Wednesday, December 30, 2015

FTTN in Canberra

at the Canberra Times newspaper asked me about the VDSL2 upgrade iiNet is offering in Canberra. This is an upgrade to the more than decade old Transact Fiber to the Node (FTTN) system, with faster modems. It is similar to the FTTN system proposed for the NBN by the current government, but the Canberra system is superior as the copper cable used was laid especially for FTTN and is not old telephone cable.
 "ANU adjunct lecturer Tom Worthington says the Canberra system has the advantage because there is new cable installed to homes, whereas for the NBN the plan is to re-use old phone cables". From  "iiNet offering VDSL2 in Canberra to compete with NBN", by Alexandra Back, Sydney Morning Herald and Canberra Times, December 29, 2015

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Building a Local Entrepreneurial Community

Apparently I asked one of the libraries I am a member of to get the book "Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City by Brad Feld (2012). I don't recall asking for it, or where I heard about the book. It must have been months ago, when I was writing a course on Innovation for Canberra university students, particularly those participating in the Canberra Innovation Network. The book has just arrived, too late to use in the course, but is none the less useful.

As the name suggests, the book is for those building, a local startup community. As in Canberra, this can involve entrepreneurs (and those wanting to be), governments, universities, investors (be they angels or otherwise), mentors and service providers (in a gold rush those who provide shovels do well).

The book is 224 pages and based on the author's experience in Boulder USA, referred to as the "Boulder Thesis". Unfortunately the book is very USA-centric. As an example it is not explained until the second chapter what "Boulder" is (a city of 100,000 people in the state of Colorado, USA). The author suggests Boulder may have the highest  density of entrepreneurs per head of adult population of any city in the world. However, I suspect that some small university cities may have higher entrepreneurial density. As an example, Cambridge (UK) has a population of about 130,000 and significant start-up activity.

In Chapter two the author takes us through Boulder's pre-Internet start-up era, the Internet bubble and its intimidate aftermath. In Chapter three we learn some theory of what makes for a vibrant startup community and then it is straight into the "Boulder Thesis":
"1. Entrepreneurs must lead the startup community.
2. The leaders must have a long-term commitment.
3. The startup community must be inclusive of anyone who wants to participate in it.
4. The startup community must have continual activities that engage the entire entrepreneurial stack."

From:  Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City, Brad Feld, 2012, Chapter 3.
This would seem to be a useful guide for any community: it should be lead by people from the community, by people with a long term commitment and be inclusive. However, I suggest it is unrealistic to expect everyone to commit to a twenty year plan. There has to be scope for people who have a year or two, a week or two, or an hour or two. If only those with total, long dedication are included, then most people and particularly those with family and other commitments, will be excluded.

In Chapter four Feld argues that the leaders in a start-up community must be the entrepreneurs, but "The best startup communities are loosely organized and consist of broad, evolving networks of people." He is skeptical of the value of government officials who are officially supposed to help with start-ups, such as economic development directors. He sees government programs as well intentioned but not long term enough to be of real value, with staff who do not understand entrepreneurship.

Feld sees government as not being good at investing in entrepreneurial activity. In general I would agree with this. One exception is the ACT Government's investment in the Canberra Innovation Network (CBRIN). The government provided office space and funding for some training and start-up competitions. CBRIN's office and its activities have the low cost, start-up feel to them, not like a glossy government development department. As well as inculcating people from the private sector and the universities with the entrepreneurial spirit, CBRIN also changed with teaching retiring public servants how to move to the private sector. This has the subtle effect of spreading the entrepreneurial approach throughout the public sector.

Also in Chapter four Feld expresses skepticism over the idea that startups need to be near a major university. However, he does agree that human capital (students and university academics) are useful, particularly students. This would agree with the main thesis of the "Cambridge Phenomenon", that the students and staff were important to the development of start-ups around the University of Cambridge (UK).

Feld is less impressed with the usefulness of research facilities at universities or of the formal transfer of licensed research results for commercialization. When I visited the University of Cambridge om years ago to discuss that issue, I found an interesting form of creative ambiguity: no one seemed to agree as to who owned the IP from research. Rather than be a negative, this seemed to provide flexibility for start-ups.

Feld also seems ambivalent as to the role of venture capital investors, seeing them as essential, but often at cross purposes with the entrepreneurs. He is more positive about mentors, almost idealizing them. It has taken me years to be comfortable is the role of mentor to student start-up projects. I was never sure how firm I should be in what advice I gave the students. When I noticed that my students were winning start-up competitions, I stopped worrying so much and assumed I must be doing something right.

A group which Feld mentions only briefly are the service providers, who provide legal, accounting, marketing and staffing advice to start-ups. In events at CBRIN I have met quite a few people from these companies. They seem ready to provide some free advice, in the hope of getting paid work later.

Surprisingly Feld spends more time on the role of large companies, such as Google and Microsoft in helping start-ups. Google has an R&D office in Sydney and comes to Canberra a couple of times a year to recruit university graduates. Many of these people end up in Sydney. Google hosts IT related meetings in its Sydney office (such as the Sydney Linux User Group, lovingly known as SLUG).

The most fun part of Feld's book and the fun part of start-ups is chapter seven on "Activities and Events". He discusses the Young Entrepreneurs' Organization (now known as the Entrepreneurs' Organization) and the Boulder Denver New Tech MeetupBoulder Open coffee Club, Boulder Startup-weekend, CU New Venture Challenge, Boulder Startup Week, Entrepreneurs Foundation of Colorado (EFCO). The point here seemed to be about getting people together in person.

Curiously what is lacking from Feld's analysis, given that many start-ups are about the Internet, is the use of the Internet for collaboration. While I agree it does help for people to meet in person, at least once, many cannot spend time at face to face events. There seems to be a lack of discussion of on-line tools, as if this would undermine the start-up ethos.

One of the impediments to the entrepreneurial community is the jargon. For example, what is an "accelerators"? For startups, this is a short term program designed to provide the venture with advice, training. In chapter eight Feld gives the example of the Techstars accelerator program. He contrasts these accelerators with "Incubators" being set up to help businesses at any time, whereas an "accelerator" is a fixed term program the start-up is run through. There may be accelerators and incubators associated with each other, for example the KILN Incubator and the GRIFFIN Accelerator  are both run out of the Canberra Innovation Network office. As Feld pints out there can also be accelerators run out of universities, although I have seen one example where the accelerator office were very neat and tidy, not nothing seemed to be happening there.

