Friday, April 29, 2016

NBN Emergeny Management

Greetings from the University of Sydney's business campus in the CBD, where Cameron Scott, NBN Network Emergency Lead, is speaking on  "NBN: Operation, Impact and Response".  This is at a meeting of the Interoperability for Extreme Events Research Group (IEERG). NBN use a similar approach to emergency management as other telecommunication companies and liaises with emergency services. They have to be prepared for loss of part of their infrastructure and also be ready aid with response and recovery.

Mr. Scott pointed out that the NBN is used for telephony as well as Internet. Unlike the Plain Old Telephone Service (POTS) the NBN telephony service requires mains power at the consumer's premises. Some NBN equipment has provision of limited battery backup.

NBN is building some transportable equipment to use where there is a loss of infrastructure:
  • NoW: Network on Wheels for remediation of a fibre access node,
  • WoW:Wireless on Wheels: Replacement fxed wireless tower.
  • PoW: Point of Internet Connect on Wheels

NBN will also have transportable satellite ground stations, for ad-hoc use.

After a disaster, NBN will prioritize restoration of essential services, community infrastructure and essential businesses services.

Customers need to register as a "Public Interest Premises" to receive priority recovery service.

An interesting aspect of this, which I suggest needs research, is how the customers reliance on the Internet has changed how they will respond in an emergency. In particular, if the public is used to using the Internet for information, replacing radio, TV and the telephone, how will they cope when the Internet is not available? One option might be to provide car USB chargers or battery radios to the public. Otherwise communications will be reduced to loudspeaker vans in the street.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Global Action from Paris Climate Agreement?

Greetings from the Australian National University in Canberra, where a distinguished panel of diplomats are giving "A Global Perspective on the Signing of the Paris Climate Agreement". This is just before countries begin signing the agreement at the UN in New York. However, even if every country signs the agreement and acts, this will not achieve the reduction in carbon emissions needed to halt global warming. I will be reflecting on this in a guest lecture next week on Green IT.

Australia’s Cyber Security Strategy

Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, today released a 67 page document entitled "Australia’s Cyber Security Strategy: Enabling innovation, growth & prosperity". The government will create a new position of Special Adviser on Cyber Security. The report says that cyber security governance will be streamlined and "clearly identify lead responsibilities", but unfortunately does not state these, clearly or otherwise. Also the Australian Cyber Security Centre will be moved from the ASIO building to a location most likely elsewhere in Canberra. There is also mention of research being commissioned on cyber security, but no funding.

The document provides a good overview of the problem of cyber-security and shows the authors had an understanding of the issues, but does not provide any actionable solutions. The report ends with what is titled an "Action Plan", but this does not have any firm deadlines nor resource allocation, so it is not really an action plan.

ps: As an example of one challenge see "Cyberwar over the South China Sea".

The Man Who Knew Infinity

Last night I attended "The Man Who Knew Infinity" a film based on the real life story of Indian mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan FRS, who was admitted to Trinity College at Cambridge University in 1914. A Film Trailer is available.

Dev Patel gives a believable portrayal of a mathematical genius not recognized, Devika Bhise as his devoted but neglected wife and Arundhati Nag as an Indian mother. These relatively unknown actors succeed in being noticed alongside the star power of the movie. Jeremy Irons as Professor Hardy made me think of this as Brideshead Revisited (Revisited), while Stephen Fry as Sir Francis Spring seemed to be reprising his Black-adder role and Kevin McNally as Major MacMahon looked like he was in Dad's Army. But Jeremy Northam steals the show as "Berty" (Bertrand Russell).

The India and Cambridge of the 1914 are lovingly reproduced, with perhaps a little too much sentimentality. India looks too clean, with too many elephants and not enough people. The Cambridge dons are a little too nice.

Filmed on location a Trinity College Cambridge, I was able to relate to the strictures of not walking on the grass (I was invited to by one of the fellows) and the gossip at high table (the food is not that bad).

This film manages to make mathematics interesting (just), but perhaps outstays its welcome and could do with 20 minutes being cut out. The film is based on the book "The Man Who Knew Infinity: A Life of the Genius Ramanujan" by Robert Kanigel (1991).

The Man Who Knew Infinity is on now in cinemas across Australia. My ticket was courtesy of  Nixco.

ps: If visiting Cambridge and not having an academic connection, you can stay in a college through University Rooms.

