Thursday, May 10, 2018

Making Canberra a Mobile Place

Dickson LibraryGreetings from the Canberra Wine House, where I am taking part in the "Ideas and Actions for Dickson: Community Workshop". This is hosted by a team of planners contracted to the ACT Government. I booked for this event, thinking it was about master-planning for the Dickson shopping center and surround, as it is developed in conjunction with the new light rail and bus hub. However,  it was instead about how to get more sense  of community in the area.

In the late 1990s I chaired the Dickson Precinct Community Group, to provide advice to the ACT Government on planning the area. The Draft Master Plan, and Community Consultation and Cultural Profile Report from 1998, may be of interest.I was a little disappointed that the 2018 activity did not seem as organized as that twenty years ago.

We were asked to come up with ideas which could be implemented relatively quickly. My serious one was to issue planter boxes to the local primary schools and kindergartens and then place these around the library. A less serious one was an "uber-park": build a shallow planter box on Eclipse Engineering's Container Roll-Out Warehousing System (CROWS™), and stack these in a shipping container to create a relocatable pocket park.

The container would be transported by truck to a location, the pallets slid out and arranged to form a grassed area. The empty container would then be used as a kiosk. I was surprised when one of the other participants also suggested a relocatable "pop-up" park, so perhaps it is not such a silly idea.

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Data Driving the Smart City in Canberra

Greetings from the Australian National University in Canberra, where Future of the Web: Data drives the Smart City, just started. This is in conjunction with the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). This will be repeated Thursday 10 May in Sydney. I consider the "Smart City" to be like the smart home: mostly marketing hype. It will be interesting to see if today's speakers can change my view.

The first speaker was Dr Ole Nielsen, Deputy Chief Digital Officer and Director of Digital Transformation, ACT Government. I asked Dr Nielsen if the ACT Government was securing system sufficiently against cyber attack. He replied that data should not be stored on drives connected to people's email and data stored in the basement of offices is no more secure than on Amazon Web Services.

9.35am Industry Keynote  Dr Mukesh Mohania (IBM Distinguished Engineer in IBM Research)


 Ubiquitous sensing, located Dr Kerry Taylor (Chair, W3C Spatial Data on the Web)
 10.35am  Break
 10.50am  Smart Grid Dr Lachlan Blackhall (Head of the Battery Storage and Grid Integration Program, ANU)
Dr Armin Haller (W3C Office Manager, ANU)
 11.30am Power to the People:
Privacy in the smart city

(in Melbourne) Dr David Hyland-Wood (Blockchain Protocol Architect, Consensys)
(in Canberra) Dr Peter Christen (Professor, Data Mining and Matching, ANU)
(in Sydney) Christine Cowper (Principal Consultant, Information Integrity Solutions)
12.00pm Panel:
“How do we best enable smart cities?”
round-up of W3C activities and value proposition
capacity building – what skills do we need?
what issues should we consider? How do we solve them?
Discussion with all earlier speakers

chaired by  J. Alan Bird (W3C Global Business Development Lead)
All above speakers as participants
Interactive audience

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Container Roll-Out Solar System

ECLIPS Engineering demonstrated their Container Roll-Out Solar System (CROSS) in Canberra today. These are standard solar panels attached to a hinged framework mounted on a shipping container compatible platform. This can be sued to reduce military fuel use.

The demonstration was held at the Canberra drag-strip, normally used for Street Machine Summernats Car Festival. In place of high speed cars there was a forklift which unloaded the solar panels from a shipping container. 

The system is designed to provide power for military forward bases and mining camps. A stack of platforms is transported to the site in a standard 20 or 40 foot shipping container. The container is stacked with platforms, each fitted with 5 or 10 solar modules. Each platform is slid out, placed on the ground and then the panels hinged up to face the sun.

The panels are standard domestic units, mourned to an aluminum frame with standard brackets. While made of glass, the panels are reasonably robust. The steel platform they are mounted on appears heavy enough to keep the panels in place in the strongest wind.