In chapter 9 Feld addresses the role of universities, starting with something called the "Silicon Flatirons Center" at the University of Colorado Law School. The significance of "Flatiron" was lost on me, but this seems to be a center for technology policy research. The problems with limiting examples to Boulder is most apparent in this chapter of Feld's book. The University of Colorado Boulder no doubt shares problems of engagement with entrepreneurial engagement, limited entrepreneurial programs and siloing of programs with other institutions. But there are universities elsewhere in the world which have overcome these problems. Feld's solution is the students. In Canberra this is shown by the enthusiasm with which they have taken up the Innovation ACT program, where students (and other) can form teams and compete to produce a business plan for a startup and ANU TechLauncher, where students undertake a project course to produce a product or service (with the help of alumni as mentors).

The point at which I started to disagree with Feld was chapter ten "The Difference Between Entrepreneurs and Government". He says "Great entrepreneurs are intensely self-aware... Entrepreneurs fail often and own it; government leaders rationalize why something didn’t go their way." However, this criticism of government could be applied to an established organization, public or private. No one running an organization is going to want to admit they do not know what they are doing or have made a mistake. It is very easy for an Entrepreneur who has no customers to say something went wrong, it is much harder for someone running a service lived depend on.

Feld says "Entrepreneurs work bottom up and government works top down". As he says Government has hierarchy, infrastructure, staff and rules. However, there is innovation in the public sector and it does happen bottom up. This innovation usually happens despite the organization structure and rules, not because of it. As an example in the mid 1990s a group of public servants set out to introduce the Internet to the Australian Government. This was not done as a result of any central mandate, quite the opposite (it was done in contravention of central mandate). Part of the process was to change the minds of the senior management and lastly to allow the political level to take credit, retrospectively.  That might sound subversive, but it is how change happens in government and large private sector organizations. This is not usually acknowledged but is not secret. As an example I gave a talk about it in Canberra in 1995: "Internet in Government" and this was reported in the media as  "The cabal that connected Canberra" (1995) and detailed in Peter Chen's 2000 ANU PHD thesis. An interesting experiment is currently being conducted by the Australian Government, with the creation of the Digital Transformation Office. The DTO aims to create "Simpler, clearer, faster public services". The immense challenge is to do this while keeping government reliable and equitable. DTO might benefit from running internal entrepreneur programs and training, or joining in those provided for  students and the public.

Working in and around bureaucracies is an area which is perhaps neglected in the education of entrepreneurs. Many revolutionary business ideas depend on having laws changed. An example are share applications such as Uber and AirBnB, where individuals provide a service to others. Building an IT system to make this possible is the easy part, the difficulties come in getting around the many of laws covering the existing commercial providers of such services. Entrepreneurs might be able to learn from the way public servants effect change.

In chapter twelve Feld.


Feld, B. (2012). Startup communities: Building an entrepreneurial ecosystem in your city. John Wiley & Sons.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Wind Turbine Global Control Center Opens in Canberra Innovation Precinct

On Monday, Simon Corbell, ACT Minister for the Environment, opened Windlabs headquarters at 60 Marcus Clarke Street in Canberra. Wind farms in Australia, and around the world, will be monitored and controlled from here.

Windlabs new HQ is at the north-west corner of what I call the "Canberra Start-up Business Boomerang". These are the city blocks between the Australian National University campus and the Canberra CBD. In the geographic center of this area is the Canberra Innovation Center, which is surrounded by numerous technology and education companies, as well as  related government agencies.

ps: In 2010, my student Sam Fernandes, undertook "Project Cervantes: Can a web server be powered by a wind turbine?". The answer was "no", but he found, that under ideal conditions 40% of the power for a data centre could be provided by the wind.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Open Government Partnership

Greetings from the OGP Australia Information Session at the Inspire Centre, University of Canberra. This is on the Open Government Partnership (OGP) and is to help develop an Australian Government National Action Plan by July 2016. Canada and the UK signed up in 2011 and so Australia has a bit of catching up to do. Perhaps the Australian Government could skip a few steps, and not for the first time, prepare a draft from the Canadian and UK plans.

It happens that the "Centre for Deliberative Democracy and Global Governance" is located at the University of Canberra and might be able to assist.
"OGP’s vision is that more governments become sustainably more transparent, more accountable, and more responsive to their own citizens, with the ultimate goal of improving the quality of governance, as well as the quality of services that citizens receive. This will require a shift in norms and culture to ensure genuine dialogue and collaboration between governments and civil society." From OGP Mission and Plans.

Ruxcon Security Conference Teaching Hacking Techniques in Australia

Greetings from the ANU in Canberra, where Bob "The Builder" Edwards is speaking on "Ruxcon 2015 Computer Security Conference: A Brief Report"
his attendance at the Ruxcon 2015 Security Conference in Melbourne. The conference is sponsored by the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD). As well as the usual presentations, the conference has a Black Bag Competition where delegated attempt to covertly access a computer in the conference hotel and Capture The Flag. Presenters discuss how to hack systems, so as to alert system owners to the problems and to better educate security professionals. One point was that computer systems are getting more complex, which opens up  more security vulnerabilities.

The interesting question for me is how to have some of the fun and excitement of such events in an educational environment, in a way which is safe. One issue is to make sure that students understand the legal and ethical issues involved. Even when the intention is benign there is the problem of preventing educational experiments escaping and causing damage.  One way to address this by having a "Cyber Range" which provides and isolated computer environment to test security. The new Australian SDN Test-Bed, is also intended for security research.

The PM announced a $30M "Cyber Security Growth Centre". It would be interesting to include some contests in this.

Friday, December 11, 2015

E-waste Collection No Longer Operating in Canberra?

