Saturday, December 31, 2005

Konkan Railway Bridge

Konkan Railway Bridge The Konkan Railway runs parallel to the coast of Goa and so has to cross numerous rivers.

Electronic Tourist Kiosk

Electronic Tourist Kiosk On the way to take a cruise on the river in Goa I noticed an electronic tourist information Kiosk. This is essentially a PC in a box with a touch sensitive screen. This is the second unit I have seen in Goa and neither was operating. This is much the same as in Australia, where these units are installed in a rush of enthusiasm and then are not maintained. Tourists usually don't know enough to be able to ask a question of the machine.

Tropical Resort in Goa

Tropical Resort in Goa Goa's main attraction for overseas tourists are sandy beaches and tropical resorts. The locals seem offended if you don't at least go and have a look. But the one I visited looked just like one in Samoa and Australia. But the view from the headland nearby at sunset was okay.

Cybercafes in Mapusa

web page on a screen in a Cybercafe in Mapusa, IndiaGetting Internet access proved more difficult in India than I expected. The village has a pulse dial telephone system which I was unable to get to work reliably with my PC. The GSM mobile phone signals don't travel well through the 500 mm thick iron stone walls and steel barred windows of the houses. So far I have not been able to configure the GPRS of my phone with the local system. So I had to visit one of the numerous and cheap cybercafes.

Avoiding the more expensive tourist enters near the beach, the market town of Mapusa has old inexpensive ones. The catch is the low speed (about 1.2 kilobytes per second). The service is good, with staff able to supply blank CD-ROMs and a burner equipped PC. My web page looked okay on the slightly fuzzy 12 inch CRT screen.
Cybercafe in MapusaIn the photo, note the cybercamera, Dlink router and a bell (for summoning assistance) on top of the screen. I was able to plug my laptop into a spare port on the router, but this was so slow as to not be worth the effort.

An alternative for householders is that TaTa (a conglomerate which builds trucks as well) provide a CDMA fixed wireless service. The householder gets an LG made desk phone (LG LSP-350) which has a antenna on the back. They can connect a PC using a serial port or USB at up to 153.6 kbps. The handset also has a battery for power failures and SMS facilities. There are also GSM desktop units available which can be plugged into a standard phone handset.

Indian Navy Information Warfare Squadron

Information Warfare Squadron insgnia
Visiting the Kala Academy is entertaining in itself. This is a large modern performing arts complex. A traditional Indian performance was taking place in another amphitheater, while the naval band was performing in the indoor auditorium. There was a line of life preservers outside with the insignia of the various naval units on them, including the Information Warfare Squadron. The Indian Navy's Information Warfare squadron ("INAS 310 "Cobras") operate Dornier Do-228 aircraft, made locally under licence, for maritime and electronic surveillance.

Kator Re Bhaji: Through Corridors of Power

Play about Abbe Faria
"The Goan Jose Custodio Faria (1756-1819), more known as Abbe Faria, is an enigmatic personality around whom many stories and legends have been woven. He is best known for having studied the human mind and the trance state, disproving the 'animal magnetism' theories' of the then famous Austrian scientist Franz Anton Mesmer. He traveled to Portugal, Rome and France, and lived and worked in the exciting times of the Pinto Conspiracy, in Goa, and
the Enlightenment and the French Revolution in Europe. His life is layered with many stories some of which are captured in the play Kator Re Bhaji."

From the program for the Festival of Visual Arts and Theater, Kala Academy, Goa, 14 to 15 December 2005.

I attended the play Kator Re Bhaji (or Through Corridors of Power) by Isabel De Santa Rita Vas at the Kala Academy in Panjim, Goa, India. There is a statue of Abbe Faria in a park in town, down the road from the theater.

This was an outdoor performance overlooking the beach. The performance was reminiscent of one at the New Theater in Newtown Sydney, with a strong political and social message, surreal aspects with a play within a play, music and perhaps too clever philosophizing by the playwright. But I like any play about the life of a scientist, and it was fascinating to discover the history of one of the locals who took part in the French Revolution.