This appears a workable system for military use, but may be over-engineered for civilian applications. The platform used is derived from one used for transporting tens of tonnes of supplies. The 20 foot unit weighs more than 1,350 kg, of which less than one quarter would be the panels and their frame. A much lighter platform might be developed to hold the few hundred kilos of solar panels. This would particularly useful for transport by air.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Australian Energy Security Board Not On Track to Deliver Affordable Energy

Greetings from the Australian National University in Canberra, where Clare Savage, Deputy Chair of the Energy Security Board is speaking on the National Energy Guarantee. Clare said that the board would not be proposing technical reliability measures, be included in energy suppliers contracts, as this would be too complex. However, financial markets have far more complex traded commodities, so I can't see why this can't be done for energy. If reliability measures are not being provided as part of the market based energy system, then I can't see how they can be provided cost-effectively. If reliability is just a requirement imposed on providers we are likely to see a similar situation as with wires and poles, where companies overbuilt the system in the name of reliability, to push up prices to the consumer and thus increase profits. The Australian Energy Security Board is going down a path which will deliver reliable power, but it will be expensive power, with high carbon emissions.

The Australian Energy Security Board has to work within the constraints set by government. However, it should still be possible to design a system which will reward innovations in new technology which can deliver reliability, along with low emissions at an afford able price.  I suggest the Board change their approach to explore those options.

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Information Awareness Month 2018 off to a Bad Start by NAA

May's Information Awareness Month 2018 got off to a bad start with the National Archives of Australia (NAA) emailing out an invitation to the launch in the form of an image. Those who have difficulties seeing images could click on the included link, but NAA should have included the details of the event as text. This is a matter of common courtesy and also helps comply with Australian anti-discrimination law. Ironically, David Fricker, Director-General of the National Archives of Australia, will be presenting the National Archives Awards for Digital Excellence at the event.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Silent Disco Loud on Teen Angst

The play "Silent Disco" opened at the New Theater in Sydney on Saturday. Set in a typical Australian city suburban school, teenagers come to terms with relationships and a bleak future working at the local supermarket checkout. At the same time their teacher exhausted from caring about their charges reminisces over their teen years.

This performance suffered from a number of handicaps. The play, by Australian Lachlan Philpott, was first presented in 2011, but already sounds a little dated. References to iPods and SMS do not match contemporary teen language. The actors playing the teens are too old to be believable. A teenager having to go all the way to Kings Cross to buy drugs seems old fashioned.

Set designer Ester Karuso-Thurn has produced a suitably bleak representation of a school classroom (reminding me of a demountable I spent many hours in). Sound designer Jessica Dunn uses loud brash music for raging teens.

"Silent Disco" is at the New Theater, Newtown, Sydney until 14 April 2018.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Women in Design Wikipedia-edit-a-thon at Sydenham Library in Sydney

Greetings from the Hack the Canon: Women in Design Wikipedia-edit-a-thon at Sydenham Library in the Sydney Inner-west. Speakers are Olivia Hyde, Director of Design Excellence, NSW Government Architect; ZoĆ« Sadokierski, senior lecturer, School of Design at the , University of Technology Sydney; and  Cathy Lockhart industrial designer and academic. Thee will be wikipedia editing to follow and the event goes until 4pm, so come along.

Thursday, March 08, 2018

Climate mitigation and adaptation in the ACT

Greetings from the Canberra Renewables Innovation Hub, where the ACT Government is holding a workshop on the Climate mitigation and adaptation in the ACT: costs, benefits and implications report (22 February 2018). It is going to be a difficult exercise, as this is a sixty eight page technical economic report, presented to a general audience.

ps: It turned out to go well, but this wasn't really a general audience, but a self selected group of experts and enthusiasts.  

My suggestions were:
  1. Public-private pocket parks: These would be modeled on the private part at the center of the City-edge development at O'Connor. This looks like a public park but is owned by the bodies corporate of the surrounding apartments. 
  2. Pop-up Community Groups: ACT Government would provide a website where a group of residents could register a community group. When enough people had joined, this would be a legally constituted group and receive government support to run a community garden and the like.