Last Sunday I took a computer monitor to the ACT Government's Mitchell Resource Management Centre. I expected to to be directed to a row of bins for computers, TVs and other presorted electronic equipment, as previously. But instead I was directed to a mixed pile of electrical equipment, including washing machines, TVs, printers, and electronic items. Has the ACT Government withdrawn from the  National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme? Is the ACT Government handling e-waste in accordance with local, national and international law, which requires it  to be treated as hazardous.

At the moment I am revising my "ICT Sustainability" course for students at ANU. If e-waste is no longer being recycled in Canberra, I will need to revise the materials chapter.

How do people ask for information?

Greetings from the famous room N101 at the Australian National University in Canberra, where Professor Douglas Oard, from University of Maryland, is speaking on 'Building Search Engines for the “Bottom Billion”'. The example he gave was of an Indian farmer who had some spots on their crop and wanted help in finding out what it was. The intended interface is a mobile "feature phone".

Professor Oard first described work by IBM India using audio information indexed by numbers which was accessible via a mobile phone. He commented this would not scale and non-literate users do not understand the concept of a hierarchical menu. He then described a method for matching audio called "Query by babbling" (Oard, 2012).

Finding a way to provide information to those with limited literacy is a worthwhile research area. However, there is extensive social science research on verbal communication which the researchers might want to review for insights into how people formate queries. I have come across some of this literature as a student of education, such as Venkataraman and Prabhakar (2014).

Also it happens I spent three weeks in an Indian village and had to communicate with the plumber, the miller and other trades. One insight from this is that they do not use just one language, they use a mix. Also hand gestures play a role.

Smart phones are becoming increasingly affordable and this might provide the opportunity for a visual and audio interface. This interface might also have an educational function, displaying words and teaching written communication, while providing a verbal interface.

Audio interfaces are also useful for those who are literate, but not able to use their hands for typing and do not have sufficient attention to compose a formal audio text query. This applies in formal teams, such as those controlling a metro, military command centers, and flight deck crews. These have been extensive studies of how these people communicate. Part of this is about the formal use of language for directed commands and queries. But part of it is the team members overhearing conversations and acting without being directly asked to do so. Automated systems could be good in this role, where they could eavesdrop on the human conversation, responding and taking action, where appropriate.


Oard, D. W. (2012, November). Query by babbling: a research agenda. In Proceedings of the first workshop on information and knowledge management for developing region (pp. 17-22). ACM.
Venkataraman, B. & Prabhakar, T. (2014). Changing the Tunes from Bollywood’s to Rural Livelihoods — Mobile Telephone Advisory Services to Small and Marginal Farmers in India: A Case Study, in Ally, M., & Tsinakos, A. (2014).

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Search Engines for Low-literacy Users

Professor Douglas Oard, University of Maryland, will speak on 'Building Search Engines for the “Bottom Billion”', in the famous room N101 at the Australian National University in Canberra, 11am, 11 December 2015.

This is an event in the CSIRO IR & Friends series, in conjunction with RSCS HCC & Friends.
About three quarters of a billion people are functionally illiterate, meaning that they have no more than a very basic ability to read or write.  Modern search engines are powerful tools for much of the world’s population, but if we are to build search engines for illiterate and low-literacy users we will need to come at the problem differently.  I’ll begin by describing two lines of work on this problem in the broad area known as Information and Communication Technology for Development (variously, ICTD or ICT4D), one that seeks to leverage visual interfaces, numeracy, and limited literacy, and a second that seeks to leverage speech.  I’ll then focus the rest of the talk on the work that we have been doing on speech-to-speech retrieval.
The key challenge that we have sought to address is that most illiterate and low-literacy users don’t speak any language for which we have the sorts of highly engineered Large-Vocabulary Continuous Speech Recognition (LVCSR) systems on which much of the recent work on speech retrieval depends.  A shared-task evaluation in MediaEval started to tackle that challenge in 2011 using a Spoken Term Detection (STD) evaluation.  The results there were promising, showing that systems could often recognize single terms in continuous speech based on examples, without any foreknowledge of the language.  In our work, we have sought to build on one of these MediaEval systems to apply this STD capability to perform ad hoc ranked retrieval (i.e., finding recorded content that is most likely to satisfy a user’s information need).
I’ll describe the “Query by Babbling” interaction paradigm that we have been exploring, in which we are exploring what would happen if instead of short queries and long result sets, as is appropriate for text, we had long queries and short result sets, perhaps a better approach for speech.
I’ll then describe a test collection we have built using spoken content from a voice forum site used by farmers in Gujarat, India (speaking in Gujarati), some ranked retrieval systems that we have evaluated using that collection, and the results that we have obtained.
I’ll finish up with a few thoughts on where the remaining hard spots are with this technology, and what I see as next steps to address those challenges.  This is joint work with Jerome White (NYU Abu Dhabi), Nintendra Rajput (IBM India Research Lab) and Aren Jansen (at the time at the Johns Hopkins HLTCOE).

Doug Oard


Douglas Oard is a Professor at the University of Maryland, College Park, with joint appointments in the College of Information Studies (Maryland’s iSchool) and the University of Maryland Institute for Advanced Computer Studies (UMIACS).  Dr. Oard earned his Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from the University of Maryland.  His research interests center around the use of emerging technologies to support information seeking by end users.  Additional information is available at

Sunday, December 06, 2015

Energy, Climate Change Research and Education After Paris

The Australian National University has a series of events, starting this week, on energy and climate change:

ANU Energy Change Institute Open Day 2015,
ive from the UNFCCC Paris conference by Associate Professor Frank Jotzo. I will be presenting a poster on teaching ICT Sustainability on-line around the globe.

Solar PV - Changing the Energy Landscape, Monday, 7 December 2015, 5:15 pm, Dr Pierre Verlinden, Vice-President and Chief Scientist at Trina Solar

2015 ANU Energy Update, Tuesday, 9am, 8 December 2015, with Mr Ian Cronshaw, International Energy Agency (IEA) and Byron Washom, UC San Diego's Microgrid

Deciphering the Paris Climate talks: where to next?,

Associate Professor Frank Jotzo (back from the UNFCCC Paris conference)

Friday, December 04, 2015

Australian Open Government Consultations

The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet is consulting on an Australian Open Government National Action Plan, 14 to 18 December in Brisbane 14 Dec, Sydney 15 Dec, Canberra 16 Dec and Melbourne 17 Dec. The Canberra event will also be webcast: (Twitter hashtag #ogpau).

