Monday, April 30, 2007

Cardboard Coffins Now Permitted in Canberra

Janine Toscan and an Eco-CoffinAlong with energy/water efficient technologies, and building/transport options at the Canberra home and leisure show last October were cardboard coffins. But the ACT Government did not permit cremation in them (burying was okay). Janine Toscan from Toscan Dinn Funerals had a petition asking for the rules to be changed.

The rules were changed 24 April 2007 to allow cardboard coffins:
The new Code removes any legislative impediment to the use of cardboard coffins, although such coffins (like all other coffins) must satisfy the requirements of the Cemeteries and Crematoria Regulation 2003 and the Cemeteries and Crematoria (Containers for Burial) Approval 2004 (No 1) NI2004-332 and the Cemeteries and Crematoria (Containers for Cremation) Approval 2004 (No 1) NI2004-333. ...

The provision removes the requirements of the previous code that effectively stopped the use of cardboard coffins for cremation. ...

From: Cemeteries and Crematoria (Code of Practice) Approval 2007, Disallowable instrument DI2007–100, made under the Cemeteries and Crematoria Act 2003, section 6 (Codes of Practice), ACT Parliamentary Counsel

Friday, April 27, 2007

Beijing 2008 Olympic Torch Via Canberra

Beijing Olympic TorchThe Beijing 2008 Olympic committee has announced the route for the torch relay. It will go from Athens via Jakarta to Canberra and then Nagano on its web to Beijing. According to news reports, the torch is expected in Canberra on 24 April 2008.

There is a new web site just for the torch relay. The new web site is simpler in design than the main 2008 Olympic site. I will be talking about web design for the Beijing 2008 Olympics at the 2007 China Media Centre Conference in July.

There is a new design released for the torch:
The torch is 72 centimetres high, weighs 985 grams and is made of aluminium. The torch is of a curved surface form, with etching and anodizing being used during its production. A torch can usually keep burning for approximately 15 minutes in conditions where the flame is 25 to 30 centimetres high in a windless environment. ...

From: Key facts about Beijing Olympic Torch, BOCOG, the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Games of XXIX Olympiad, 2007-04-26
The gimmick for the Sydney 2000 torch relay was one that burnt underwater and was carried by a diver on the Great Barrier Reef (different to the other torches used). This time it will be to take the torch up Mount Everest. I would be happy to pedal around Beijing with it, if that would help. ;-)

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Green IT Special Interest Group?

Would you be interested in helping form a Special Interest Group on "Green IT" in Canberra (Australia)? This could look at simple ways to reduce energy use and other environmental impacts of computers. The sort of thing I have in mind is tips on using the energy saving features already built into office computers to full effect. As an example, is there a pretty screen saver pattern stopping the video display from switching to low power mode? Is LAN administrator stopping PCs from shutting down overnight because they occasionally run some updates?

There is a successful Software Quality Assurance Special Interest Group in Canberra, with members from the ACS, IEEE CS and other bodies. The ACS also has PC Recycling and Community Computer Projects in South Australia.

The ACM has SIGCAS: Special Interest Group on Computers and Society:
SIGCAS brings together computer professionals, specialists in other fields, and the public at large to address concerns and raise awareness about the ethical and societal impact of computers. As part of its ongoing efforts to gather and report information, thus stimulating the exchange and dissemination of ideas, SIGCAS publishes a quarterly newsletter and co-sponsors national conferences such as the National Educational Conference, the Computers, Freedom and Privacy Conference, the Computers and Quality of Life Symposium, and the Computer Ethics Conference.
The US EPA has the Energy Star system:
An ENERGY STAR qualified computer uses 70% less electricity than computers without enabled power management features.

Earning the ENERGY STAR:

* If left inactive, ENERGY STAR qualified computers enter a low-power mode and use 15 watts or less. New chip technologies make power management features more reliable, dependable, and user-friendly than even just a few years ago.
* Spending a large portion of time in low-power mode not only saves energy, but helps equipment run cooler and last longer.
* Businesses that use ENERGY STAR enabled office equipment may realize additional savings on air conditioning and maintenance.
* Over its lifetime, ENERGY STAR qualified equipment in a single home office (e.g., computer, monitor, printer, and fax) can save enough electricity to light an entire home for more than 4 years.
* The ENERGY STAR specification for computers, game consoles, and other hardware was revised on October 20, 2006 and is effective starting July 20, 2007. ..."
The Energy Star specification for computers was last revised 20 October 2006. It covers desktop computers, notebooks, workstations, and small servers as of 20
July 2007.

Perhaps we will see a trend to lower energy, rather than higher performance computers. HP and VIA have announced a business
HP Compaq dx2020 workstation for China which uses a low power VIA C7-D processor. Launch New Commercial PC for China:
Beijing, China, 13 April 2007 - VIA Technologies, Inc, a leading innovator and developer of silicon chip technologies and PC platform solutions, and HP today unveiled the HP Compaq dx2020, a highly energy efficient commercial PC for the China market powered by the VIA C7-D desktop processor.

