Sunday, November 30, 2014

Hacked for Humanity in Sydney This Weekend

Tom Worthington and other participants at Random Hacks of Kindness SydneyGreeting from the Commonwealth Bank headquarters at Darling Harbor in Sydney, where Random Hacks of Kindness Sydney (RHoK) has been holding their RHoK November Hackathon. Four teams have been working on four projects with a social purpose. This afternoon presented their results. In order of presentation:
First Stop are building a system for registering survivors after a disaster, so they do not need providing the same details to every agency. This is intended to not add to an already stressful situation and allow more time for helping the survivors. Already First Stop had a barcode printing application using vcard, from a previous RHOK (used for participants at this RHoK). This weekend the team added the capability of adding extra data fields to suit different agencies.

OCIUS: Are providing a website for analysis of data from a   BlueBottle USV . This is a uncrewed solar and wind powered vessel which collects oceanographic data. The problem is explaining to potential users and the general public what the USV can provide and how it can be used. The team looked at needs of the media, environmental groups and researchers. The aim is to demonstrate the system sailing autonomously around Lord Howe Island, transmitting data via SkyWave . I suggested activities for children be built into the website, such as where they carry out calculations from the data and identify and count animals seen by the on-board camera. This reminds me of the Australian developed Aerosonde Robotic Aircraft. which was the first to cross the North Atlantic Ocean (3,200 kilometres in 26 hours). While the system is intended for environmental monitoring, it also has obvious military applications. The Australian shipbuilding industry could do with a boost, having come in for criticism from the Minister for Defence, who said he did not trust the government owned shipbuilder"build a canoe".

First Robotics: This is an Australian offshoot of the US First STEM Project, to interest children in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). First Robotics provide activities for Australian school children using robots (including Lego robot kits). The RHoK exercise this weekend was to look at how to market the activities to parents and teachers. The team produced style guides, wire-frames and surveys for the website.

Benjam: Is a project for the " Woodbury Autism Education and Research" to build an App which al lows children with autism to communicate with their carers. This would use off-the-shelf networked mobile devices and have a user expandable vocabulary. An example given was a new type of biscuit . The team presented a series of use case diagrams, showing the user journey. The concept is that the device would respond to gestures , such as nodding and pointing. While there has been considerable Human Computer Interface (HCI) research on gesture interfaces and some real products (mostly games) these are too compl ex for this use. Suc h an interface might be of use for adults where their attention is limited, such as when driving . Also Australia has an Autism Cooperative Research Centre, which may find this project of interest.

I was one of the three judges and we were unanimous in awarding Benjam a trophy , but all the projects were good.


Random Hacks of Kindness participants in the Commonwealth Bank building in Sydney
The Commonwealth Bank building  in Sydney provided an excellent venue. RHoK u sed a meeting room with a n outdoor area with views o ver Darling Harbor . The building has an atrium letting light down into all levels of the building and an open plan layou t, with no walls at all onto the atrium.

ps: From 19 January 2015 teaching a "New Technology Alignment" (NTA) on-line course at the ACS Virtual College (register now ).

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Hacking for Humanity in Sydney This Weekend

Greeting from the Commonwealth Bank headquarters at Darling Harbor in Sydney, where Random Hacks of Kindness Sydney (RHoK) is holding their RHoK November Hackathon. About thirty people have volunteered their time to work on computer applications with a social purpose. The weekend starts with presentations by those with an idea, or problem, teams then select an application to work on work on. On Sunday afternoon the teams present what they have produced. There is a trophy for the best implementation, but as the organizers emphasize, this is about participating, not winning. I am one of the judges and this should be good experience for when I am teaching New Technology Alignment in January.

One of the problems t work on is analysis of data from the BlueBottle USV. This is a uncrewed solar and wind powered vessel which collects oceanographic data. The problem is the analysis of the large amounts of data the drones collect. 

A second problem owner is "Woodbury Autism Education and Research"They would like an App which allows children with autism to communicate with their carers.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Treehouse at Menangle NSW

For years I have wondered about the house on slits beside the Hume Highway, between Sydney and Canberra. On this trip I noted it was near the Nepean River bridge. So I looked on Google Maps, but could not see a structure. A web search found "Getting tanked (Jul 7 2012), who reports the structure is a water tank. This is surprising as it looks like a house, with a pitched roof. An alternative explanation from the Border mail ("The Smoking Gun"tobacco drying facility.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Helping Public Servants Set Up a Business

Greetigns from the Canberra Innovation Network (CBRIN), where  Dominic Campbell, CEO FutureGov and Mark Headd, Technical Evangelist Accela, are speaking on "Innovation in a public service marketplace". CBRIN has a ‘Public Sector Landing Pad’ (PSLP) program, to help former public servants who want to set up a business. With cutbacks to the Australian public service it is an ideal time to run such a program. There are thousands of ex-public servants who ideas and a considerable amount of capital, but no business experience.

