Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Survival Tool and PIB Better Than Emergency App

David Frith provides a compelling first hand report of being rescued with the help of Australia's new Emergency Plus app (see "Emergency app that could save your life one day", The Australian, February 24, 2015 12:00AM). But this app depends on having a functioning smart phone and being in range of the mobile network. If you are going beyond the mobile network or in conditions where a consumer smart phone will break, then you need something better. 

As David points out small Personal Locator Beacons (PLBs) are available for about $400. These are robust and waterproof. They transmit a signal to a special network of satellites (not the GPS satellites as David suggests). The PLB's location is estimated by the satellites to within a few km and the rescue services notified (if equipped with GPS the PLBs give a more accurate fix). To activate the unit you simply flip up the antenna and press a button.

If hiking alone, there are also Satellite Communicators, which will send a regular position signal. This way if you are overdue, your friends can report your last know location to the rescue services. These units use a separate satellite network and require payment of a subscription (whereas PIBs require no subscription). These units also have a SOS button, but can't be expected to provide as reliable a service as PIBs.

A useful gadget I purchased recently is a keyring multitool. This is one piece of stainless steel about the size of a key, which has slots and knobs on it to act as a screwdriver, spanner and bottle-opener. More relevant for an emergency is the slot for cutting cord and webbing (such as seat-belts and backpack straps). The tool does not have an exposed blade, so it is safer to carry in your pocket and use under extreme conditions.

ps: If he is going to make a habit of falling into deep water while wearing a backpack, then David might want to invest in a Automatic Inflatable Life Jacket and water activated distress beacon. ;-)

Sunday, February 22, 2015

One website and twenty million students to change the world

Malala Yousafzai's speech to the UN ended with: "One child, one teacher, one pen and one book can change the world. Education is the only solution. Education First." (12 July 2013). I suggest we can honor that sentiment, and change the world, much faster with e-learning mobile Internet devices, than pens and books.

The Australian government is proposing to fund civil society organisations to counter extremist websites and social media). I have suggested this be expanded to provide e-learning in developing nations, particularly for school teachers and community leaders.

As Australia is seen to be closely aligned with the USA, it might be better to have the project funded by the Australian government, with Australian e-learning expertise, but based in Indonesia, with Indonesian teachers.

It could be in partnership with institutions such as State Islamic University of Sultan Syarif Kasim II, which I visited in 2012.

The $18m the Australian Government is proposing to spend to counter terrorism is not sufficient. I suggest be increased to $100M per year, with the aim to have twenty million on-line students. While that might sound a lot of money, it is much cheaper than supporting a military expeditionary force of hundreds of personnel and the wear and tear on billions of dollars of equipment, for an indeterminate period, fighting terrorists.

As an example the current Operation OKRA has 600 personnel in the Middle East. This consists of an Air Task Group (ATG) with 400 personnel, six F/A-18F fighter aircraft, a E-7A Wedgetail Airborne Early Warning and Control aircraft and a KC-30A Tanker Transport, also a Special Operations Task Group (SOTG) with 200 personnel. This level of resources could pay for a lot of education and, in the long term, provide a more effective counter to terrorism.

Canberra Metro Needs Land Planning, Bus-ways and ICAC

The ACT Government is proceeding with work for a transit system for the City of Canberra called "Capital Metro". The Stage 1: City to Gungahlin, will use a route down Northborne Avenue, Canberra's main street. However, while the documents describe "Canberra’s gateway as a beautiful tree lined urban boulevard", it appears the government is taking a build it and they will come approach. The plan seems to be to first design a transport system and then work out what land use this will support along the route. I suggest reversing this and first deciding the land use for Northborne Avenue and then what is a suitable transport system.

Canberra is a low density city which does not require, and could not afford, a high capacity light rail system. An affordable option which will fit into Canberra's existing public transport infrastructure is a dedicated express bus lane displacing one existing lane of Northborne Avenue, plus bus bays. This will cost less, have higher capacity and lower greenhouse emissions than a light rail system on a new right of way.