Hopefully this will be more successful than the PM&C 2011 consultations on Cyber Security, which has produced no white paper, four years later.

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Export Electrical Energy on Ships

At the Canberra Innovation Network tonight an executive from a local renewable power start-up mentioned that there was a proposal to export electrical power from Australia. This would be done with a high voltage cable through Indonesia. As a thought experiment I suggested exporting a ship load of rechargeable batteries (just as Sneakernet can transport comparable amounts of data to a fiber optic cable).

A quick back of the envelope calculation

A Lithium battery has an energy density of about 2.63 MJ/l, whereas fuel oil is 35.8 Mj/l, 14 times as dense.

The Tesla Powerwall has 10 kWh capacity and is
1300 x 860 x 180 mm (0.2 m3). A standard 20 foot shipping container is 38.5 m3, which would fit about 191 Powerwalls, with 1.91 MWh. The largest ships can carry 18,270 containers, with 3,500 MWh. A HV DC cable can carry 6,000 MW, so there would need to be a ship arriving every half hour t provide this capacity.

However, a major issue with renewable power is storage. The power provided by a storage battery is much more valuable than that from a cable, as the battery stores power. If renewable power has to be stored in batteries anyway, then it might be feasible to transport them in some circumstances.  

ps: None of this had anything to do with the event  I was at, which was a debate about programming languages and the eternal golden braid. ;-)

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Random Hacks of Kindness Sydney Summer Hackerthon

Greetings from the at the Blue Chilli start-up incubator in Sydney. There are five not-for-profit projects which have been worked on over the weekend and now being pitched. There is a judging process (I am one of the judges) but there are no large cash prizes, just some t-shirts and your name on a perpetual trophy. The projects are, in alphabetical order:
There will be RHoK Parramatta, and RHoK Melbourne, next Saturday, 5 December 2015. Go along and join in.

Mum's Army Goes Tivoli at the New Theatre in Sydney

Last night I attended the musical "Dinkum Assorted"(book, lyrics and music by Linda Aronson) at the New Theatre, Newtown Sydney. This is set in country NSW during the later stages of World War II. With most men serving overseas, the local biscuit factory is staffed by women, who also act as air raid wardens.

The first half of the play is reminiscent of the BBC TV show "Dad's Army" with civilians taking on a paramilitary role, some reluctantly, some relishing the power. Meantime the issues of those profiting from war and the tensions of missing loved ones and the temptation of snapshots of US airmen billeted nearby) bring a more serious tone.

The second half gets a little slapstick (also like Dad's Army), then serious and then turns into something like the old Tivoli theater. Choreographer Alyssha Clarke has done a wonderful job whipping the case into a chorus line of Rockettes, while Vocal Coordinator Kieran Fox has the cast singing up a storm.

The set by David Marshall-Martin evokes an old tin shed factory. A simple platform doubles as a local hill. The factory equipment is not entirely convincing (also reminiscent of Dad's Army) and the prop animals in the show are just silly.

This was a fun night and something the New Theater does well: entertainment with a social message. Younger audience members can enjoy this just as entertainment, those of us older may better understand some of the stories our mothers told us about WWII.

"Dinkum Assorted is on at the New Theater in Sydney until 19 December 2015. My ticket was courtesy of the New Theater.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Robot Bartender at University of Sydney

The standout display at the University of Sydney "Anthelion" Graduate Show for Design Computing and M.IDEA last night was the "", robot bartender. This was an industrial robot arm mounted in the center of a semi-circular bar. The patron places a glass on the bar and the robot arm picks up a cocktail shaker, adds ingredients, shakes and pours the drink into the glass.

There were some non-obvious sophisticated features in this design (it seems to have been worked on over several years by the USyd students). Industrial robots are hazardous and normally require a safety barrier to prevent anyone getting too close. In this case, the bar itself acts as the safety barrier. The counter-top is larger than the reach of the robot arm, so a patron cannot get too close. To allow the drink to be delivered, there are two Lazy Susans built into the counter. The patron places their glass in an indentation in the Lazy Susan, which then rotates to place the glass under the arm. Another feature is that the counter-top is made from Formply, a low cost plywood coated with black waterproof laminate.

There were many other impressive projects on display. However, one problem is a lack of on-line documentation about the projects. The Anthelion website allows browsing student details, but not what projects they worked on, making it next to useless. What you get is a set of photos of students and generic skills for each, but no which student did which project.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Transformation of US Emergency Management

Greetings from a meeting organized by the University of Sydney's "Interoperability for Extreme Events Research Group" (IEERG) where Bob Jensen from Strat3 LLC is speaking on how the transformation of US emergency management after Hurricane Katrina. He pointed out there was little comment after Hurricane Sandy because of the lessons learned from Katrina. The main thrust of this appears to be that the US Government took a more proactive role in preparing for disasters and coordinating state and local resources, rather than just responding afterwards. Bob pointed out this was not just a matter for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

One non-government response to Hurricane Katrina was the establishment of the Sahana Software Foundation in California. Sahana is free open source disaster management software developed in Sri Lanka for the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami. This was then offered world wide for free use in other disasters. Hurricane Katrina showed that software which could be run on the computers in local shelters (typically local schools) would be useful. In response the Foundation was set up to better work with US agencies (I am a member of the foundation).

Bob mentioned the importance of disaster management personnel having current training. This is an issue in Australia,  as the Australian Government announced in 2014 that its Mount Macedon emergency management training campus would close by mid-2015, to save money and be replaced by a Canberra based virtual "Australian Emergency Management Institute". On 12 August 2015, Michael Keenan, Federal Minister for Justice, announced that a "New partnership to deliver emergency management professional development", indicating that the new virtual institute was not in operation and not delivering training. The institute says "accredited training opportunities will be available in late 2015". Given that Australia is on a heightened state of terrorist alert and has recently suffered fatalities from brushfires it is of concern that the Australian government does not have in place emergency management training. The financial cost, let along the human cost of this cost cutting could be considerable.