Dominic commented he accidentally left the public sector and started a company FutureGov.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Innovation for Public Service Delivery

Dominic Campbell, CEO FutureGov and Mark Headd, Technical Evangelist Accela, will speak on "Innovation in a public service marketplace" at CBRIN in Canberra, 3:45pm, 26 November 2014.

"... two specialist innovators will explore what it means to innovate in a city designed for public purpose.  
Public service delivery is changing globally – innovative ways of working are being successfully explored – but what does this mean practically?
This facilitated conversation with two international practitioner experts who have “been there, done that” will give you the opportunity to explore and question what this means in reality... the opportunities and challenges, the potential and the pitfalls...."

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Defence Diplomacy: Is the game worth the candle?

Greetings from the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at the Australian National University where three distinguished speakers are addressing the question: "Defence Diplomacy: Is the game worth the candle?". Professor Hugh White began by pointing out that the British Fleet visited their German counterparts short before the outbreak of World War One. This defence diplomacy did not prevent war. He argued the idea of using the military for diplomacy in peacetime is appealing. This may work at the tactical level, but not higher. Military officers from different nations can more easily work together if they know each other. But Professor White argued that military officers are not highly enough placed for the most important diplomacy.

In contrast Dr John Blaxland argued that 2014 is not like 1918 and that in South East Asia a military uniform opens doors. This was based in aprt on his experience as Australia’s Defence Attaché to Thailand and Burma from 2008-2010. He expressed concern that the Australian Defense Force had been concentrating in the last few years on operations in the middle east and Afghanistan.

Peter Leahy ex-Chief of Army, described how Peter Cosgrove, then military commander talked his way into East Timor as leader of INTERFET. Australia's relationship with Indonesia was strained by the East Timor intervention, be renewed by Australia's assistance for the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake. Peter Leahy jokingly emphasized the need for diplomats in the Asian region to play golf and sing karaoke with their counterparts. Australia's new Landing Helicopter Dock Ships (LHD) were nominated by Peter Leahy as a useful for disaster relief and therefore diplomacy. In my view the primary purpose of the LHDs, for amphibious assault, will not be lost on military personnel of the region. The likely result is that military in the region will scramble to acquire a similar capability and also the means to combat it, using submarines. The ability to equip conventional submarines with lithium iron battery technology derived from electric vehicles, increasing their underwater range by five to ten times, is likely to result in a new arms race (in my view).

Professor Nick Bisley pointed put he was the only speaker who had not served in the military or Defense bureaucracy. He noted that Defence Diplomacy where military provides material aid can provide more short term tangible results than high level diplomatic discussions. However, Professor Bisley suggested that this form of diplomacy has only a limited role.

At question time Peter Leahy expressed concern about Australian military officers and units being embedded in allied forces could become too closely enmeshed in the military operations of that country. One of the audience commented that Australian military attaches were assumed to be spies by other nations. Another question was on how much the military could do in the absence of clear national strategic direction. The New Colombo Plan was nominated as a useful form of soft diplomacy (or the "Reverse Colombo Plan" as as Professor White called it).

This was a fascinating discussion of the issues and a much more comfortable one than the previous frightening previous seminar on Possible Use of Nuclear Weapons in Sino-Japanese War

Papers are available:

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Case for Open Data by the Australian Information Commissioner

Greetings from the Australian National University in Canberra where  John McMillan, the Australian Information Commissioner, is giving the keynote address for the "Big data, big opportunity" conference. Professor McMillan pointed out that the "G20 ANTI-CORRUPTION ACTION PLAN 2013 - 2014" made a glancing reference to open data (but I could not find it). He also compared the Australian Government's open data policies unfavorably to those of the USA and the UK. He also pointed out the the Australian Government plans to close down his office (the is the second case of the head of an agency doing important work which the Australian Government is shutting down). The Commissioner pointed out that an IP address can be used to identify a person and so is personal information (this seems an oblique reference to the discussion of meta-data access by security services).

