Saturday, March 26, 2016

Where is the GOV.AU Alpha prototype?

The Digital Transformation Office released a "prototype" of GOV.AU. But where is the GOV.AU Alpha prototype? I followed the link to but that was just describing some aspects, not a functional website.

The term "prototype" refers to a functional system. If instead DTO are releasing a set of example screens showing typical use (such as "Matt starts a business"), this is a "mockup" not a prototype.

What DTO seems to have mocked-up is only a tiny fraction of the web site, which is like designing the the cup-holder for a car and claiming it is a prototype of the whole vehicle.

At ANU I help mentor and assess student software projects and start-ups. A team of three to five students undertake six to twelve month projects. The GOV.AU Alpha prototype looks similar to what the students produce after their first few weeks work. I had expected much more of DTO. Perhaps the government could have students do the mock-ups.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Cyber Security Forum in Australian Parliament House

Screen image of the web page for the fictional Concinna Day Care CentreGreetings from  Parliament House in Canberra, where I am on a panel for a Cyber Security Forum convened by Inside Canberra. This is preceded by a keynote by Michael McCormack, Assistant Minister for Defence. Perhaps I was invited to be on the panel because of the cyberwar hypothetical I wrote recently for teaching ICT Ethics at the Australian National University.

The panel was primed with some questions before the event. Here are my off-the-cuff responses:

Cyber Security and Cyber Sovereignty why it matters - Apple versus FBI

As I said on ABC News Radio a few weeks ago, on balance, I am on the FBI's side. Apple should assist with access to this one iPhone in this one case.

ASPI’s annual Cyber Security Report

I am not sure I agree with ASPI's 7/10 rating for Australia government organisational structure on cyber matters. It seems a little fragmented. Perhaps a 5/10.

Hacking from white to black and who does it

ANU has a fascinating talk on the Ruxcon 2015 Security Conference in Melbourne:

Progress on Snowden and Assange

What progress?

Policy like data storage and clouds, safe or a disaster waiting to happen

The Australian Government Cloud Computing Policy is okay, but is it being implemented? A larger issue is wghat is happening in the private sector?

Proprietary ecosystems: a threat to the open Internet?

Yes and the Chinese government has a different view of "open".

Need a G20 group on policy and enforcement

The G20 is not really set up for "enforcement". While the UN may appear slow, they do have an international infrastructure. For something to be done quicker, it needs to be done by less than twenty countries, perhaps eight.

Friday, March 11, 2016

How Digital Transformation Works

This morning I attended a talk by Casey West on "How Platforms Work" at the Australian Government Digital Transformation Office (DTO) in Canberra. Casey gave a good introductory overview of the underlying technology needed to provide computer applications (although he got a little bogged down on details, such as port assignments). As someone trained in computinging the age of  mainframes, it is both reassuring and disconcerting to see the "app" age reinventing the techniques need for running large scale reliable applications.

It was interesting to see DTO's office. This is a cross between a government office and a computer startup company. The office looks like a neater version of an innovation center, with post-it notes on walls and white-boards covered in diagrams. There are also a lot of thirty-something males with beards and check shirts.

Have seen the DTO office, I am more comfortable with what they are trying to do. However, it needs to be kept in mind that government applications have to be built to a much higher standard of reliability and usability than commercial free "apps". This presents a challenge for DTO to balance the need to get products out quickly and ensure that government obligations are met.

An example of the difficulties for government applications is that they have to operate when under hacking attack, not just from amateurs, but from professional nation state sponsored cyber-warfare. Companies can invoke "force majeure" and say they could not provide a service due to circumstances beyond their control, but governments can't. This will be discussed next week at...

ps: Casey West is in Australia until 10 March.

Analysis of the 2016 Defence White Paper

Greetings from the Great Hall of the Australian National University in Canberra, what a panel of ANU defence experts are discussing the Australian Government's 2016 Defence Whitepaper. The first speaker suggested that the white-paper had a "status quo" approach showing three concentric circles of influence.  The first of the three zones is strategic denial in the South Pacific. Second is a zone of stability in South East Asia (where Australia's "edge" is rapidly eroding). The third zone is that of "rules", based on overwhelming US power, which the speaker suggests has been upset by a sea denial fulled arms race.