Australia is fortunate in having formal national qualification standards in emergency management, including:
  1. PUA60112: Advanced Diploma of Public Safety (Emergency Management)
  2. PUA52312: Diploma of Public Safety (Emergency Management)
  3. PUA42712: Certificate IV in Public Safety (Emergency Communications Centre Operations)
  4. PUA33012: Certificate III in Public Safety (Emergency Communications Centre Operations)
The highest of these qualifications, the Advanced Diploma of Public Safety (Emergency Management), is offered by ten Registered Training Organizations. One of these is the Attorney-Generals Department Trading as: Australian Emergency Management Institute, AEMI. However, from discussions at the IEERG meeting it appears that the Attorney-Generals Department will no longer be delivering courses and will be instead working with RTOs.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Flexible Coal: Better to Wear Away Than Rust Away

"Flexible Coal" with current base-load power stations converted to peaking plants, may provide a way to increase the use of renewable energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Photo-voltaic and wind generated power are intermittent: when the sun stops shining, or the wind stops blowing, the energy production stops. Conventional wisdom has been that these renewable sources could not make up more than a small fraction of energy generation, until an affordable way to store that energy was found.

The problem was that coal fired power stations, now used to provide the base-load in countries such as Australia, could not be simply switched on when needed. However, the report "Flexible CoalEvolution from Baseload to Peaking Plant", from the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, indicates that with some limited hardware modifications and changes to  operational practice, coal fired power stations can be cycled on and off and run at lower output than previously thought (less than 40% of capacity). Cycling the plant does damage equipment and limit its life expectancy, but may be preferable to scrapping a working plant and having to replace it with an alternative such as gas power.

Modifying coal power stations to provide a backup for renewable energy could significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions far quicker than storage options, such as batteries. Instead of coal providing the base-load and renewable energy supplementing this, PV and wind could provide most of the energy on most days of the year. Coal power would just be switched on when needed: on cloudy windless days, at peak times during the day and at night. Also excess renewable power could be used to heat the coal station's equipment, so it is ready to start more quickly and also reduce damage from cooling.

The conversion of coal stations to peaking plants would provide a political solution for the Australian Government, needs to find a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, while not being seen to be damaging the Australian coal industry. Obviously off-peak coal power stations are not a long term option, as they still will emit significant amounts of carbon dioxide pollution. However, this could be a useful interim measure for the decade or so it takes for storage of renewable energy to become practical.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Simple Menu for Mobile Device

There has been much written on "responsive" web design, which automatically changes to a simplified page layout for mobile devices. However, an even simpler alternative is to use an uncomplicated page design for all devices. One example is not to have complex menu bars.

The usual design has a line of menu options across the top of the page. With a responsive design this become just one menu button on a mobile device (represented by a column of horizontal lines). I decided to just have one menu button on my home page all the time.

Instead of using an image to display the menu button, I used the character "☰" (trigram for heaven Unicode Character 2630). I labeled the menu items with a class and in the CSS included "display: none;" and "hover  {display: block;}". So that the menu options only appear when the cursor is over them and then the page content is pushed down out of the way.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Design You Presentation for a Credit Card Sized Screen

In 2006 I was teaching web design to students at the Australian National University in Canberra. These were computer science students at Australia's leading university and so found web coding a bit too easy. To make it harder I had them redesign web pages for mobile devices. The difficulty here is not the coding, but deciding what information to leave out. Rather than target a specific phone, I had them design for a credit card sized screen. This, I suggested, was as large as a smart phone was ever going to get, as anything larger was not going to fit in the average pocket. It was also, in landscape, about the width of a newspaper column.

At arms length a credit card (or business card) is also the same effective size as the typical flat screen TV in a lounge room, or projection screen in a lecture theater. The average reader holds a book or smart phone 400 mm away and a credit card sized screen is 85.7 mm wide. So doing the maths, a 1 m wide wall screen can be viewed from about 4 m and appear the same size as the smart phone display, and a 4 m wide screen from 20m.

Today the typical size for a smart phone screen is about the size of a credit card (there are larger phones, but they are bulky). When preparing presentations I suggest designing for this size screen.

With some smart phones now having micro-HDMI out sockets it is possible to present on a big screen from a pocket size device. This may result in improved readability of presentations..

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Random Hacks of Kindness - Info Night

Greetings from the at the Blue Chilli in Sydney. There are five not-for-profit projects being pitched to hackers, for the, being held 28 November. The idea is that volunteers form teams to work on projects which have a social, rather than financial, outcome. There are two phases: those who want something built first have to pitch to the hackers  and then the hackers work on the projects. There is a judging process (I am one of the judges) but there are no large cash prizes, just some t-shirts and your name on a perpetual trophy. Also, unlike other such competitions, some projects are on-going, building on what teams built previously. In the past I have seen some interesting mixes of team members from marketing, user interface design and coding. There is no fee for taking part and no prior experience is required.

Blue Chilli is a start-up incubator, with a six stage process:

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Geoff Huston Inducted Into the Pearcey Hall of Fame

Greetings from the ACS Disruptors and Pearcey Awards in Sydney, where Geoff Huston inducted Into the Pearcey Hall of Fame for his contribution to Internet technology. I remember Geoff from a talk he gave in the 1990s where he told a room full of federal government IT professionals, including myself, that we, along with the US and UK governments, had selected the wrong networking  technology. What we had selected "OSI" was going to be roadkill squashed by the Internet. This was not the blunt terms we were used to hearing, but from that point federal government policy started quietly changing.

Reimagining Australia in Sydney

Greetings from the Reimagination Summit at the Star Casino in Sydney (to be followed by ACS Digital Disruptor Awards). The event is about "digital disruption" a term I don't like, although admittedly much of IT innovation does disrupt old processes in bringing in new. Also the idea that new technologies spring up suddenly is nonsense: the technologies which are now changing the way people learn and work have been developed over decades. This is not to downplay the importance of new technological developments, but it is as hard to work out how to put the invention into practice as to think it up in the first place. I see this in mentoring university students who are producing start-up businesses (I am designing a m-learning innovation course to help with with).