It should be noted that the ACT Government previously proposed a light rail system from Civic to Belconnen, a decade ago. Unfortunately the documents relating to this appear to have been deleted from the ACT Government website. In my response I suggested the cheaper option of a bus-way, which was subsequently implemented.

A metro style transport system requires that the density of housing along the route be increased. This change in land use would need to be planned and receive community support. It would be a waste of public money if the metro was built and then the change in land use was not approved, due to public opposition.

Building a metro and an increase in Canberra's residential density will require an expenditure of many billions of dollars, either directly by government, or through franchises issued by government. As has been seen in other states, this can lead to corrupt practices by government ministers, public servants and businesspeople. Before proceeding further with the metro, the ACT should legislate to form an ACT Independent Commission Against Corruption (ACT-ICAC), with powers similar to the NSW ICAC, to investigate official corruption.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Play About a Greek Nursing Home: Bittersweet Comedy

Last night I had an unexpected invitation to "The Plot", a play by Evdokia Katahanas and directed by Sophie Kelly at the Mantouridion Theatre, Marrickville, Sydney. The play chronicles a few days at an aged care centre, run for the Greek community. It is about the politics of staff versus a governing board, political ambition, personal relationships in the workplace and testing the bonds of friendship.

The Play starts with the main character as a little girl singing "You'll Never Walk Alone"reminiscent of the start of "Jerusalem" at New Theater Sydney (2013), which was also about an idealistic individual battling an uncaring organization. The Plot is not as frantic as Jerusalem, with more warmth.

Most of the play is set in a nursing home, with a hospital bed dominating the otherwise mostly bare stage. The play starts well, but ends abruptly, perhaps like a Greek tragedy, where the message is that mortals come and go but the goods of fate go on.

The Mantouridion Theatre is also know as "The Greek Theatre" and usually puts on ancient Greek classics in Greek. But "The Plot" is a new work in English (altough the themes are ageless).  The Theatre is located in the Addison Road Community Centre (Marrickville, Sydney) and is worth a visit on its own. This former Army Barracks  is now home to the Sidetrack Theatre, several child care centres, art galleries and recycling centres.

The Plot, runs until 1 March 2015 at the Mantouridion Theatre, Sydney. I could not find a website for the theatre, but you can book tickets online at TryBooking.com

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Institution-building in transitional countries

Greetings from the Australian National University in Canberra, where Jean-Marie Guéhenno, President of the International Crisis Group is speaking on "Reconfiguring the international response to rising security threats".  Guéhenno was introduced by his predecessor as President of the International Crisis Group, Gareth Evans, now Chancellor of the ANU.

Guéhenno began by characterizing the Russian intervention in  Ukraine and rise of the Islamic State terrorist group as black-swan events. By this he meant they were events no one expected (but should have). He described the diffusion of power after the end of the cold war. He also mentioned the information connectivity of the world, with news of one death in Europe being reported world wide. 

I was not convinced by Guéhenno's thesis. For more than one hundred years, since the invention so he electric telegraph, we have had global communications. The cold war had the USA and USSR restraining their client states to some extent, but there were still conflicts in places such as Afghanistan, Est Asia and the Middle East.

Terrorist/Liberation movements franchising their operations is not a new phenomenon, nor is the influence of non-state actors in conflict.

Guéhenno's argument that institution-building in transitional countries (which I assume is the new term for developing nations) is a good idea. However, I do not share his concern about parents sending their children to a Madrasa. A Madrasa is simply the Arabic word for a school, usually one associated with Islam. Secular schools and schools of any religion can teach rigid dogma and intolerance, or not.

Perhaps the problem is that Western powers have forgotten that one rule still applies in international relations: the Golden Rule: Those who have the gold make the rules.The Western countries have less funding to spend on military and other interventions, as a result have less global influence.

It is possible to use soft power, through aid and provision of education, but this still costs money. Western democratic governments have gone down a path of promising their citizens peace and prosperity at no cost, which is unachievable.