Indian office in Panjim

Indian office in Panjim Here is a travel office in the capital city of Goa. Note the Motorola walkie-talkie radio, phone, computer, printer and air conditioning. Also note a calculator and pile of ledger books on the table. What you can't see is the uninteruptable power supply on the floor behind to keep the computer and phone running during power failures.

School of Art, Panjim

School of Art Panjim
printmaking workshop  School of Art in Panjim
Visited the printmaking workshop at the School of Art in Panjim, India, courtesy of Hanuman Kambli. The modern building was designed by Sarto Aluicida. The art studios have impressive use of natural light, with celistory windows and mezzanine floors filtering the daylight. But ldings in Canberra, it needs some work to stop the raike modern buildings in Canberra, it needs some work to stop the rain coming in. Some translucent sails over the light-wells would help.

Ferry Cross the Mandovi River

Ferry  crossing the Mandovi River to Panji (Panjim), Goa, India. The numerous rivers of Goa are serviced by ferries. This one is crossing the Mandovi River to Panji (Panjim), Goa, India.Mandovi River to Panji (Panjim) the capital city of Goa in India. The ferry is free for pedestrians with scooter paying. Cars are not carried as there are two road bridges nearby. The only time you hear of Indian ferries in the western press is when the sink, with great loss of life. But this one felt quite safe, with a crowd of workers going home, schoolkids and young people out for a night on the town.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Indian School

Arriving late for the end of year celebrations at Lourdes Convent School, I found myself directed to a seat next to the Mother Superior. She explained that all 1,000 of the students were taking part. There were formation dancers depicting traditional fishing and tilling of fields, a morality play featuring the devil (he got the best lines as usual) and a bollywood style dance spectacular, as well as the usual prize giving. Tea in the headmistress office afterwards was a little daunting, bring back memories of being sent to the head for punishment. After the ceremonies, the kids changed out of their costumes and became kids, running around and jostling for ice cream, before being driven home, three people to a scooter, or in a minicar.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Miller, Baker, IT Engineer

The Goan village in India has tradespeople for traditional services, such as the miller. He will mill your own rice, wheat or millet, or sell you some and then grind it. But their son is more than likely training to do web design or engineering. There are also welders and small "two wheel" garages specializing in fixing motor scooter.

Village Bike

I found this marvelous bicycle outside the village boy's club in Goa, India. Notice the "A" badge on the front mudguard, the mechanically linked front brakes and the red blades in the spokes.

Shell Windows

The traditional windows of village houses of Goa are made of translucent oyster shell in a wooden lattice. This provides a soft translucent light for the houses. More recent windows have a small pane of clear glass in the centre, surrounded by shells. Some widows are of stained glass.

Life in the Lanes

In the lane-ways of a Goan village in India you will find people on foot, on bicycle and the occasional scooter. Cars and trucks are confined to wider roads at the end of the labyrinth. There are also women drying grain and kids playing cricket.

Goan Front and Back Doors

The balcao (porch) at the front of many houses in Goa (India) have a concrete seat built into the railing on each side of the top step. This is a cool place to sit and chat to the passers by. There are people with basket and bicycle loads of bread, fish and other goods, but business is done at the kitchen door.

Goan Village

Goan villages in India have densely packed houses separated by alleyways, surrounded by fields. Alleyways wide enough for a bullock cart separate the houses, lough a motor scooter is much more common than a bullock.

Older houses are of laterite, a rough rust-red stone. This must be protected from the rain by traditional palm frond screens, or now a layer of concrete and plastic roller blinds. Shops and some newer houses are of reinforced concrete, with the second story left open for grain storage. The laterite stone is incorporated for decoration in large municipal buildings.

Houses have wells, but also a piped municipal water supply. Each house has a roof tank for continuity of supply (incorporated as an architectural feature of apartments in town). There are street lights and mains power to the houses (power goes off for a few minutes several times a day).

Konkan Railway

The Konkan Railway runs the length of Goa in India, connecting it to Mumbai to the north and Mangalore to the south. The line has to cross numerous rivers and floodplains. This is a very modern construction, but notice the old oil lamp on the post next to the road crossing in the photo.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Rice Fields and Stone Churches

The villages of Goa in India are surrounded by rice fields. These are flood irrigated. During the dry season, houses, shops and churches are repaired. The laterite stone is covered with a new layer of whitewash, or in the case of this church, concrete. You can see how the fine detail of the column fluting is molded in the concrete coating.


