Sunday, June 28, 2015

Power Meter

This week I am running a 90 minute training session on ICT sustainability for a government organization, using a modified version of "How Green is My Computer". When run as a face-to-face session, I get some of the students to come out the front and measure the power use of some computer equipment using a meter. One student handles the meter, one sets up the equipment and another writes up the figures. The other students shout out suggestions and help with the calculations.

My old meter was not working and I noticed Aldi had a "Bauhn Power Meter" for $14.95. This works reasonably well, with a large LCD display. One curiosity is that it has a readout of kgCO2, but I can't find how to set the conversion factor for converting from kWh. The Model 39085 Power Meter Manual shows how to set the cost of electricity, but not the kg/kWh.

ps: The main use of such meters is education. In practice an appliance's manual is just as useful for estimating energy use, or just the class of device (desktop computers all use about the same amount of power, as do LCD monitors).

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Health and climate change report

Apparently a group called the "2015 Lancet Commission on Health and Climate Change" have released a report. I am sitting in a presentation by the authors (Neil Adger, Nick Watts and Anthony Costello). They say the report is available free from the Lancet website, but I am having difficulty finding the actual report, which may be titled "Health and climate change: policy responses to protect public health" (23 June 2015
S0140-6736(15)60854-6). A Google Scholar search did not find it.
"The 2015 Lancet Commission on Health and Climate Change maps out the impacts of climate change, and the necessary policy responses, to ensure the highest attainable standards of health for populations worldwide. This Commission is multidisciplinary and international, with strong collaboration between academic centres in Europe and China. The central finding from the Commission is that tackling climate change could be the greatest global health opportunity of the 21st century."
 The quality of the sound on the video link from the UK is also low so I can't quite hear what the speakers are saying. It is unfortunate that the authors put so much effort into writing a report but did not expend the required effort on distributing the results.

As far as I can tell the content of the  report is the same sort of well meaning but counter-productive material which as been produced by climate scientists, but from a health perspective. The problem is when scientists and specialists try to explain climate change to the general public. By providing simplified explanations they open themselves up to attacks from those with a vested interest in delaying action on climate change and still can't make it simple enough for the general public to understand. At best the public and decision makers will be confused, at worst they will think the scientists are trying to trick them.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Digital Camouflage for Wind Towers

The Australian Prime Minister has described wind farms as "visually awful". Previously I suggested Digital Camouflage for Wind Turbines. The towers need to be made visible close up so that low flying aircraft do not collide with them. This could be done by painting the towers with  a pattern of high contrast colors. Close up a pilot would see a checkerboard pattern, as used on radar antennas at an airport. From a distance the pattern would merge into a green/blue color which would blend with the ground and sky. The checks of about 200mm would act as camouflage from about 3 km, but still allow the pilot of a light aircraft sufficient time to see and avoid the tower (about twenty seconds).

Sunday, June 21, 2015

What will Pope Francis do about the Internet and Climate Change?

"On the care for our common home" (Laudato si'), the second encyclical of Pope Francis (24 May 2015), touches on the social effects of the Internet and global warming. The Pope does not attempt to debate the issues, but instead point out their moral dimensions. The document has extensive references, but these are to ecclesiastical sources, not scientific ones. This is not a flaw in the document, but a strength. Particularly in the case of climate change, scientists have fallen into the trap of thinking that more facts will persuade people. There is plenty of research to show this does not work. Like naughty children we will debate an issue endlessly rather than do something unpleasant which we know must be done eventually.

However, the test will be what the Vatican does, rather than what it says others should do. What action is the Vatican taking on the use of the Internet and climate change? As an example will priests be trained in how to relate to their flock on-line, as well as in person? How credible are Vatican City's claims to be carbon neutral?

One problem with the document that while the sections and paragraphs are numbered, these are not hypertext targets, making it difficult to point to a particular passage.

Social effects of the Internet

"Real relationships with others, with all the challenges they entail, now tend to be replaced by a type of internet communication which enables us to choose or eliminate relationships at whim, thus giving rise to a new type of contrived emotion which has more to do with devices and displays than with other people and with nature. Today’s media do enable us to communicate and to share our knowledge and affections. Yet at times they also shield us from direct contact with the pain, the fears and the joys of others and the complexity of their personal experiences. For this reason, we should be concerned that, alongside the exciting possibilities offered by these media, a deep and melancholic dissatisfaction with interpersonal relations, or a harmful sense of isolation, can also arise."
From Paragraph 47. Section IV. "On the care for our common home", Francis, 24 May 2015.