Australia current has advanced fighter jets attacking ISIS. A more cost effective approach may be to conduct an on-line information campaign and provide low cost education, particularly for teachers and other professionals, with e-Madrasa.

Guéhenno argues that compromise and diplomacy is required, balancing principles with realism. He used the example of calls for removal of the current Syrian government helped with the rise of ISIS.

Guéhenno argued for building of resilient societies. However, this can be undermined by the short term need for politicians to stay in power. An example of this is a recent statement by the Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbot: "It’s clear to me, that for too long, we have given those who might be a threat to our country the benefit of the doubt." (A message from the Prime Minister, 15 February 2015).

Asked what would be the hot-spots in 2015, Guéhenno nominated Central Asia. 

Asked about terror as a weapon, Guéhenno commented it might be better to have a degree in psychology, than political science.   

Responding to international security threats

"Increasing geopolitical competition is amplifying international conflict and diminishing the global community’s ability to respond to rising distributed threats like extremism and post-authoritarian chaos. The international community needs to get back to basics: supporting the long, hard slog of institution-building in transitional countries; addressing the social and political problems that provide the fertiliser for radical movements; and recognising that we are unlikely to solve conflicts if we only talk to people who agree with us."

Bringpeer: Building a Better Social Network for University Students

Last year I mentored the "Bringpeer team" in the Innovation ACT competition. The idea was to building a better social network for university students, starting with the Australian National University (ANU).  The team did not win the competition, but the ANU saw enough promise in the idea to support the start-up.  The product was launched during "O-week", with more than three hundred students signed up so far.

I will be speaking on "Innovations in teaching innovation", at the CSIRO ICT Centre, Center, Australian National University in Canberra, 4pm, 27 April 2015.

Fifty Years of Computing in Canberra

Greetings from the National Museum of Australia where the Canberra Branch is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its formation (as the Canberra Computer Society in 1965, with Trevor Pearcey as chair and Don Overheu as Vice Chair). The ACT Chief Minister opened the event and noted some of the government's recent initiatives to assist the STEM in Canberra. A special presentation was made to Mr Barry W. Smith, founding Secretary of the Canberra Computer Society (who started in computing 57 years ago). It turned out that a photo of a computer at the Australian National University from 1964 showing someone sitting at a console was of a much younger Barry Smith, who also introduced computing courses at the university. Barry was then presented with honorary membership of the ACS.

ps: In 1993 I named a fictional data center in honor  of Don Overheu. In 1996 I had the honor of being elected president of the ACS.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Teaching materials on the science of climate change

The Australian Academy of Science has published "The science of climate change", a 44 page booklet intended to explain how global warming is cased by human activities. While too long and technical for the general public, this would be useful for students.

The booklet is available as a web page, and PDF documents (with and without references). I will be suggesting my ICT Sustainability students read Chapter One "What is climate change?", as it provided a good overview. Chapter three "Are human activities causing climate change?" would also be okay for the students (they have degrees in science and engineering), but is a bit too technical for the general public, with several graphs.

The web version of the booklet is well laid out and could be used with e-learning courses. The PDF versions have a portrait layout, with four narrow columns of text, making it hard to read. At more than 7MBytes each, the PDF versions are also too large (and by wasting computer resources will be contributing to carbon emissions). The version without references is twelve pages shorter, but the file is not much smaller (7.1 v 7.3 Mbytes).  About 80% of the PDF files are taken up with excessively large images. I suggest AAS make the images smaller and reduce the PDF file to one third the size (and reduce carbon emissions).

It might also be useful to point out to school, VET and universality teachers, which parts which suit which level of students and include some student exercises. Almost none of the general public are going to read through 44 pages on climate change, but students may well read a dozen pages, if they will get a mark for it.

Open Source Software for Disaster Management in Sydney

Michael Howden, CEO of the Sahana Software Foundation will speak on "Open Source Software for Disaster Management" at the University of Sydney, 2pm, 24th February 2015.
The Interoperability for Extreme Events Research Group [IEERG] is hosting a presentation by Michael Howden, CEO, Sahana Software Foundation, who is visiting Sydney.