 This is a PHD conference, where the program is mostly research students presenting their work in short snappy presentations (along with some keynotes by celebrities).One I am looking forward to is ‘Putting a Value On It’. The value that New Zealand educational entrepreneurs plan to create, Steve Thomas.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Permit Clotheslines on Apartment Balconies to Help Fight Climate Change

This is to suggest that the ACT Unit Titles Management Act (2011) be changed to prevent the body corporate of cluster housing, such as apartments (flats) from banning clothes drying on balconies. The  model by-law in the NSW Strata Schemes Management Act allows washing, provided it not visible from street level. There is no simialr provison in ACT law and a body corporate is not required to follow the model by-law in NSW. What is wring with washing anyway?

Given that global warming is the greatest issue of our time, having your washing out in the sunlight, rather than in a fossil fuel dryer, should be a positive statement.

Line Drying Petition
I asked one of my local representatives to make the change to the law, Andrew Barr MLA, who passed the request on to the relevant minister, Simon Corbell MLA, the ACT Minister for Environment & Sustainable Development. Minisert Corbell declined to act (coincidently I received the reply while I was attended a talk by the minister). Perhaps other Canberra residents could ask.

Canberra's Low Carbon Future

Greetings from the "2014 Solar Oration" Australian National University where Simon Corbell MLA, the ACT Minister for Environment & Sustainable Development is making a few preliminary remarks. He is discussing Canberra’s renewable energy target of 90% by 2020. He emphasized the adverse effects which global warming would have on Canberra, under a "business as usual" scenario without effective carbon emissions reductions. He welcomed the announcement of action by the USA and China, but criticized the Australian government for a lack of action. However, the minister then mentioned the ACT Government's own reverse auction for renewable energy, which is using an approach not significantly different to the process the Australian government proposes to use.

The Oration Speaker is Greg Bourne, Chair of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency. Mr Bourne described the Prime Minister's comments on "Coal is good for humanity" as being "Out of touch". He described failing to act on climate change as "environmental vandalism". He expects the US President's action to have a significant global effect. The audio, slides and text of Mr. Bourne's presentation is available.

But Mr. Bourne is chair of the board of a government agency charged with increasing the supply of renewable energy in Australia. The Australian Prime Minister clearly does not support renewable energy. However, ARENA's mandate comes from the Australian Parliament, not the executive arm of government.

Mr. Bourne discussed the difficulties for fossil fuel producing companies to transition to provide renewable energy. He described this as a process where a renewable project is started in good times, but not sufficiently fudned and cut when there is an economic downturn.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

G20 Energy Efficiency Action Plan Includes Networked Devices

The G20 Energy Efficiency Action Plan issued in Brisbane today includes as the second of its six priorities: "Participating countries will work together to accelerate the development of new ways to improve the energy efficiency of networked devices". These devices not only include smart phones, computers and televisions, but now home appliances, heaters and air conditioners. As the G20 plan points out, these devices use power, even when in standby mode: "In 2015, this work will include consideration of options for goals for reducing the global standby mode energy consumption of networked devices".

For devices such as smart phones, the standby power could be a significant proportion of their energy use. However, for devices such as air conditioners the standby power is an insignificant part of overall power consumption. The G20 will also work on harmonization of domestic product energy efficiency standards. This could result in significant savings in Australia electricity consumption, as Australia currently has low standards for appliances such as refrigerators and air conditioners. There is considerable scope for reducing the energy consumption of air conditioners in particular with smart technology and for making them more compatible with renewable energy sources. How to progress the G20's energy efficiency plans would be a good project for my "ICT Sustainability" students.

A set of G20 Principles on Energy Collaboration were also issued. G20 countries agreed to work together to: "Rationalise and phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption, over the medium term ..." (item 6) and "... promoting cost-effective energy efficiency, renewables and clean energy" (item 7). This is at odds with the G20 chair last month saying: "Coal is good for humanity, coal is good for prosperity, coal is an essential part of our economic future, here in Australia, and right around the world ..." (from: "Coal 'good for humanity', Prime Minister Tony Abbott says at $3.9b Queensland mine opening", ABC, 13 October 2014).

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians

Greetings from the Australian National University where Professor  Mick Dodson is speaking on Constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians. He pointed out that the Australian constitution "was not exactly a centerpiece in our daily lives" although surveys indicate the Australian population supports constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians. He said the Australian constitution was an exclusionary document with regard to indigenous people. Section 25 contemplates excluding people from voting on the basis of race. He is the author of books and academic papers on the topic, including "Constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians" (Dodson, Parliament of Australia, 2012). The
Interim Report of the Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. was issued in July 2014. This proposes recognition of indigenous peoples and prohibiting of discrimination.