The second speaker suggested distinguishing between what the paper says it is doing and actually does.They agreed with the first speaker that the white-paper assumes only incremental changes are needed to Australian defence policy. The white-paper assumes that the USA will remain the primary power in Asia and uphold Australia's security, despite indications from US Presidential candidates to the contrary.

The third speaker was in support of the white-paper, describing it as comprehensive and its proposals credible, provided they are funded.The white-paper was developed by competent defence professionals (unlike the former Minister for Defence). The speaker suggested that money and geography were important, but a public white-paper cannot be blunt about other nations. China will have internal problems with old, Russian derived military equipment. The speaker suggested "It will soon be time to teach China a lesson". They then listed US military equipment Australia will "soon" have, including the EA-18G Growler, electronic warfare aircraft. It was surprising to hear this blunt warning in a public forum by a person close to parts of the Australian Government. However, it the speaker also cautioned Australia has limited defence capacity and promises of increased defence spending have not been honored in the past. Some of the speaker's position seemed to be lacking in logic. They argued that Australia should be prepared to take military action to defend trade routes in the South China Sea against China, but that does not make a lot of sense if the trade is with China.

The fourth speaker pointed out that a white-paper is not the end of the defence policy process. They also pointed out, as the previous speaker, previous plans have been undermined by budget cuts. The budget does not allow for turning the Australian Army into a marine force for deployment from new Landing Helicopter Dock ships, or for converting them into F-35b aircraft carriers.In contrast 12 submarines and an increased number of maritime patrol and surveillance aircraft. the speaker suggests the key aim in the white-paper is to defend Australia.This is very different to the previous speaker's emphasis on confronting China.

ps: See also "Cyberwar: Hypothetical for Teaching ICT Ethics".

Monday, March 07, 2016

Indian Smart Village

Microsoft is helping set up the village of Harisal in the Indian state of Maharashtra, as a "smart village". There is a video  and press item about this, but all I could find from the government was a PR newsletter, which says "The technology will make the
delivery of education and health services better". The Harisal "smart village" has the makings for a repeat of the failed "Gungahlin Broadband Project".

In 1993 the ACT Government formed a "Strategic Alliance" with Telecom Australia, which included the "Gungahlin Broadband Project". The University of Canberra were also involved (Balnaves, 2002). The project was abandoned in 1996 and, as the then ACT Government admitted, it was never clear what the project was to accomplish. This came to mind recently, as I am researching e-learning in India. The major impediment is skepticism by Indian academics and government, about the value of on-line learning. Another problem is limited access to the Internet, but the "smart village" approach is not the solution.


Balnaves, M. (2002). Finding an audience for a new service. In M. Balnaves, J. Sternberg & T. O'Regan (Eds.), Mobilising the audience. (pp. 235-252). Brisbane:The University of Queensland Press.

Thursday, March 03, 2016

Unconference Canberra 2016

Unconference Canberra is Saturday, 9 April 2016 (register free). My first such was in 2009 (then BarCamp Canberra). It is worth attending one of these "un-conferecnes" to see what it is about. But the seemingly cohos and jargon can take a little getting used to.

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Docking Phablets May Supplant Desktop Computers and Laptops

The HP Elite x3 is a large screen (5.96-inch) smart-phone. What makes it interesting is the optional "HP Desk Dock" to connect it to a monitor to turn the smart-phone into a desktop computer. There is also a "HP Mobile Extender" to turn the smart-phone into a laptop. There have been attempts at this previously, but the technology, or the users, were not ready. The HP runs Windows 10 Mobile, but Linux can be used in the same way and it can't be too long before Google's Android has a viable desktop option.

It should be noted that there are already generic docking stations for connecting Windows and Android smart phones to external displays and keyboards (you need a phone with MHL socket). Also there is the "NexDoc": a crowd funding project to make a laptop dock for smart phones (essentially a cheap generic laptop with the processor left out and a MHL cable added).