One of the speakers commented that this was not the repeat of the DOT.COM bubble at the beginning of the century. I believe there is some risk of this. What we need is not boosterism extorting CEOs and Prime Ministers to go digital, but a careful examination of what would useful and testing it actually delivers on the promises. Fortunately Australia now has a Prime Minister* who has experience sorting tech claims from reality. Unfortunately many companies do not have this depth of experience in their board rooms.


  • Peter Switzer: Master of Ceremonies, SkyNews
  • Brenda Aynsley, OAM: President, ACS
  • Wayne Fitzsimmons: Chair, Pearcey Foundation
9:10 AM: KEYNOTE – The Importance of Ecosystems in New Business Models
  • Craig Dunn: Chair, Stone & Chalk
9:40 AM: KEYNOTE – New Business Models and Value Creation in the Digital Age
  • Kevin Ashton: Inventor of the term ‘The Internet of Things’, Creator of WeMo, Co-Founder & CEO of Zensi
10:40 AM: MORNING TEA 11:10 AM: PANEL – Extending Australia’s 24th Year of Uninterrupted Annual Growth
  • Dr Stefan Hajkowicz: Principal Scientist in Strategic Foresight, CSIRO
  • Dr Paul Paterson: Chief Economist, Department of Communications & Head of BCR
  • Dr Ric Simes: Partner, Deloitte Access Economics
12:00 PM: PANEL – Solving the STEM Crisis to Assure a Prosperous Australia
  • Prof Ian Burnett: Dean, Faculty of Engineering & Information Technology, UTS
  • Prof Mary O’Kane: NSW Chief Scientist & Engineer, NSW Government
  • Sally-Ann Williams: Engineering Community & Outreach Manager, Google
12:50 PM: LUNCH 1:50 PM: PANEL – Using Technology as a Source of Competitive Advantage
  • Dr Hugh Bradlow: Chief Scientist, Telstra
  • Sara Braund: VP Chief Information Officer, Woodside Energy Ltd
  • Ajay Bhatia: Chief Product Information Officer,
2:40 PM: PANEL – Navigating Disruption
  • Drs Patrick Maes: GM Strategy & Planning GTSO and CTO, ANZ Bank
  • Cordelia Kerr: General Manager – Portfolio Management, Tabcorp
  • Dr John Burgin: Head of Digital – Asia Pacific, Cognizant
  • Michael Malone: iiNet Founder & Former Chief Executive
3:30 PM: AFTERNOON TEA 4:00 PM: KEYNOTE – Beyond Automation: Adding Value to the Work of Very Smart Machines
  • Tom Davenport: President’s Distinguished Professor of Information Technology & Management, Babson College


  • Nikki Phillips: Master of Ceremonies, Media Personality and Digital Influencer
  • The Hon. Victor Dominello, MP: Minister for Innovation and Better Regulation
  • John Grant: Managing Director of Data#3, Chairman of ARL Commission

* Note: I was previously taken to task by a journalist after a TV interview in which I complemented the Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull on his use of non-government email services. I was criticized for not declaring a conflict of interest, in that I was on a board with Lucy Turnbull, the PM's wife, for five years. The board is for On-line Opinion, a not-for-profit academic on-line journal, Ms. Turnbull left the board more than five years ago and my role was confined to providing some advice on e-publishing. I don't think this is an interest, let alone a potential conflict, but I given the issue has been raised, I though I should mention it.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Data 61: Time for Ideas into Action

Greetings from Data 61 at the Australian Technology Park in Sydney, for "Australia3.0: catalysing ideas into action". There is a panel with David Rohrsheim GM Uber Australia and New Zealand,  Jason Clare MP Shadow Minister for Communications and Nick Abrahams Author “Digital Disruption in Australia”. Jason Clare had the most perceptive comment of the day, when said: "Australian researchers produce twice as many academic papers per head as their US counterparts, but half as many patents". This aspect got left out of the subsequent discussion: how to harness publicly funded research, for community benefit.

Before the panel I had a quick tour of Data 61, which was formed from the IT research components of CSIRO and NICTA. What I hope to hear was how the new organization was going to do things differently, to overcome the problems which occurred with CSIRO and NICTA, who were not able to effectively transition research into commercially successful invitations. Unfortunately what I instead saw were some old NICTA demonstrations. More than $1B has been invested by the Australian community in Data 61/NICTA and the organization has about six months to come up with a credible strategy to show a return on that investment.

The NSW Government announced 12 November 2015 that Mirvac would purchase the Australian Technology Park (ATP), with the Commonwealth Bank as the major tenant. This provides a good opportunity for Data 61 to rethink what they do and how they do it. Data 61 needs to to be able to answer the question I ask every research student in their final presentation: "How can we make money out of this?".

NICTA and CSIRO in the past have taken the approach of gently introducing its researchers to commercial considerations. Generally this approach has not worked and there is little prospect if Data 61 succeeding if it continues this approach. I suggest they need to formally training staff in innovation and entrepreneurship and have them take part in start-up competitions. Some staff may find this unpalatable and they can be encouraged to find a job in academia. The remaining staff can then get on with producing results.

Friday, November 13, 2015

What Are These Apps?

My new Lenovo A588T Android Flip Phone is going well. The battery lasts 72 hours with normal use. I am getting used to the large size (and it is smaller than many smart phones, when a protective case is added). 

One issue is some of the Apps installed on the phone. I found that "Homily Chart" from

Indonesian Trade and Cultural Fare in Canberra

Minister for Trade and Investment, The Hon Andrew Robb AO MP
Greetings from the National Convention Centre in Canberra, where the Indonesia Business Summit just opened. This will be followed by an Indonesian trade and cultural fare over the weekend. The major event of the day is the signing of a MoU between Indonesia Port Corporation (IPC) and Port of Townsville (POTL). Andrew Rob, Australian Minister for Trade and Investment is here for the signing.