Date: Tuesday 24th February
Time:  2.00pm
Venue: University of Sydney CBD Campus, Level 17, 133 Castlereagh Street, Sydney.

Coffee and tea will be served from 1:30pm and again after the presentation.

If you would like to attend (and if you know of someone else who would like to attend) please RSVP to Christian Ehnis by Friday 20th Feb, 2015.

The Sahana Software Foundation has developed the Sahana Open Source Disaster Management Platform and deployed it around the world to assist organisations and emergency services to record, coordinate and share their disaster management information.

It was first developed during the 2004 tsunami and since then has been deployed as a Resource Management System by the International Red Cross, for tracking relief goods in the Philippines, a Community Resilience Mapping Tool in Los Angeles and a Maritime Common Operating Platform in Puget Sound.

Michael will be discussing these deployments and how Sahana has become a leading internationally recognised platform for disaster management and extreme events. He will also talk about the Sahana Software Foundation, which relies mostly on corporate sponsorships and volunteers internationally and how interested people can become engaged.

This presentation will be of interest to those involved in disaster research, software development, open source solutions, geo-science, social media, or the management of disasters and extreme events.
Michael Howden (Sahana Director, President & CEO): Michael has worked on delivering Sahana solutions to the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) in the Asia Pacific Region (the Resource Management System), the Asian Disaster Preparedness Center (DRR Projects Portal), the City of Los Angeles (Give2LA), the Helios Foundation (HelioShare) and other organizations.  He trained as a software engineer from New Zealand and has worked  with humanitarian organizations throughout the world since 2005.  He has served as a member of the Sahana Eden Project Management Committee and the Sahana Community Development Committee for several years, and leads our facilitation team for our SahanaCamp program. Prior to becoming CEO of the Sahana Software Foundation, Michael was the Managing Director of AidIQ, a social enterprise that provides intelligent business solutions to the humanitarian and development community with the Sahana platform.  Michael has also served as the Sahana Eden coordinator for the Sahana Google Summer of Code Progam (2010-11) and as SSF Coordinator of the Sahana Google Code-In Program (2010/11 & 2011/12).

Friday, February 13, 2015

Company Accelerator Program Launched in Canberra

Greetings from the Canberra Innovation Network (CBRin), where the ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr is officially launching the Griffin 2015. The chief minister said he would "twist the arms" of the owners of surplus office space in the Canberra city center to make it available for startup companies. Perhaps Canberra could emulate Leichhardt Council's excellent "Renew Leichhardt" initiative, which offers property owners incentives to make surplus space available (including at the Italian Forum).
The Griffin Accelerator is a three month program, where new startup businesses are mentored. There will be up to ten teams selected for the first intake in 2015. The scheme is similar to the Telstra Muru-D Start-up Accelerator. Currently I am teaching an online curse for the Australian Computer Society in  "New Technology Alignment" and hope to have an improved course for ANU, for next year.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

ICT in a Developing Nation

Greetings from the Australian National University College of Asia & the Pacific in Canberra, where Dr. Joseph Kim Suwamaru from Divine Word University (DWU) is speaking on "Emerging challenges for ICTs in Papua New Guinea". He pointed out that opening the PNG telecommunications market has resulted in a drop in mobile phone charges to customers and benifits to the community in terms of selling produce and access to online banking. However, he pointed out possible rent seeking by the backbone owner. PNG has a terrestrial microwave network, with islands connected by satellite, with two undersea fibre-optic international connections. It would not be economically efficient for multiple companies to duplicate this infrastructure, but it should still be possible to have multiple ISPs and mobile providers sharing the infrastructure at reasonable cost, with oversight by the regulator (however, the regulator is not independent of the Minister).