Professor Dodson pointed out that th Australian constitution was one of the most difficult in the world to change, requiring a majority of voters nationally and in every state. He asked if we wanted to retain entrenched parliamentary power to discriminate and suggested that just one question need be put to the referendum: "Do you agree with the repeal of Section 25 and subsection 26 of section 51". The advantage of this, he suggested, was that leaves the question of discrimination to the courts. He suggested other measures should be in a bill of rights, but this was not politically feasible in Australia at present: "Politicians would scurry away in all directions, except the one we want them to go in". If recognition in the Constitution was required for symbolic purposes, Professor Dodson suggested this could be in the readable, where a future parliament could not use it as the basis of discriminatory law.

New Innovation Space Opens In Canberra's Innovation Precinct

Yesterday I dropped in to see the CBR Innovation Network's new offices in Canberra, at Level 5, 1 Moore Street in Civic. This is on the side of the Canberra CBD adjacent to the Australian National University campus and provides a consolidated place for Canberra's innovation initiatives.

In recent years the area adjacent to ANU has seen small IT startups and private education providers move in between the cafes, bars and theaters. Entry 29's provided co-working space (a desk, or a few desks) for micro-businesses with ambitions, in a former building site office. Entry 29 has now moved into the new offices at 1 Moore Street, joining the Griffin Accelerator program and an incubator managed by ATP Innovations.

The new offices only opened last week and are still being set up. Such innovation spaces are traditionally in re-purposed buildings. Fishburners in Sydney is in a colonial era warehouse (with massive timber beams on the ceiling) and Spacecubed in Perth an old bank (with a meeting room in the vault). But CBR Innovation is on the top floor of the old ACT Health building opposite the Canberra Post Office (walk in the wrong door on the ground floor and you would think you are in a hospital).

The new offices are already well equipped, but there are plans to expand to add space for start-up business which have expanded past the micro-business stage and need their own partitioned area, not in the co-working space. This will take some careful design, to provide separation, nut not wall this area off completely from the open areas. The innovation space I saw at the Sri Lanka Institute of Information Technology  (Colombo) were a little too isolated.

ATP Innovations are better known for their work at the Australian Technology Park (ATP) in Sydney. In 1998 I suggested Canberra should emulate Cambridge's high technology success and pointed out ATP as a model.

Innovation ACT is holding a IACT Canberra Innovation Network Workshop at the new offices on 22 November 2014. Innovation ACT is an annual conference sponsored by the ACT Government for students of Canberra's higher education institutions (with about $70,000 in prizes). ANU students can now enroll for credit in my special topic for 2015 "Commercialisation and Entrepreneurship in Technology", to earn credit while participating in the competition.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Possible Use of Nuclear Weapons in Sino-Japanese War

Greetings from the Australian National University in Canberra, where Robert Ayson and Desmond Ball are speaking on the alarming topic of "Escalation in the East China Sea: A Political and Military Possibility". Their thesis is that a dispute between China and Japan in the East China Sea could result in a way which draws in the USA. A lack of crisis management and China’s command and control system's vulnerability could result in their use of nuclear weapons. Professor Ball stated that the USA had plans for "limited" use of nuclear weapons against China, including in a conventional war between China and Japan. Attacks on US undersea surveillance systems around China, some of which are collocated with Japanese facilities may also provoke a nuclear response on Chinese mainland bases. Knowing this China would then be tempted to make a preemptive nuclear strike. One area for concern is that the PLAN (Cihinese Navy) may become overconfident in its abilities.

Executive Summary:
  • Political competition and a lack of crisis management mechanisms could make it very hard for China and Japan to resist escalatory pressures in the very plausible event of a minor armed clash in the East China Sea.
  • Japan’s reluctance to use force may be less extensive than some assume and its connections to US strategy and C4SIR systems increase the prospect of early American participation.
  • Command and control vulnerabilities could mean serious pre-emption pressures if Beijing thought a larger conflict was possible. American attacks on the PLA’s conventional war-fighting systems could create perverse incentives for China to use its nuclear weapons early while it was still confident in its physical ability to do so.
This would suggest some obvious actions:
  • Crisis management mechanisms including a secure political hot-line and military to military communication channels which are regularly tested. Military personnel should visit each other, observe exercises and attend training courses.
  • The USA could ensure it has a Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance System (C4SIR) which can operate separately from that of Japan. Japan could harden its system.
  • China could make clear it has a robust C4SIR. China's deployment of military forces world wide recently may be in part to send such a message to potential enemies. This could include conducting exercises which the media and other nations military leaders are invited to attend. China could improve its C4SIR using its considerable commercial ICT industry capability and workforce.
Ayson and Ball recommend:
  1. Australian planners should assume that China and Japan may not be able to continue avoiding minor hostilities over their conflicting East China Sea claims.
  2. Australian planners should also assume that initial hostilities between Japan and China could easily escalate into a much more serious conflict, potentially involving the United States and possibly crossing the nuclear threshold.
  3. Australian policymakers and decision-makers should encourage their Chinese and Japanese counterparts to treat the Sino-Japanese relationship as an adverse partnership involving common as well as competing interests.
All of this is worrying for Australia as a close partner of the USA and Japan. I suggest Australian could go further and help directly with some of the risk reduction measures, especially where China and Japan could not be seen to be doing this directly. Australia could provide some channels for communication in a crisis. If Australian politicians and military commanders know their Chinese and Japanese counterparts and have secure and robust technical communications with them, they could help defuse a crisis.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Design Canberra