 Climate Change

"The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all. At the global level, it is a complex system linked to many of the essential conditions for human life. A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system. In recent decades this warming has been accompanied by a constant rise in the sea level and, it would appear, by an increase of extreme weather events, even if a scientifically determinable cause cannot be assigned to each particular phenomenon. Humanity is called to recognize the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption, in order to combat this warming or at least the human causes which produce or aggravate it."

From Paragraph 23. Section I. Pollution and Climate Change, "On the care for our common home", Francis, 24 May 2015. 

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Climate Negotiations 101

Greetings from the ANU Centre for European Studies which is hosting European Climate Diplomacy Day. International Climate Negotiations 101. The Italian Ambassador called on nations to follow Europe's lead. There was then a screening of the film "The Climate Blueprint". This documentary is about one hour long and in my view is a self indulgent counter productive waste of resources. What the documentary said to me was that the world have no effective process for combating climate change. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) process has proved unworkable and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) ineffective. The message from decades of the UNFCC and IPCC processes is that they did not work. It is pointless to apply the same process and expect any better outcome. I suggest that these 19th century processes be discontinued and an Internet approach suitable for the 21st century be applied. This would see solutions worked out on-line without massive meetings which are subject to manipulation. I suggest that climate scientists and other experts should stop lending their credibility to the current UN processes as they are thereby holding up progress and placing the population of the planet at further risk. For my part I am teaching how to reduce carbon emissions by using ICT.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Australia's Digital Pulse

Greetings from the National Press Club in Canberra, where Malcolm Turnbull, Minister for Communications, is speaking at the launch of "Australia's Digital Pulse". This eighty page report was prepared for the Australian Computer Society (ACS) by Deloitte.

Brenda Aynsley, ACS President, said we need a deeper pool of ICT professionals and a focus on STEM skills in classrooms.

The report was prepared by Dr Ric Simes and John O’Mahony at Deloitte Access Economics. As well as the full report the key findings are available.

One point made by the authors is that while ICT is important to the economy and there are plenty of ICT jobs, the enrollments in ICT at Australian universities is declining. Australia is now importing many more ICT professionals than it is graduating at its own universities. The mining sector diverted students from ICT to other industries. Also the perception is that ICT degrees are for geeks, not cool digital business people. Also the current boom in the ICT industry is not as visible as the mining boom.

The authors also warned of a digital divide at schools, with a few who are literate and many who are not. Computer studies at Australian schools are also declining.  A national curriculum of digital technologies is being introduced but I notice that NSW appears not to be prompt to implement it (a topic for a future ACS e-Learning Special Interest Group in Canberra).

The Minister said he was excited by the digital revolution, including the additional hotel rooms being provided in Sydney without any new buildings, due to Internet booking. The minister urged Australia to embrace the volatility due to the Internet. Perhaps Australian government agents will use digital currency to buy off people smugglers in the Arafura Sea ;-)

More seriously, the Minister asked why female participation in the ICT industry is decreasing.He suggested joking that some culture change to the stereotypical pizza eating caffeine drinking male computer nerd.

I did a quick search of the report and found that "Massive Open Online Course" (MOOC) gets a mention, but no other forms of open access to education. The report appears to cover many of the same issues in the "#SMARTer2030: ICT Solutions for 21 st Century Challenges" by Accenture for GeSI (2015).
"Digital technologies is one of the fastest growing parts of Australia’s economy with its economic contribution growing from $50 billion in 2011 to $79 billion in 2013-14.
Deloitte Access Economics and the Australian Computer Society Australia’s have partnered to produce Australia's Digital Pulse which examines how digital disruption is dramatically changing industries and occupations across the economy.
The report found there has been 5% growth in the number of ICT professionals, with an increase to 600,000 ICT workers in 2014, and demand for a further 100,000 workers over the next six years. Despite the demand, the number of graduates with ICT qualifications has declined significantly since the early 2000s.
The report shows that Australia needs a workforce that is equipped with the ICT skills necessary to fuel its digitally-driven economic growth. This creates an enormous opportunity for students considering a career in ICT.
Key findings
  • Employment in the ICT sector is expected to grow by 2.5% per year over the next six years to 2020. Compared to employment for the economy as a whole, which is forecast to grow by 1.6%
  • The gender pay gap in ICT stands at 20%, significantly lower than the workforce average of 34%
  • 47% of all workers who studied ICT are now in other professions, such as advertising, marketing or accounting
  • 43% of workers in ICT occupations studied courses other than ICT or engineering, such as commerce and management degrees
  • 52% of ICT workers are in industries outside ICT itself including professional services, public administration and financial services
  • The highest growth rate in demand for ICT qualifications is forecast for postgraduates, with demand forecast to grow at 4.2% annually over the six years to 2020."

