas, techniques and technologies that are driving this change, and an invitation for everyone to get involved in creating a better future for our communities and our world."
This is an initiative of  the Australian Centre for Social Innovation (TACSI): 
"... created to help find better solutions to complex social problems like child abuse and neglect, Indigenous disadvantage and the challenges of ageing and caring."
The meeting last Friday was attended by about a dozen people. I was not sure what this was all about but went along to Tilley's Devine Café Gallery find out. There were about a dozen people, half who worked, or had worked, in the public service. Some like me just turned up to find out what it was about, one normally had breakfast in the cafe at that time on a Friday anyway (a very pleasant prospect: I spent a six months regularly sitting in Tilley's corner booth writing a book).
One topic which came up was innovations which can help the communality, not just private business. Recently I spent a week in Vancouver looking at education and innovation and am tutoring a team of students producing a new product for Innovation ACT.

Innovation ACT ends with an awards night 25 October, within the Changemakers Festival period. The competition allows for non-profit community initiatives, as well as for-profit private business ideas.

One frustration with innovation competitions has been that students don't get any academic credit for participating. While in Vancouver for the 2014 IEEE International Conference on Computer Science and Education (ICCSE 2014), I dropped in on Philippe Kruchten at UBC Electrical and Computer Engineering. He is involved with the "New Venture Design" course (APSC 486), where engineering and business students learn to produce a business plan for a product. This is an intensive program which requires considerable resources from the university to run. I thought something more lightweight would be possible where the student does the theory component on-line through their university and participates in a competition, such as Innovation ACT, for the practical part.