Dr. Suwamaru has written a paper with Peter K Anderson on "Closing the digital divide in Papua New Guinea: A proposal for a national telecommunications model". Other papers are on "ICT for education: Achieving the goals of PNG Vision 2050", "Proposal for free, fair and safe elections through mobile phones in Papua New Guinea", "An SMS-based HIV/AIDS education and awareness model for rural areas in Papua New Guinea".
Papua New Guinea (PNG) is witnessing substantial changes in telecommunications infrastructure and in information and communication technology (ICT) services. Much of this is due to the entry in 2007 of the Irish company Digicel into the mobile phone sector. Digicel is now the dominant player in PNG’s telecommunications services market, with a market share of more than eighty per cent of PNG’s combined mobile phone and mobile data services. It has recently moved into other areas of telecommunications, acquiring businesses in the television broadcasting and narrowcasting sector. Digicel also has a keen interest in undersea submarine fiber-optic infrastructure. Some of the benefits for PNG citizens include market access, m-banking and payments via SMS messaging among others. However, the near-monopoly status of Digicel, which looks set to move to other related sectors, gives rise to the question of whether value in choice and price can be sustained within the small telecommunications market in PNG. This presentation concerns emerging challenges in ICTs with respect to interconnection arrangements, infrastructure sharing and number portability between operators in PNG. These aspects require regulatory diligence to prevent market abuse. Lack of competent regulation may lead to a regulatory vacuum where operators and citizens may be subject to the whims of the incumbent – in this case, Digicel. This presentation provides an overview of the current ICT infrastructure and delineates emerging regulatory challenges needed in safeguarding the healthy growth of the sector while protecting the interest of citizens. About the speaker Joseph Kim Suwamaru is currently visiting SSGM from Divine Word University (DWU), Madang, in Papua New Guinea (PNG) where he teaches in the department of information systems. Joseph earned his PhD from DWU for his research on aspects of mobile phone usages in socio-economic development in PNG. Prior to completing his PhD and joining DWU, Joseph was the Executive Director of the Engineering Department within the former ICT regulator, PANGTEL. He also served as Vice Chairman within the Asia Pacific Tele-community study groups, headquartered in Bangkok from 2005-2009. Joseph currently sits in the board of directors of a new state owned enterprise (SOE), DATACO, tasked with rolling out terrestrial and under-sea submarine fiber-optic cables across PNG and Melanesia. He can be contacted by email at joseph.suwamaru(a)anu.edu.au or jsuwamaru(a)dwu.ac.pg

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Climate Change and War

Greetings from the Australian National University, Strategic and Defence Center, where Dr Albert Palazzo (Director of Research in Strategic Plans, Australian Army Headquarters) is speaking on "Climate Change and the Future Character of War". Dr Palazzo emphasized that these were his own views and may not represent Army or Government policy. He has also written extensively on military topics.

Dr Palazzo argued that Australia had a stable government, "non-fragile" educated society an surplus food and energy. However, if carbon emissions are taken into account, Australia has a large energy deficit (most of the energy is in the form of highly polluting coal and slightly less polluting gas and may be rendered unusable). Also the education Australian society has may not suit severe climatic conditions brought about by climate change. A society which is used to dealing with food and energy shortages may be able to cope with hardships due directly to climate change, or indirectly from war caused by climate change. When staying in India and Indonesia, I noticed blackouts were a frequent occurrence (as were interruptions to town water supply). In an Australian city this would bring day to day activities to a halt, but where a common occurrence the population has learned to deal with it.

Dr Palazzo argues climate change will result in a time when wars are more frequent, longer, larger and lethal. However, he seemed to assume that wars will still be between nation states.

Dr Palazzo argued the Australian Defence Force (ADF) would need to be more self contained. That perhaps fits with his paper "Towards a Marine Force" on how the ADF needs to relearn the amphibious operations skills it had during WW2, to utilize the Australia's Landing Helicopter Dock Ships (LHDs).

Dr Palazzo  says the ADF has to become simpler and larger. I am not sure this is the case. Cyber-operations can use small numbers of highly skilled personnel to fight a war on-line. It may well be that the future is energy, food and water constrained, but there will be an abundance of information (and mis-information). As an example it is preferable to convince the enemy they have lost the war by hacking their information systems, rather than dropping bombs on them.