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Judging a Hackathon

Greetings from day 2 of Random Hacks of Kindness (RHoK) Sydney winter hackathon, in the Commonwealth Bank headquarters at Darling Harbor. There four teams which have spent the weekend working on projects. They are presenting their results and I am one of three judges who are to award a prize (which is a cheap looking perpetual trophy to make the point it is not about winning).

We are listening to the people with the six projects, who are pitching to the hackers, who then decide what to work on for the rest of the weekend.

One thing I have learned is "user journey" also one team used catchable HTML5 (which did not work on one demo machine). Two teams merged to work together.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Hacking for Humanity in Sydney

Greetings from the Random Hacks of Kindness (RHoK) Sydney winter hackathon, in the Commonwealth Bank headquarters at Darling Harbor. There are about fifty people who will spend the weekend working on one of six projects designed to help the world.

We are listening to the people with the six projects, who are pitching to the hackers, who then decide what to work on for the rest of the weekend.

The projects

The first project is Communiteer to manage skilled volunteers for not for profit organizations. The second project is iDiversity to provide information on community services which were previously allocated by government but now will be provided competitively. BenJam is to help kids with autistic spectrum disorder (this was a project last year as well. There is a prototype tablet app for kids to communicate with their carers. The Hive  wants to provide a guide to the services available to residents of Mt Druitt in Sydney. The Beauty of Tech aims to encourage women to consider technology careers.

The event is about cooperation, rather than competition. In that spirit, two of the teams have decided to combine their resources. A combined back-end group is building a database system while another group designs the front end. They will then split up to build the specifics of their applications. It will be interesting to see how they have done tomorrow.


I am one of the judges for RHOK Sydney, who will be using five criteria:
  1. Applicable
  2. Approach
  3. Progress
  4. Usable
  5. Problem solving.
One thing which strikes me is how much the not-for-profit community projects are adopting for-profit business techniques. One example of this is marketing techniques which personalize the message, so rather than saying your organization provides services to a group, one individual gives their story. Another is to treat volunteers as contract staff, giving them small specific tasks.

On the other hand there are lessons from the not for profit sector for business. One is to have very easy to understand messages and interfaces, where your clients have disabilities and very stressful lives. One example given was how complex the multi-touch interface of a tablet computer can be to use for someone who can only point and click and cannot understand why there is a delay between clicking and something happening.

Solving these problems have considerable commercial applicability. As an example I am trying to work out how to get from Guangzhou Airport in China to the Open University of Hong Kong (OUHK) overland. This involves (as far as I can tell) three subway systems, a high speed train, a shuttle bus and two customs posts. While services such as Google Maps help with the route, problems such as how to get a subway ticket are very complex. The organization which can solve this problem could earn billions of dollars, as well as reduce billions of tons of carbon emissions.

ps: At the moment I am designing a course to help university students who enter start-up competitions (and will get the credit).

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Vietnam and the South China Sea Disputes

Greetings from the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at the Australian National University where Thanh Hai Do is speaking on "Vietnam and the South China Sea Disputes". The first question he asked was why so little progress has been made on this territorial dispute compared to others. He pointed to Vietnam's ambivalent strategic posture, wanting to assert their claims, but not upset China. Vietnam is hedging by normalizing relations with the USA, joining ASEAN and working with oil companies. Interestingly one company Veitnam is working with is Russia's Gazprom. Thanh Hai Do's 2009 paper "Vietnam’s evolving claims in the South China Sea" is also available.

It seems to me that if Vietnam can agree a common position with other countries in the region there is the possibility of negotiating with China. Countries around the South China Sea probably do not want to have to be seen to be aligned with China or the USA in a great power dispute.

Last night in the presentation "A Small Navy in a Great War: Australians at sea, 1914-18" Dr David Stevens pointed out how the Royal Australian Navy (RAN)  played a key role in South East Asia during WW1. He argued that the RAN was seen as separate from the Royal Navy and so was seen separate, to some extent, from the great powers involved in the European conflict. Australia was able to play this role as in the years before WW1 it developed a small but powerful navy. This is detailed in his book "All Respects Ready: Australia’s Navy in World War One".