Building Canberra Innovation

Greetings from the Data 61 office in Canberra where Kate Lundy, Canberra Local Industry Advocate for the ACT Government, is speaking at CollabIT meeting to promote IT development in Canberra. She described a pilot system for "fail fast" Small Business Innovation Partnerships Program (SBIP) for new projects. This is a good initiative, but I suggest following the South Australian Government and simply call this the "Industry Advocate", or "Canberra Industry Advocate". The Canberra initiative will be formally launched next week.

Victor Pantano from University of Canberra described the Knowledge Exchange Internships to commence next semester. Students will work for a semester in a company. Next week the ACT Government is sponsoring "Doing Procurement Better", 27 April 2016.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Life at Google

Greetings from the Australian National University in Canberra, where Google is telling the students about Internships and Graduate Opportunities at Google Sydney (there is a list of jobs) and beyond. The room is packed with more students than I have ever seen at a lecture. This started with some videos of life at Google. I have been to Google HQ in Sydney and it is not quite like the movie "The Internship" (if you want to see the office, the easiest way is to attend a SLUG Talk). There was then a quiz about the history of Google. The hardest question was "What is was Google Maps orignally called?" It was a Sydney start-up called "Where 2".

Last year there was a smaller talk for PHD students on "What Google Wants in a Job Applicant". As well as graduates, Google also has programs for interns.

After the general introduction, one of the recent Google recruits gave tips on how to apply. The first tip was to have a CV of only a page or two, and targeted to the role. It was suggested to use bullet points. Experience counts as well as marks, but focus what you did. These are all good tips.

After the VC, the next step is a "technical interview". The tip for this was that the interview is not trying to trick the applicant and to assess skills with algorithms and data structures a university degree level. Students who have learned non-mainstream languages, such as Haskell at ANU, are advised to tell Google in advance so they can find a suitable interviewer. The applicant is asked to solve a problem in a shared Google Docs screen, while they talk with the interviewer ("Think aloud protocol"). Applicants are encouraged to try again if unsuccessful.

At the interview the applicant will be given a programming problem to solve. The suggested approach is to write down the question, ask for clarification, then start with the simple (brute force) solution and follow up with more efficient approach if you have time. Students can be expected to be asked about multi-threading, memory and other issues with "big" problems.

An interesting aspect of the interview is assessment of the applicant's "Googliness", which seems to be the ability to work in a team. Also apparently Google employees get monetary bonuses for referring applicants.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

APEC Low Cost Private Schools for Developing Nations

APEC Schools provide low cost education in the Philippines. At first I assumed this was an initiative of  the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) group of countries. But it is actually a non-government for-profit company, Affordable Private Education Center Inc., set up by the UK education company Pearson PLC.The fees for a high school student are the equivalent of about AUD$800 a year.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Role of Asia-Pacific Middle Powers

Yesterday Professor Kim Richard Nossal from Queens University Canada talked on "Asia-Pacific middle powers: cooperation or conflict" at the 
Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs
College of Asia & the Pacific, Australian National University in Canberra. 

Professor Nossal characterized Canada as a "middle power" and appeared frustrated that the current Canadian government had a lack of interest in the strategic situation in East Asia. He concluded we would have to look elsewhere for a middle power to have an impact on the Asia-Pacific (which appeared directed at Australia).

Dr Andrew Carr suggested we are moving to a neo-medieval or multiplex world order, without a few dominant superpowers. A a result smaller states do not have to pick one side or the other, as they did during the cold war. Interestingly Andrew suggests that military force is becoming less of an assurance of winning a war. He suggests that Asia's middle powers will matter, are strong and able to see to their own defense.

Professor High White suggested that military conflict is more likely while the new world order stabilizes. He pointed out that a lesser power doesn't have to win a war against a greater power, just threaten or cause enough damage for the latter to back off. Professor White asked what great powers would go to war over in Asia today. He suggested that Australia could assist by putting its independent views to the great powers, while building collations. He suggests that Australia could help the USA and China with order in Asia. More worryingly, he suggested that China is testing the USA's resolve in the South China Sea.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Innovating University Education

At Unconference Canberra,on Saturday Dr Shayne Flint from the Australian National University discussed new ways to teach students a wider range of work relevant skills. One of these is "ANU TechLauncher" where students work on a project in a team for a real client. Students have the option of doing their own business start-up through the Canberra Innovation Network (where the conference was held). To help, I am preparing a module on "Introduction to Innovation" which students can do on its own or as part of another course.