I was invited along as I am part of an Indonesia-Australia energy research project and have talked on this at UIN Suska University of Riau. Unfortunately education is not on the agenda for today's summit. Co-operation on education would appear an obvious area for expansion between Indonesia and Australia. In his speech Minister Rob pointed out that education was Australia's second largest export to Indonesia. He also pointed out that the first preference of Australian students to study overseas was Indonesia, under the New Colombo Plan. Unfortunately Australia's education exports are at risk. The failure of the Australian government and Australian universities to prepare for the "disruptive" change now taking place due to the Internet will render the current system irrelevant within five years. More immediately the Australian Government's failure to correctly design and administer the VET FEE-HELP system has placed at risk the reputation of all of Australian higher education.

ps: I am not the "Shadow Minister for Sport and Recreation", despite it saying that on my delegate badge for the summit.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Vale Kerry Webb

Kerry Webb
The Canberra Times announced the death of Kerry Webb, former ACT government Web architect and Director of Systems for  the National Library of Australia, 7 November 2015.

Kerry was central to getting the Australian Government on the web in the mid 1990s. He was a member of the informal "Internet Conspiracy" of government, academic and industry people who helped formulate Australian Internet policy. His vision is set out in "Provision of Australian Government Information on the Internet" (1996). Kerry was regular contributor to the "Internet Reality Check", held in Canberra during the middle to late 1990s, with Tony Barry and Eric Wainwright.

A contributor to his profession, Kerry wrote the "Webb's web" column in the Australian Library and Information Association magazine "Incite" from January 2005 to December 2012. Also he co-authored with Christine Frey (Goodacre) "Microcomputers in Australian libraries" (ALIA, 1991) and "Automating a small library" (ALIA, 1992). The NLA also has the sound recording by Kerry "Web based tools for libraries" (2008).

A long term contributor to the Link list on Australian network policy and communications, Kerry's first post was "Australian Government Web Page", 12 Apr 1995. There are 159 posts by, or mentioning, him.

I fondly remember Kerry Webb's bemused jibes at my presentations on matters to do with the Internet and self-promotion therein. I will miss his shouting "Bingo" whenever I mentioned the "USS Blue Ridge" in a talk. ;-)

Making the Law an Open e-Book

Tom Bruce
Greetings from the famous room N101 at the Australian National University where Tom Bruce and Sara Frug from the Legal Information Institute at
Cornell Law School are speaking on how readable the law is for non-lawyers. They have been working with Michael Curtotti and Eric McCreath at ANU. They have recently published papers on " Machine learning for readability of legislative sentences" and "Citizen Science for Citizen Access to Law".

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Government and the Internet

Greetings from Parliament House in Canberra, where the Parliamentary Friends of the Internet Group is holding its first meeting. There are MPs and representatives of Internet related organizations (such as Internet Australia), as well as some individuals (such as myself). It is twenty years ago that professional and industry representatives  appeared before a series of parliamentary inquiries to explain what the Internet was. It is good to see that members of the tech community are still undertaking this important task.

One topic discussed was innovation, both in terms of business, but also not-for-profits. Wyatt Roy MP, Assistant Minister, Innovation just came into the meeting. He  visited the CBR Innovation Network (CBRIN) on in September. This is a few kilometers from Parliament House and provides a good example of the fostering of the start-up culture.

I was a surprised that the NBN only got one brief mention and there was no mention of education.
Senator Chris Ketter will be hosting the next Parliamentary Friends of the Internet meeting.

Lenovo A588T Android Flip Phone

I purchased a Lenovo A588T Android Flip Phone. This is a low cost Android smart phone, with a 4 inch touch screen. What makes it different to many others on the Australian market is a mechanical keypad hinged to the bottom. It looks large and a little odd, like two regular 4 inch smart phones joined end-to-end, but works well.

My phone is from from in Hong Kong and cost US$103, including delivery. I ordered it 4 October, it was shipped 10 October and arrived 6 November (I did not pay the extra for express delivery). The phone arrived in a small box with a earphone/microphone, USB/micro-USB cable and a very small USB mains charger (with US power pins).

There was a brief guide in English and a manual in Chinese. The diagrams in the Chinese manual were sufficient to see how to open the back of the phone to insert a SIM card.

The phone is dual SIM and a handy, unusual, feature is two different size SIM slots: one for an older style larger mini-SIM, the other for a newer smaller micro-SIM. You can use a micro-SIM card in the mini-SIM slot, using an adapter, but I happened to have an Australasian Vodafone mini-SIM card, put it in and the phone worked fine. The phone booted in English, not Chinese, and was easy to set up.

The phone is in black plastic with gold highlights. It has a 360 hinge between the mechanical keypad part and the 4 inch touch screen. It is reasonably easy to hold, if a bit big. The 4 inch touch screen is very easy to read and type on, but shows smudges from my ear (when used for calls). The phone keypad is very large and has a good mechanical "click"

You can use this phone for calls, with the flip open flat at 180 degrees (call quality is excellent). You can fold the screen further back 360 degrees over the keyboard, to just use the touch screen (it is easier to use than explain). Some marketing photos show the hinge at about 60 degrees with the phone tent-like, but it does not lock in that position (nor could I see any point in doing so). In practice the balance is such that the touch screen is usable in the 180 degree flip mode. Some of the android functions are reproduced on the top of the mechanical keyboard and there is a a cursor keypad. These keys are very handy to use.

The Lenovo logo on the front of the phone lights to indicate charging. The phone has a relatively large battery, with a standby time of more than a week (I am not sure I believe the official specification claiming more than a month).

While being big and a bit clunky, the phone fits my pocket and my needs. I wanted something good for making phone calls, with a protected screen of the smallest practical smart-phone size (4 inches) and dual SIMs.

There are some quirks with the phone. While there are the usual letters on the numeric keypad these do not function for typing SMS messages (you have to use the QWERTY keypad on the touch screen). The marketing material refers to the "leather-like texture" of the back of the case, but it is just hard plastic with a pattern embossed on.

One change I would suggest for the phone would be to round the corners, so it does not look so big, slides into a pocket more easily and sits in the hand more comfortably. Another change would be to make both SIM slots mini size (micro cards could still be used with an adapter). Apart from that there is little to improve. There are a small number of other Android flip phones from Korean and Chinese companies. These have multiple and higher resolution screens, but this increases the cost, power consumption and fragility of the phones. The Lenovo A588T provides a  low cost, usable unit.