Sophisticated sensor based warfare will be possible at low cost using "commercial off the shelf" equipment. An example is that a smart phone can be put in a protective case and make a very sophisticated C4I device which each soldier can carry. The Raspberry PI 2 makes a very usable embeddable computer for military operations for $35. I asked Dr Palazzo about this and he agreed that such systems could be sued but would require a change in military culture and solving some technical issues.

One example which Australia could follow is Taiwan's locally developed Tuo Chiang class corvettes (沱江). These are relatively small, high speed, stealth wave piercing catamarans. They are intended to counter much larger vessels through guns, missiles and electronic warfare. Australia is a world leader in the production of high speed multi-hull warships, with both Incat and Austal 
making them for the US military. Australia is also a leader in the development of active phased array radar, at CEA Technologies in Canberra. These could be combined to make small, low cost, locally produced hi-tech warships. In a border dispute such vessels would have the advantage of looking less threatening in the media that a large warship and being able to disable an opponent using electronic warfare, without causing causalities.

One of the audience asked about Australia's dependency on fuel from Singapore (and the lesson of the Fall of Singapore in 1942).
The future of human civilisation requires mankind to solve two intersecting challenges. The first is to meet our sustainment, a requirement that grows more difficult as population continues to grow. The second is climate change and the changes it is causing in the earth environment. In combination, both of these challenges are destabilising the efficient and productive operation of the natural and built systems that humans exploit to meet their needs.
This presentation will propose that if humanity is unable to adapt to these changes in the natural and built  systems then the collapse of states or their descent into chaos is likely. This process appears already underway in the Middle East. Such destabilisation will mark an end to a period of relative tranquillity that mankind has enjoyed, and will herald the arrival of a future that will be defined by increasing violence and a more primitive fight for survival.
The presentation will highlight the role of the military in meeting these challenges. It will  also identify the societal characteristics that will help societies survive. Lastly, it will explain how the character of future wars will be different from those Australia has waged in the past.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Goulburn Brewery

Goulburn Brewery
Greetings from the "Goulburn Brewery", or more properly "BRADLEY GRANGE", an historic site near Canberra. This is claimed to be Australia’s oldest surviving brewery complex, with a building claimed to be designed by colonial architect Francis Greenway. Some beer is still brewed on site. Comfortable accommodation is available in the former brewer's cottages. The Maudslay Beam Steam Engine, which operated the mill at the brewery, is now at the Power House Museum in Sydney (it would be good if this could be returned).

The book "Remembering the first time : Francis Howard Greenway at work in Australia" Michael O'Halloran, 2006), gives some history of the
Goulburn Brewery buildings and argues the case for Francis Greenway being the architect.

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Not Everyday Art

Greetings from the Goulburn Regional Art Gallery, where the director Jane Cush, Director, has just opened the exhibition "Janet Dawson with Merrick Fry - Their Everyday". The exhibition is on until 7 March 2015.
On one level, the works of Janet Dawson and Merrick Fry couldn't be more different; one friend lives in the country, the other in the city but on another, they are both dealing with the found materials of their Everyday and finding renewed beauty in what others might dismiss.  Janet exquisitely draws out the beauty of a dead hare, a beetroot or a scattering of apples.  Merrick's domestic-scale sculptures are constructed from the disowned or vintage glass and plastic ware discarded by our consumer-driven society.
Work by Janet Dawson and Merrick Fry is in the collection of the National Gallery of Australia. Merrick Fry also has a current installation in the SMART Research Building at the University of Wollongong and is in the collection of the National Gallery of Australia.