Saturday, April 09, 2016

Augmented Reality Bus Shelter

Greetings from Unconference Canberra, where I took part in a session on "Climate Adapted People Shelter" (CAPS). This is a project to design better bus shelters for Western Sydney. This project seems misdirected to me. The bus shelters installed in Sydney are not hot and uncomfortable because no one knows how to design a comfortable bus shelter. The priority for local government is to maximize the advertising revenue from the shelter, not the comfort of the bus passengers.

Shelters with advertising are made transparent so that the advertising can be see from the road, while the passengers waiting can see the bus coming. Unfortunately the result is a shelter which is very hot in the Australian sun.

I suggest it is possible to design a shelter meeting both the needs of passengers and advertisers. As an example, a low tech solution would be to use perforated advertisements, so that those waiting for a bus could see out through them (just as some buses have advertising wrapped over the windows).

A high tech approach would be a translucent electronic display or virtual window on the bus shelter. Liquid crystal displays (LCDs) consist of active material sandwiched between two sheets of glass, there is then a white sheet of translucent plastic behind to diffuse the back-lighting. It would be possible to replace the translucent sheet with a transparent one, so you could see through the screen from the back.

An approach using off the shelf equipment would be to install a camera outside the shelter and display the street scene on a screen inside to make a virtual window. This has been used as a marketing gimmick as augmented reality in a London bus shelter in 2014. The London unit used a screen the full size of the advertising panel, down to ground level, but a practical unit unit emulating a window needs to only use a screen of about 100 cm. Rather than just a simple video display, the screen could also show the bus timetable. If the unit showed which buses were approaching and indicated which were going to stop, that would be particularly useful for the passenger. Such a display could also include advertising, to offset the cost.

For those who want to take the alternative approach of removing advertising from the bus shelters, the challenge is not redesigning the shelters. The challenge is to redesign local government political and financial arrangements to compensate for the loss of revenue. Can the political benefit to elected officials of a more comfortable bus shelter be shown to be sufficient to compensate for the loss of revenue?

Lego and Government Websites

Greetings from Unconference Canberra. I just talked about "Online Colombo Plan". Now there are two sessions which seem to be about Lego and one on GovCMS. The latter is an implementation of Drupal from the Australian Department of Finance, configured for use by government agencies. This has been a little controversial as another government agency, Digital Transformation Office in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, has been working on a new improved GOV.AU website. In my view the two agencies activities are complementary, not competitive. Finance are working on the details of how to implement, whereas DTO are working on what to implement.

Canberra Unconference

Greetings from Unconference Canberra. About fifty people arrived on the top floor of the old ACT Health building in the middle of the city for a conference on a Saturday morning, with a completely blank program. The idea is that the attendees volunteer to talk about anything. First there was a warm-up exercise run by Kinnford Consulting, then first session was on photo composition and the next is on "How to Write a Gender Neutral Conference Talk". I will be speaking at 11:20 about the "Online Colombo Plan".

Sunday, April 03, 2016

That Other Eye in the Sky

"That Eye, The Sky" is not a movie starring Helen Mirren, it is a play by Richard Roxburgh and Justin Monjo, adapted from the book of the same name by Tim Winton. I went along to last night's performance at the New Theatre in Sydney, not really knowing what to expect. I came out a few hours later not understanding what I had seen.

The play is set in Western Australia, around the current day. Ort (played by Joel Horwood) is a bit "slow" according to family and friends. He has more than the usual difficulties of being a teenager, with an ex-hippy mother, a father and grandmother in wheelchairs, plus an annoying older sister and a hobo preacher hanging around. Ort is obsessed with a glowing cloud hovering over his house, which only he (and the audience) can see: is this god? My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 this is not, but it is a story about the obligations of  family.

Set Designer, Tom Bannerman, has produced a sparse set with a glowing and, at times, pulsating "cloud" hovering overhead. At times I had to cover my eyes as the pulsating light was too bright. Even when not pulsating, the "cloud" dominating proceedings and tended to distract from the actors.

If you are a Tim Winton fan, then this play might be for you. The cast make a fine job of the material, but it is very hard work for the audience.

"That Eye, The Sky" is on at the New Theatre in Sydney until 16 April 2016.

ps: The Australian National University (ANU) was criticized in the Canberra Times newspaper, over plans to demolish its theatre spaces to re-develop part of the campus. The new development is not planned to have a dedicated drama theater, but will have multi-purpose spaces which could be used. Perhaps this new venue could be named the "ANU Roxburgh Center for the Performing Arts", as Richard Roxburgh is a graduate of ANU.