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Federal Regulation Needed to Stop Financial Institutions Placing Customers at Risk of Scammers

Had a call from someone claiming to be from NIB Health Insurance. They wanted to discuss my policy and asked me for personal details to verify who I was. However, when I asked the caller to verify who they were, they could not. They provided a telephone number and suggested I call. I explained that as they gave me the number, I could not use it for verification. They then gave me a web address to check the number, but again, as they gave me that I could not rely on it being genuine.

The caller did not seem to grasp the fact that because I get so many scam calls, I have to assume anyone calling is a scammer, until they can prove otherwise. Assuming this caller really was from NIB, the company appears to not understand that they should not call customers in this way. By doing so they make it easier for scammers. I suggest a mandatory code of conduct needs to be put in place for insurance companies, and other financial institutions, to stop this practice.

Monday, March 05, 2018

4th Age of War with 3D Printed Pizza Drone Delivered to Battlefield

Greetings from the Australian National University in Canberra, where Dr Albert Palazzo, Director of War Studies at the Australian Army Research Centre is speaking on "Transition Point: Embracing the 4th Age of War". He started with 3D printing (additive manufacturing), which is already being used to produce replacement parts on-board US warships at sea. A more amusing example was the US Army experimenting with 3D printed pizza drone delivered to the battlefield.

Dr Palazzo then drew a contrast between a traditional trade route map of the world and a data transmission map. Current main routes are trans-Atlantic and he suggests this is where wealth will be created.

Dr Palazzo suggested that we don't know who makes the rules about trans-national data communications. This clearly is not true. There was a well established international governance framework for telecommunications before the Internet. This was supplemented with new bodies and rules with the advent of the Internet. I helped establish this structure and stumbled into one of the meetings of the people who ran the Internet one day in Stockholm.

Dr Palazzo then claimed that AI can't come up with quirky original actions and may result in predictability on the battlefield. My experience is that AI comes up with anticipated results, as it is not possible for the human, even the one who programmed it, to anticipate how the data will interact.

One area not addressed by Dr Palazzo were information warfare and irregular warfare techniques enhanced by the Internet. Examples of this are the use of sophisticated social media by terrorists, high quality videos by the Russian military in Syria and "Little green men" deployed in the Ukraine. Western military forces have had difficulty in countering these due in part to a lack of suitable training and doctrine.

That these new forms of warfare are now here was brought home to me when ANU started offering a course in "Offensive Cyber Security Operations" (COMP3702).

One point I agreed with Dr Palazzo on was that the barriers to entry with some new technologies is low. This just needs engineers.

ps: My nephew, Sam Worthington, is an engineer and just set up Rapid 3d Printing.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

ACT Virtual Big Battery Proposed

Greetings from the Renewables Innovation Hub, in Canberra, where I have been attended a workshop on the Energy Efficiency Improvement Scheme (EEIS). This is a suite of measures to reduce energy and greenhouse gas emissions. One proposal is to provide incentives for  Demand Response (DRM) capable air-conditioners. Some participants pointed out that while there were many DRM capable units already installed, few were activated. So I suggested the ACT implement a DRM controller and require all units under the scheme to be connected to it, unless they were connected to an alternative DRM controller. This would provide the ACT with a virtual (and much cheaper) alternative to South Australia's big battery.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Upgrade Your Computer with Stuff from the Tip

I was amused to read in John Davidson's "Three gadgets to give your computer the facelift you so richly deserve" (AFR, 18 February), that I could upgrade my computer with a new keyboard and mouse for less than $450. My computer only cost $298, so it would seem a false economy to upgrade it with peripherals costing 50% more than the computer. I did upgrade my computer with a wide-screen LCD desktop display. This cost nothing at all, as I found it on the roadside on rubbish collection day. For those not willing to try a road-side upgrade, I recommend the tip-shop or charity. There are peripherals in abundance for a few dollars. If you want to refresh a very old computer, then an upgrade to Linux will breath new life into it. I am reluctant to but a second hand laptop, but even a new one is not going to cost around $500.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Love Letter to the Libraries of Canberra

I walked into the UNSW Canberra Library at the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA), as I have done every few weeks for many years. But this is the first time someone has rushed up, handed me two heart-shaped chocolates and asked me to write them a love letter. Well, not to them, but to the library. So here it is, to Canberra's academic libraries.