The RAN is now developing a significant surface force of Amphibious Assault Ships, upgraded ANZAC class frigates, and Hobart class destroyers. These might be called on to play a role in the South China Sea, being more acceptable to all the parties involved than the presence of the US 7th Fleet. One way to make this more credible would be for Australia to modify its order for F-35A aircraft and take early delivery of a small number of F-35B aircraft to operate from HMAS Canberra.
Over the last few years, academic and public inquiry into the South China Sea disputes has increased significantly as tensions in this region have flared up without any signs of abating. However, much of the attention has naturally focused on a rising China, which is the most powerful claimant in the dispute and the potential disrupter of the regional order. Other smaller claimants have been largely overlooked, or have been studied within the context of China’s policy. This imbalance in the literature has the potential to distort the cycle of the actions and reactions which have shaped the dynamics of the disputes.
This research, which offers the view from a smaller claimant but a key rival to China, seeks to address this gap in the current discourse on South China Sea politics. Specifically, it will draw on a wide range of primary and secondary sources to trace and account for continuity and changes in Vietnam’s approach to its disputes in the South China Sea with an emphasis on the period between 1991 and 2011. It is argued that in this period, Vietnam oscillated between bandwagoning and hedging strategies to respond to China’s rising power and assertiveness in the maritime domain.
The study, which presents the case of Vietnam in the South China Sea, examines the way in which Vietnam has managed its relations with China. It offers a critical evaluation of the realist school in international relations about how a medium-sized state responds to a power transition in the region. Though the case of Vietnam is unique, it is indicative of how regional countries react to shifts in power relations and to changes in China’s foreign and security posture.
Thanh Hai Do is a PhD Candidate in the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at the Australian National University. He is a recipient of the Prime Minister’s Australia Asia Award, and has commenced his doctoral studies in Australia in July 2011. Prior to this academic endeavour, Thanh Hai worked as a research fellow at the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam.

Friday, June 05, 2015

Smarter On-line Travel Agent Needed

I was planning to attend the Second International Conference on Open and Flexible Education (ICOFE 2015) in Hong Kong 16-17 July on the way to the 10th International Conference on Computer Science and Education (ICCSE 2015) in Cambridge, UK, 22-24 July. So I tried asking travel agents to get me there. What I discovered was that travel agents are really just flight and package tour booking agents. What I wanted to do was give them the parameters where I wanted to be when and have them work out an optimal way to get there. What they wanted me to do is to say precisely when and how I wanted to travel and then they would book it. If that is all the human travel agent does, then I might as well book directly on-line. There would seem to be scope for creating an on-line travel agent where you give it parameters of costs, times and preferred modes of travel and it works out a route.

Monday, June 01, 2015

Killer Robots and the Laws of War

Australian National University in Canberra, where Professor Chris Jenks, from the Southern Methodist University, Dedman School of Law, is speaking on "Crossing the Rubicon: the path to offensive autonomous weapons"

A representative for the Australian Red Cross introduced Professor Jenks and said how they educate in Australia about the Geneva Conventions.

Professor Jenks started out by pointing out that he was not talking about "drone" aircraft, such as the General Atomics Reaper, which is under remote human control. However, he pointed out that there are degrees of autonomy and commercial airliners are flown by computer most of the time. A military example presented was the "Boomerang counter sniper system" which will detect the direction of incoming fire. Professor Jenks described this then pointing a weapon at the source of fire and await the human operator to pull the trigger.

The Phalanx CIWS is used on Australian warships to protect them from cruse missiles and has an "autonomous mode". The Patriot SAM system in autonomous mode incorrectly shot down allied aircraft in two gulf wars. With these systems a human operator can stop the system firing, but may not have the time to do so and may make worse decisions that the automated system.

Professor Jenks pointed out that small autonomous multi-copters are being trialled by companies for small deliveries, but there are numerous safety problems with these and their military equivalents. He showed videos of experimental swarming 'copters. As the Professor points out the best defence against a swarm of 'copters is another swarm.

Professor Jenks then moved on to driverless cars, pointing out that the majority of car accidents are due to driver error. Self driving cars could reduce accidents. Curiously he illsitrated this with a video about someone getting off a train and into a driverless car. It wuld seem to me much safer for the traveller to stay on the train. In the car they still had the capability to override the automated system.

The issue of responsibility of the driver of an autonomous vehicle has already come to court in Australia. In 2003 a driver was let of a charge of using a mobile phone because he was driving a horse and cart. ;-)

More seriously,  Professor Jenks focused on hardware and did not discuss cyber-weapons. Currently there is concern about young people being indoctrinated into extremest causes online. Currently this is being done manually, with human operative doing the grooming. However, it would be possible to automate their process with a simple ELIZA Program which can befriend millions of young people and perhaps turn a few hundred into suicide bombers.

Canberra Start-up to Keep Tesla Charged

The Australian National University has reported that Reposit Power will be supplying software to Tesla for use in its Powerwall home battery system. Reposit Power was co-founded by Dr Lachlan Blackhall, who was awarded his PHD at ANU.  Lachlan was also the driving force behind a program at ANU to encourage students to set up their own companies. Now called "Innovation ACT' and including students of other Canberra universities, the program begins its 2015 challenge next month.