Thursday, February 05, 2015


Joseph Kim Suwamaru will be spaking on "Emerging challenges for ICTs in Papua New Guinea", at the Australian National University in Canberra, 3pm, 12 Feb 2015.
"Papua New Guinea (PNG) is witnessing substantial changes in telecommunications infrastructure and in information and communication technology (ICT) services. Much of this is due to the entry in 2007 of the Irish company Digicel into the mobile phone sector. Digicel is now the dominant player in PNG’s telecommunications services market, with a market share of more than eighty per cent of PNG’s combined mobile phone and mobile data services. It has recently moved into other areas of telecommunications, acquiring businesses in the television broadcasting and narrowcasting sector."

Social and Political Identity Key to Combatting Climate Change

A paper on how climate change skeptics think, presents perhaps the last best hope to prevent catastrophic global warming.

After listening to many reports from my colleagues at the ANU Climate Change Institute and elsewhere on the science of climate change, I became increasingly concerned that such reports were not helping convince non-scientists and might be harmful. The solution from most climate scientists seemed to be to do more research and hope eventually people would be convinced by the evidence. But it seemed to me that more such reports made the situation worse.

Those who thought climate change was not real (and that there was some sort of conspiracy) would just have their views confirmed by more reports which argued there was a broad scientific consensus. In my own work teaching ICT Sustainability I don't spend a lot of time arguing the case for human caused global warming (as I am not a climate scientist anyway), just strategies to deal with it.

I have suggested that as there is more than enough research on the physical science of climate change and if we want to influence public opinion what was needed was social and political research. What is needed is research on why people believe something and how to change their views. A first step towards that has been taken with "Public division about climate change rooted in conflicting socio-political identities" (Bliuc et al., Nature Climate Change, They propose that "believers and septics have distinct social identities, beliefs and emotional reactions". As a result simply resenting more information will not change individual views and just entrench positions. What is needed is to "transform intergroup relations".

Unfortunately, in this short paper the authors do not propose how to do this, but it is a promising start. Perhaps the solution is not in changing people's views of climate change, but concentrating on solutions. As an example, while those for an against politically contentious issues, have not been able to agree on the moral basis of them, they have agree on practical measures to counter the public harm caused (such as with recreational drug use). A similar approach might be taken with climate change. Saying it is the greatest more issue of our time is not effective when the opposing party does not believe it is real, but they might agree measures which curb the problem.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Shift Index Looking Beyond Short Term Business Metrics

Hagel III et al. (2011) attempt to find a way to measure the way technology, and in particular digital technology, transforms business and the economy. They describe the effect of digital technology as the "Big Shift" and develop a "Shift Index" to measure it. This index is intended to measure longer term trends than is usual with most short term business metrics. The authors make the point that the digital adoption rate for is "two to five times faster than previous infrastructures, such as electricity and telephone networks" (2011, p.21). Their "shift index" measures the effect of three waves of this adoption:
  1. Foundation Index: "... reflects new possibilities and
    challenges for business as a result of new technology
    capability and public policy shifts."
  2. Flow Index: " is characterized by the increasing flows of capital, talent, and knowledge across geographic and institutional boundaries"
  3. Impact Index: "reflects how well companies are exploiting foundational improvements in the digital infrastructure by creating and sharing knowledge"
As might be expected for a report from a management consulting company, Hagel III et al. (2011, p. 24) suggest that "unless firms take radical action, the gap between their potential and their realized opportunities will likely grow wider". However, the authors seem to be working from a very limited view of what a firm is and how it can work, they say "Until now, companies were designed to become more efficient by growing ever larger ..." (Hagel III et al., 2011, p. 24). That may be the way Deloitte's clients like to see the world, but there is considerable research to show that larger firms are not necessarily more efficient.

Hagel III et al. seem to want to replace a romantic notion of the efficiency of large 20th century firms with an equally unrealistic view of 21st century ones: "largely propelled by individuals, especially the younger workers, who put digital technologies, such as social media, to their most effective use"  (Hagel III et al., 2011, p. 24). In this new age firm, management is to play a supporting role, finding "passionate employees" and "providing them with platforms and tools". Stripped of the new age language, this sounds like the traditional role of management: to identify staff with potential and give the the tools to apply their skills. Also the idea of staff having to step outside the boundaries of the organization in order to get the job done is hardly a new one.