In amongst three wheeled taxis and old busses, the city of Madgaon (Marga) in India, has a brand new high-tech suspended monorail, the "Konkan Railway Skybus", on high concrete pilons. The photo shows two monorail cars at the station. The story I got from a taxi driver was that one of the engineers was killed on a test run and the train has not run since. This shows that while India is full of competent engineers and astute business people they are not immune from folly. There are very few successful monorails in the world, such as the Schwebebahn at Wuppertal. A conventional train running on an elevated track, such as the Brisbane Airport Airtrain, would be far more useful as a transport system. But then Sydney has its own failed monorail.

Southern India

Having survived three airline flights and about ten hours in transit (total of about 20 hours) I arrived in Bangalore, India. The first impression was of military jet aircraft at the airport (shared with colluvial traffic like Townsville and Darwin airports in Australia). Each airliner on the ground had a guard with an automatic rifle. There seems to be building work going on everywhere. Bangalore from the air is one large construction site, with suburbs of apartments springing up. Stepping out of the Airport at Goa, I found my GSM phone worked. Like Beijing India has the contrast of people on old bicycles operating the latest mobile phones. Friday markets in Mapusa (see photo) has traditional food and clothing, dealated power and phone cabling, but also phones, electronics and cybercafes.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

On Target

John Birmingham described his book "Designated Targets" as an airport novel. So he should be delighted it is on the shelf beside his earlier book "He Died With a Falafel in His Hand" in the newsagent inside the international transit lounge at Sydney airport. There were also a pile outside the newsagent.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

The other side of the creek

This morning I was checking my mail when I noticed an invitation to a Fibreculture meeting at University of Sydney on Wednesday.

fibreculture is about critical and speculative interventions in the debate and discussions concerning information technology, the policy that concerns it, the new media for(u)ms it supports and its sustainable deployment towards a more equitable Australia. fibreculture is a forum for the exchange of articles, ideas and arguments on Australian IT policy in a broad, cultural context. ...
On the agenda was:

  • Help define fibreculture's role in the proposed new peak body: Digital Humanities Australia and Oceania
  • Propose ways to make best use of fibreculture's new online infrastructures, including MediaWiki and the Joomla web content management system
  • Help liven up the lists (and give feedback on moderation policies)
  • Play a role in proposed publication projects: fibreculture print-on-demand book series; collaborations with other publications (ephemera); upcoming editions of fibreculture journal
  • Help with fibreculture's possible involvement in an ANAT event on alternate modes of publishing proposed for March (~ Adelaide Festival)
  • Conferences: ADHO Paris, AIOR Brisbane, IE2006 Perth?
It was Wednesday, I was not far from the University so I jumped on a bus and was there ten minutes later.

I find involvement with fibreculture an intensely frustrating but rewarding experience. Fibreculturalists are humanities people who use the Internet. So they talk English and use IT terms, but I still can't understand what they are talking about. Even when I can understand what they are saying I don't know why they are saying it. This is because they speak in humanities-speak and I talk IT geek.

I could get the Wiki to give me the agenda and was late, so was even a little more confused that usual. So here I can say things I wanted to say:

Digital Humanities Australia and Oceania:

Lets provide something useful. As an example, I ran a workshop on the web for South Pacific museums in Samoa a few months ago for the International Council of Museums and UNESCO.

This went okay, but the smaller museums do not have the resources to run their own web sites. So I had an ANU student do a project on how to build a semantic web based system for all the museums of the region.

Propose ways to make best use of fibreculture's new online

When you work that out tell the rest of us. Better still if you can't work it out tell us what the problem is and we can get the IT researchers to work on solving it. There is a lot of money for doing research into online publishing, but little idea on what problems need to be solved.