Libraries Like Airport Business Lounges

Wynnum Library by Deluca.
Photo by Carole Margand (2016)
Wynnum Library by Deluca.
Photo by Carole Margand (2016)
This love of libraries was not one which started early. At school, the library was more of a chore, than a pleasure (except for the forbidden books locked away). The local public library was too far away and intimidating to enter (looking like a courthouse). Recently I visited where I grew up, and there is a new "Wynnum Library", very welcoming and accessible. I spent an hour browsing and recharging my laptop. It was controversial, being built on top of a supermarket, but I like it, because it looked like an airport business lounge, not a courthouse.

My love of libraries came later in life, first as somewhere to sleep at university, before the next party. Then much, much, later, somewhere to find knowledge.

One of the wonders of Canberra's (and most of Australia's) public and academic libraries is that they are open for anyone to walk in. In some countries, you have to show your ID to enter a public library and the public is not admitted to university libraries at all.

NLA and the Internet Revolution

Canberra's libraries give generously of their facilities. This does not involve just keeping copies of other people's books. Along with having an excellent cafe and bookstore, the National Library of Australia (NLA) had a central role in getting the Australian Government on the web. In the 1990s a cabal of politicians, public servants, academics and industry people were working on making government information freely available online. At the time this was contrary to government policy: the government sold information, on paper, in its bookstores. It was decided each government agency would create a website. But there would need to be a central index and none of the central agencies wanted to do it. So the National Library of Australia stepped in and created the Australian Government's first home page. This was so successful that government policy was changed.

ANU and the Innovation Revolution

In my closing address for the 1998 Information Industry Outlook Conference in Canberra, I argued that Australia could emulate Cambridge (England) as a high technology industry center. I could put this confidently, not only because I had been and talked to the people doing it in Cambridge, but because I had read a book. Not really read the book, so much as devoured it. In the ANU's Hancock Library I found Segal Quince & Partners 1985 report on "The Cambridge phenomenon: the growth of high technology industry in a university town" (still in the ANU library). Over several days I made notes, appropriately, on a Cambridge Computer Z88. I included that Summary in a book, which is mentioned occasionally by Cambridge scholars (who apparently had difficulty finding a copy of their report). Technology companies are now springing up in Canberra, next to the ANU campus.

UNSW Canberra and the Education Revolution

Two decades later, I became almost by accident a mature age graduate university student. My studies were in online education and mostly conducted online, at institutions 1,000 km and 13,000 km away. But I found e-books not ideal for intensive study and was delighted to discover that all of Canberra's university libraries would let me borrow books. Most useful for education studies were the small and friendly Australian Catholic University library and UNSW Canberra. UNSW Canberra had a collection of books published decades ago by Open University UK (OUUK) on how to design, plan, budget and deliver distance education. These books had been overlooked in a rush to MOOCs as a new form of education, but many of the problems and solutions discovered with MOOCs has already been addressed decades ago by OUUK.

I left the Department of Defence in 1999, but DoD have now followed me to the ANU (paying for an extra floor in the new ANU Computer Science building). So its back to UNSW Library to brush up on cybersecurity.

Thursday, February 08, 2018

Global Financial Crisis Risk from Renewable Power Technology

Greetings from the ANU Climate Update 2018 at the Australian National University in Canberra. Professor John Hewson from the ANU Crawford School of Public Policy warned that advances in renewable power technology could precipitate a global financial crisis. The concern, as I understand it, was that wind turbines, photovoltaic panels and batteries are dropping in cost. The problem then existing fossil fuel investments could become suddenly financial nonviable, disrupting financial markets.

I was reminded about sudden changes in technology yesterday, with the successful launch of the SpaceX Falcon Heavy reusable launch vehicle. This has been under development for at least ten years, but the success makes it a viable option for launching satellites at about one third the current cost.