Hagel III et al.'s message about productivity seems to become a little confused when discussing "creative cities" (2011, p. 24). They comment that "Talent is migrating to the most vibrant geographies and institutions because that is where individuals can improve
their performance more rapidly by learning faster." which is hard to argue with (but has been the case for thousands of years). They have identified the top and bottom ten creative cities (but only in the USA) and point out that the top ones outpaced the bottom for population growth, as if this is a good thing. The authors seem to think that bigger cities are in some way better. But the ADC Cities Report: Enhancing Liveability (Report part 1 & Report part 2, 22 October 2010), sets the optimal size for a city at 250,000 to 300,000 people.


Hagel III, J., Brown, J. S., Kulasooriya, D., Bhatia, S., Lally, M., Wong, J., ... & Lu, S. J. (2011). The 2011 Shift Index Measuring the forces of long-term change. Deloitte Center for the Edge, 1(2011), 17. Available online at http://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/nl/Documents/center-for-the-edge/deloitte-nl-center-for-the-edge-shift-index.pdf

Responding to international security threats

Jean-Marie Guéhenno, President of the International Crisis Group will speak on "Reconfiguring the international response to rising security threats", at the Australian National University in Canberra, 5:45pm, 17 February 2015. 
"Increasing geopolitical competition is amplifying international conflict and diminishing the global community’s ability to respond to rising distributed threats like extremism and post-authoritarian chaos. The international community needs to get back to basics: supporting the long, hard slog of institution-building in transitional countries; addressing the social and political problems that provide the fertiliser for radical movements; and recognising that we are unlikely to solve conflicts if we only talk to people who agree with us."

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Sydney Gehry Building Needs Anti-glare Treatment

On my way to an educational technology meeting in Sydney this afternoon, I passed the newly opened UTS Dr Chau Chak Wing Building designed by Frank Gehry. This is an impressive architectural statement, but has a glare problem which makes it unsafe and needs urgent remedial work.

The building has windows with a reflective coating (presumably to cut down heat load). Unfortunately some of these windows are angled up about ten degrees from the vertical. The result was glare and heating of the surrounding area on the north western side of the building at about 5:30pm. The area subject to glare includes a public road, which would be dangerous to drive on.

Gehry's Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles experienced similar glare problems, which were solved by making some surfaces non-polished, to diffuse the light. Something similar needs to be done urgently for the Sydney building. It might be possible to apply a microscopic layer of retroreflectors to the windows, or small strip mirrors, which would direct the sunlight back up, rather than down. As well as removing the glare, this would also cool the area.

Given that a Gehry building has had problems with reflections in the past it is surprising that the design team did not carry out a study of this before the building was built (as was called for by Elizabeth Valmont, University of Southern California, in 2005). CAD software could be used to predict reflections from buildings.

The University of Technology Sydney teaches architecture, design and engineering. It is surprising that none of the professional staff of the university on the panel reviewing the building design asked about the know glare problem with Gehry buildings.

Customary International Humanitarian Law


Dr Michael Carrel will speak on "ICRC study on Customary International Humanitarian Law", at the Australian National University in Canberra, 5:30pm 26 February 2015.
"In 2005 the International Committee of the Red Cross published a study on Customary International Humanitarian Law (Customary IHL) that had been compiled after extensive research into national and international practice in IHL. The study identified 161 rules of Customary IHL which fill the gaps left by treaty law in both international and non-international armed conflicts. The study on customary IHL is available at the ICRC’s customary IHL database which provides rapid access to the rules of customary IHL and enables users to examine practice from around the world. However, the nature of armed conflict is continually evolving and in 2007, the ICRC joined with the British Red Cross to update the practice section of the Customary IHL study.

From 2007 – 13, Dr Michael Carrel was the inaugural team leader for the update project which was undertaken at the Lauterpacht Centre for International Law at the University of Cambridge; in this seminar he will talk about his experiences during those seven years."