Design Canberra is being held in Canberra, 19 to 23 November 2014. I had difficulty reading the website, so extracted the list of events:

Friday, November 07, 2014

Public Wifi Security Risk

I will be on a panel discussing the security of public WiFi services, on Radio 2CC Canberra, 10:30am Sunday, 9 November 2014. This is timely as news reports indicate that the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) is warning of increased risk of hijacking public wifi networks during the G20 summit next weekend. Even though the G20 is in Brisbane, Canberra makes an attractive target for attack, as the seat of national government and with many public servants, security and military personnel based here.

So far the CBRfree Public WiFi Service covers the central Civic area of Canberra's CBD. The plan is to have 745 access points at a cost of $3.1M. The major security issue with public WiFi is "SSID spoofing”  hot-spots: that is someone sets up what appears to be a public hot-spot, but it is a private system which  reads the traffic before passing it to the public network.

iiNet warn users about “SSID spoofing” when they access the real system (see "Wi-Fi security flaw for smartphones puts your credit cards at risk", The Guardian, Tuesday 26 April 2011 or "Secure user-friendly Wi-Fi access point joining" for a more technical explanation). The system also looks for “pirate” wireless access points. iiNet Online security is important. iiNet recommends users encrypt sensitive information,  maintain strong passwords (and change them regularly), and have anti-virus software and operating system patches. They also seem to be warning not to use the service for on-line banking (which would be prudent).

Apart from the security of the user there is the issue of security problems caused by access to anonymous WiFi. Those with criminal or terrorist intent could use the public WiFi network for planning or conducting illegal activities. As they are not required to register for the service, it will be more difficult for security services to trace their activities.

The CBRfree service is run by iiNet and paid for by the ACT Government, with no charge to users for 250 megabytes per day. The service is provided, in part, to attract tourists and reflect the image of a high-tech city. However, just one serious security incident with the system could undermine Canberra's image as a safe and secure place to visit and do business.

There is an additional public WiFi service available in Canberra: EduRoam. This provides WiFi access on campuses of participating universities worldwide. In Canberra, EduRoam is available at the Australian Catholic University (ACU), Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA), Australian National University (ANU), University of Canberra and CSIRO. EduRoam users have a userid and password but this is encrypted before transmission to their host institution for access (using the 802.1x Network Access Control Standard). This is more secure than having a web page where the user types in their password.

Telstra is also installing 30 Wi-Fi hotspots in Civic.  Telstra can afford to provide the service at no charge to the government, as it is part of the Fon service. Fon customers pay for access to this service, as well as Telstra broadband customers having free access (in return for letting Fon users share their home broadband WiFi). The Fon system requires user-ids and passwords, but does not use the 802.1x standard and so is not as secure as EduRoam. BT offer the FON service in the UK, but suggest subscribers use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to improve security when using the public hotspots.

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Linix From a Magazine

Today I did something I have not done for years: went into a newsagent and bought a computer magazine. In decades past I would eagerly await each new edition of Byte magazine. (final issue July 1998). More recently I would scan the computer section of the bookstore and newsagent's shelves to get a sense of trends in computing. But today I actually went in to buy something. I was installing Linux Mint 17 on a laptop computer and found it was so old it would not run the 64 bit version I had. My wireless modem was going to take 7 hours to download the 1.2 GB required, so the alternative was a magazine with a DVD on the cover (it was too hot a day to walk to the library). Linux User & Developer magazine, issue 142 came with a Linux Mint 17 DVD on the cover (unfortunately sans media drivers), but otherwise very usable. Also there were interesting articles on project OpenXanadu, computers for schools and MOOCs.