TypeBrand New
Power AdapterUS Plug
Housing Case MaterialPlastic
Released Time2014
Network Type2G , 3G
Band DetailsTD-SCDMA 1880-1920/2010-2025 GSM 900/1800/1900MHz
Data TransferGPRS
Network ConversationOne-Party Conversation Only
WLAN Wi-Fi 802.11 b,g,n
SIM Card TypeStandard
SIM Card Quantity2
Network StandbyDual Network Standby
Infrared PortNo
Bluetooth VersionV4.0
Operating SystemAndroid 4.4.2
CPU ProcessorMT6582 1G-1.2GHz
CPU Core QuantityQuad-Core
LanguageEnglish, Afrikaans, Bahasa Indonesia, Bahasa Malay, Bosnian, Catalan, Cestina, Dansk, Deutsche, Eesti, Espanol, Filipino, French, Hrvatski, IsiZulu, Italiano, Khmer, Kiswahili, Latviesu, Lietuviu, Macedonian, Magyar, Nederlands, Norsk, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Rumantsch, Slovenian, Slovenscina, Suomi, Svenska, Vietnamese, Turkish, Urdu, Greek, Bulgarian, Russian, Serbian, Ukranian, Arabic, Persian, Hindi, Thai, Bengali, Korean, Japanese, Simplified/Traditional Chinese
Available Memoryabout 2GB
Memory CardMicroSD(TF)
Max. Expansion Supported32GB
Touch ScreenCapacitive Screen
Screen Resolution800*480
Screen Size ( inches)4.0
Camera Pixel5.0 MP
Touch FocusYes
Talk Time27Hour
Standby Time760Hour
Battery Capacity2250mAh
Battery TypeReplacement
Other Features
featuresWi-Fi , GPS , FM , Bluetooth
Waterproof LevelIPX0 (Not Protected)
Dust-proof LevelNO
I/O InterfaceMicro USB , 3.5mm
USBmicroUSB v2.0
Format Supported3GP, MPEG4, H.264, MP3, AAC, MIDI, WAV, AMR
TV TunerNo
Radio TunerFM
Wireless ChargingNo
Dimensions & Weight
Dimensions 4.75 in x 2.46 in x 0.66 in (12.06 cm x 6.25 cm x 1.68 cm)
Weight 6.29 oz (178.4 g)
Packing List
1 x Phone
1 x Travel Charger(100~240V /2-flat-pin plug)
1 x Battery(2250mAh)
1 x Earphone (90cm-cable / 3.5mm plug)
1 x Data cable (90cm)
1 x English user manual
1 x Warranty card

 ps: At the moment I am a student of mobile learning: that is learning how to design courses delivered using smart phones and tablet computers. I did not own a smart phone or  tablet computer when I enrolled in the course (just a laptop with a wireless modem). So I purchased a 7 inch Google Android Tablet (XO Tablet) and the smart phone. Learning to use these devices has been an education in itself, even before seeing how to use them for teaching.

New Chinese Foreign Policy

Greetings from the Australian National University in Canberra, where Ryan Manuel, postdoctoral fellow and Will Zou, Morrison Scholar at the Australian Centre on China in the World, are speaking on 'Xi Jinping's "New Confucian" Foreign Policy'. Ryan argues that the Chinese Communist Party sees itself as a moral player on the world stage. Xi Jinping needs to reflect this, combining messages for the Chinese domestic ears and for the world. An interesting point made in terms of the situation in the South China Sea was that China uses scale: one country sets the precedent by doing small small scale building on a reef, China then builds a large airstrip on another reef. He suggests that the Chinese response to the US sending one frigate will be to send a fleet.

One problem for researchers is to determine what is an authoritative Chinese foreign policy statement. Ryan showed a diagram of the Chinese government and commented the state component looks much like that of Australia, the difference being the overriding role of  the party. The party Politburo Standing Committee issues "commands" equivalent to policy documents in the Australian system.

Ryan's analysis of 931 central decrees indicates that there are no authoritative foreign policy documents. He pointed out that the Chinese foreign minister has a relatively low rank in the government, compared to western equivalents. He conclusion was that it is Xi Jinping sets the foreign policy directly. An example "One Belt On Road" (September 2013) speech resulted in an action plan in 2015. However, Ryan did not indicate to what extent the action matched the original vision (in western government it is common for what is implemented to not match the original announcement).

Will Zou, addressed the question of what a Confucian foreign policy would look like. He carried out an analysis showed that Xi Jinping had used far more traditional Chinese sayings (such as "What matters most is harmony" and "It is the nature of things to be of unequal quality") than Hu Jintao. These were used particularly for USA, multilateral organizations and India. Will argues that therefore these speeches were intended for Chinese literate audiences and internal Chinese domestic audiences. The message is that China has its own culture which must be respected. This, I suggest, also is not different to western practice, where a leader will make a public speech in an international forum, but addressed at a domestic and internal government audience, drawing on national culture.

Will Zou, points out that Xi Jinping draws not just from Confucian sources. He quoted the People's Daily newspaper "We can already leave behind the experience and language of the west ...". This I suggest brings up a point in interpreting what a leader says: who actually wrote the speech? Leaders do not generally write their speeches and there is a team of people involved. There can be factions and differences of opinion within a leader's office. In answer to a question, Ryan said it was not possible to work out who wrote the speeches. However, I suggest it may be possible, I suggest, to carry out an analysis of speeches to determine who wrote which part and see what the factions are.

I had some insight into the Chinese government when I took part in a Beijing 2008 Olympics Organizing Committee meeting in 2003. Musch as might happen in Australia there were government, academic, business and media people involved. The Peoples Daily newspaper were providing the website for the Olympics. The closes equivalent of the Peoples Daily in Australia is the ABC, but the Peoples Daily is part of the government, rather than a media organization owned by the government. I asked Ryan if the way speeches are promulgated has changed and he said it had not: the text is put out and then the government system "kicks in" to interpret and "operationalize" it.

Saturday, November 07, 2015

FastMail Classic Interface

For several years I have been using FastMail's email service. This provides custom spam filtering of email before it reaches my computer. They also provide a simple web interface. FastMail have now added a more interactive interface, but the classic interface works better on a slow wireless Internet connection. FastMail are retaining the old interface and providing a separate web address for those who prefer it. Other service providers should follow this practice. Both Facebook and LinkedIn have web interfaces which are, at times, unusable on a slow link.