Help liven up the lists:

Put Google ads on the web site. This will provide enough income to pay the hosting cost of the site. It will also provide lots of entertaining controversy. Each time someone complains there should not be ads about something, the system will see that topic and put up ads about it, further fuleeing the argument. ;-)

Play a role in proposed publication projects:
Firberculture could play a role in working out how to do books online without using some sort of Stalinist five year plan approach. How do a group of lossely associated people collaborate on a book? Can you translate a list/blog/Wiki into a book?

At present the Print On Demand services seem to say that once you have produced the book using old fashioned writing and editing processes if you email them the typeset PDF they will print and distribute it. This seems to only address a small part of the process.

If Australian humanities types want the sort of money the e-science people get, they need to come up with projects which sound hi-tech and have a chance of being of economic assistance to the nation. One would be to work out how to do book publishing in Australia, by an adaption of POD. This could be an offshoot of initiatives such as the Australian Partnership for Sustainable Repositories.

That may sound difficult, but a few years ago the Australian Computer Society decided to offer conference proceedings publishing service for Australian IT conferences.

As a result many conferences which would otherwise publish and print their proceedings in the USA are now doing it in Australia. Other conferences which could not afford to publish can now publish. There are now about 50 volumes of proceedings, which are also provided free online.

But there is still much to do with much of the process lacking IT support. Roger Clark pointed out that much of the cost with publishing academic papers is in preparing the content so even a paper-less journal costs money.

The ACS sponsored some work by ANU students to provide some tools for electronic publishing . Some of this may have fed into ARC work.

The Integrated Content Environment (ICE) System from USQ,

is an example of the same ideas applied to educational content. Perhaps Fibreculture can help make sense of all this technology, so we can seamlessly move from a discussion, to research to teaching to publishing.

Conferences: ADHO Paris, AIOR Brisbane, IE2006 Perth

Perhaps Fibreculture can stop these conferences being a closed shop with just people talking to the people they usually talk to.

The meeting made excellent use of technology with the agenda on screen along with some remote participants on audio and video conference. Due to technology limitations we could have only one remote participant at a time. Perhaps Fibreculture should borrow the few dozen Access Grid nodes around Australia for an event. These are lavishly equipped video conference rooms with wall sized high definition screens, hifi sound and gigabit connections. The rooms were bought for big science projects (The Grid), but should be co-opted for the humanities.

It was fun sitting in a room lined with dusty books discussing Moodle Wiki PODs. ;-)

ps: The title "The Other Side of the Creek" refers to the situation at the ANU, where Sullivan's Creek divides the campus. The humanities are on the eastern bank of the creek and the hard sciences on the west bank.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Lilly Pilly Home Brew

Inspired by a trip to Brussels, I made some Belgian style fruit drink using Lilly Pilly. Syzygium oleosum (LillyPilly) is an Australian native tree with cherry-like white to red fruit. They grow in and around Sydney (I picked mine from the streets of the inner west). The result has a sightly pinkish color and tastes a bit like cider, with a slightly rotten apple smell. Details at: <>.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Use US Standard for Accessible Electronic Textbooks?

The "Open eBook Publication Structure" 1.2 (OEBPS) is an XHTML based format for electronic books. OEBPS is recommended by the National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard Report, for accessible electronic textbooks in US schools. As this was sponsored by the U. S. Department of Education it is likely to receive interest from publishers, educators and government.

OEBPS is conceptually similar to the format used by OpenOffice.Org (OOO) in that it consists of a Zipped folder containing an XML manifest file, content in XML and images in binary format. Unlike OOO, the content is in XHTML and could be displayed by a web browser. But there doesn't seem to be any specific software for creating OEBPS documents. Perhaps web based editing tools could be used for this, such as Writely the web based word processor.

The XHTML subset which OEBPS uses is similar to the XHTML Basic used for mobile phones to display web content. This is a cleaner, leaner HTML. I teach university students how to create content in this format which works on regular desktop PCs, mobile phones and can be translated into other languages.

OEBPS might be a good format for text books to accompany an online course. It should be possible to refer a student to read some content in such a book from within an online learning system like Moodle or Sakai. As I show to students, it is possible to build a presentation right into the document format, so there is no need for separate teacher's materials.

What I can't work out if there is standard markup defined in OEBPS for regular book structures, such as entries for the index in the back of the book.