It is similarly easy to overlook incremental improvements in renewable energy technology, until it is packaged in an understandable form. An example South Australia's 100MW battery and batteries for 50,000 homes.

ANU Climate Update 2018

Greetings from the ANU Climate Update 2018 at the Australian National University in Canberra. The opening address was by Shane Rattenbury, MLA, Minister for Climate Change and Sustainability, ACT Legislative Assembly. He invited community comment on the ACT Climate Strategy to a Net Zero Emissions Territory.

The Minister surprisingly admitted that the Australian Capital Territory (where Canberra is) was easily able to become carbon neutral. This could be done as the ACT doesn't have a lot of coal fired power stations to replace.

ps: I am just finishing updating the notes for my course "ICT Sustainability" being offered by ANU in First Semester, starting online 19 February.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

U.S. Tsunami Warning System Problem

Tsunami Warning after an earthquake
near Alaska at 01-23-2018 09:35:57 UTC
The U.S. Tsunami Warning System issued a warning after an earthquake near Alaska at 01-23-2018 09:35:57 UTC.

However, when I checked the home page at 11:15 UTC the map did not show the earthquake location and instead said "Earthquake Layer failed to load" and "Alerts/Threats Layer failed to load". This would appear to be because the system was overloaded. I then canceled the page request, not wishing to make the situation worse.

The NWS Tsunami Alerts Twitter feed was working at the time. However, the twitter alerts contained a link to the same non-functioning web page:
    NWS Tsunami Alerts
‏    Verified account @NWS_NTWC
    2m2 minutes ago

    TSUNAMI WARNING 4: See  for alert areas.
    M7.9 175mi SE Kodiak City, Alaska 0032AKST Jan 23:
There were some maps provided direct in the twitter feed, which did display:

Tsunami Travel Time Map, from
U.S. Tsunami Warning System

    NWS Tsunami Alerts
    ‏Verified account @NWS_NTWC
    1m1 minute ago

    Tue Jan 23 11:18:49 UTC 2018  event picture
However, these maps are difficult to interpret, as they showed a series of predicted arrival times as colored lines, with no scale as to the size of the wave. The waves were shown reaching Australia in 11 hours, although no warning had been issued by the Joint Australian Tsunami Warning Centre. 

Colored dots on the map indicated the location of tidal gauges and "DART". Not explained on the map, DART is a system of "Deep-ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunamis" detectors. 

Fortunately in this case the tsunami was only 6 inches high (as reported at Old Harbor Alaska 0256  PST Jan 23). However, I suggest revising the design to use simple static map images on the web site, using a few colors, so the file is small. Also the use of extensive JavaScript should be avoided to allow the page to load quickly. At present the HTML file is only 61 kBytes, but the other files are 3.4 Mbytes, including a 1.2 Mbyte JavaScript file.

The tidal gauge and DART locations are not of use to someone who wants to know when, when and how large a tsunami to expect. These should be omitted from the map, unless they show a reading. The predicted arrival time should be limited to a few hours, until the existence of a significantly sized tsunami is confirmed.

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Fix for Blank Screen at Grub/Linux Login: VGA Dummy Plug

VGA Dummy PlugMy a Leader Companion 220 has been running well since 2014 with Linux Mint. However, it has developed the annoying habit of displaying a black screen when booting, unless a VGA (or HDMI) external monitor is plugged in. The LCD screen then works fine (even when the computer is suspended and resumed without the external monitor), but a cold boot with an external monitor gives a blank screen.

I found hundreds of queries on the web about this problem, with any conclusive software fix. What solved the problem was a "VGA Dummy Plug". When inserted in the computer's VGA socket this tricks the system into thinking a monitor is installed and allows the boot.

Apparently such plugs were used in some bitcoin mining computers. A PC chassis was used with multiple graphics cards. But to for Microsoft Windows to recognize the graphics card , each required either a monitor plugged in, or a dummy. Thus there are many VGA Dummy Plugs offered on

However, I made my own using the instructions provided by . I used 86 Ohm resistors soldered to a DB15HD plug (as used for VGA) for about AU$5.