Recognizing the need to modernize in order to be competitive on the world stage, China'
s enterprise sector is seeing rapid adoption of computer technology. The HP Compaq dx2020 PC meets the needs of businesses across the commercial spectrum, with the added assurance of HP's renowned manufacturing quality for greater system reliability and lower maintenance costs.

Environmentally sustainable computing is a key element of system design. Fully RoHS-compliant, the HP Compaq dx2020 features the power efficient 1.5GHz VIA C7-D processor, the world's first carbon free processor with a maximum power of just 20 watts for much lower electricity use than traditional PCs, and has achieved certification by the CECP, the China Government's key energy rating agency, for its highly efficient operation. ...

HP Compaq dx2020 Key Specifications

Processor: 1.5GHz VIA C7-D Desktop Processor
Chipset: VIA CN700 Digital Media Chipset
Graphics: VIA UniChrome Pro II integrated graphics processor
Memory: Up to 1GB of DDR2 533 SDRAM
Hard Drive: 7200rpm Serial ATA up to 160GB, up to 3GB/s data transfer
USB2.0: 6 ports (2 at the front)
Networking: Fast Ethernet 10/100Mbps Broadband LAN
Dimensions: 36.7 x 17.5 x 42cm
Book: Computers and the Environment: Understanding and Managing their impacts, by R. Kuehr, Eric Williams:
What are the environmental impacts associated with personal computers (PCs)? How should we manufacture, buy, use and dispose of them so as to reduce these impacts? Governments and firms are increasingly responding to mitigate some of the problems. In the E.U., Japan, and Taiwan, mountains of waste computers are being dealt with via legislation mandating recycling. Measures are also being taken to reduce the content of lead, mercury and other toxic substances put into computers in the first place. Are these responses enough? Do we understand enough about the impacts to take appropriate social response?
Other books on energy reduction and computers.

Engineering Education for Sustainable Development

Michael SmithThis talk at the ANU College of Engineering and Computer Science, in Canberra, next week is recommended. Perhaps the web could be used for education on sustainable development, particularly for Green ICT:

Engineering Education for Sustainable Development - New Challenges, Initiatives, and Opportunities

Michael Smith (Departmental Visitor ANU CRES and Research Director of the sustainability think tank - The Natural Edge Project (TNEP))

DATE: 2007-05-03
TIME: 15:00:00 - 16:00:00
LOCATION: Ian Ross Seminar Room


2005 -2015 is the UN Decade of Education in Sustainable Development. This presentation argues that it is time we re-examined whether or not we can improve engineering education in sustainable development. It is widely acknowledged that engineers have a key role to play in sustainable development. The challenge to achieve ecological sustainability fast enough and on a scale large enough globally is significant.

This lecture argues that to achieve sustainability globally, OECD nations, like Australia, will need to aim to reduce environmental pressures by at least 75% by 2050. Far from being radical, such targets are in line with IPCC and other UN body?s recommendations. These sorts of targets are also being recommended by academics. The ANU Factor of 10 Symposium in 2001, which argued that environmental pressures needed to be reduced by a factor of 10 (or 90%) by 2050, is an example of this. Given these facts, this presentation asks how can engineering university courses (and ongoing professional development training) better equip engineers with the very latest to achieve Factor 4-10 or better now?

Achieving a Factor of 4 (75%) or better marks a significant new challenge for this generation of engineers. Michael Smith, The Natural Edge Project and partners are currently in the process of developing three significant engineering education programs addressing this issue funded by UNESCO and Engineers Australia, The Department of Environment and Water Resources and CSIRO's Energy Transformed Flagship respectively.

Drawing on these three training packages for engineers, this lecture will show how engineers and society already are achieving such large (Factor 4 plus) reductions in environmental pressures through re-thinking the engineering design of whole systems. The talk will overview what is novel about these new engineering educational packages, what they provide engineers and educators, which Universities are already using this work, and how it will add value to ANU?s existing engineering courses. In addition the presentation will overview other significant initiatives around the world - like the Netherlands Sustainable Technology Development program; a national program seeking to help the Netherlands achieve Factor 10-20 by 2050.

BIO: Michael Smith has worked on a range of sustainability focused initiatives for sometime. Michael and the team from The Natural Edge Project have developed a range of projects focused on education and training for sustainable development, working with Universities, Professional Bodies, Industry Groups, Government Agencies, Companies, Schools and touring international keynote speakers.

In 2005, TNEP was announced the winner of the Banksia Award for Environmental Leadership, Education and Training for their publication The Natural Advantage of Nations, and the training program, Engineering Sustainable Solutions Program. Already 20,000 individuals a month are using the online educational resources on The Natural Edge Project's web site.

In addition, Michael represents TNEP on the editorial board for CSIRO ECOS:Towards A Sustainable Future magazine, Engineers Australia?s Sustainability Taskforce Committee and the Australian Council of Building Design Professionals. He has also served as PARSA rep on the ANU Green committee and is a recipient of the ANU Green Individual Award.

Michael H. Smith has joined the Department of Engineering for the next 9 months. In 2006, Michael was accepted as a Departmental Visitor to ANU?s Centre for Resource and Environmental Studies to develop an engineering sustainable energy solutions educational package, under funding from the CSIRO Energy Transformed Flagship project grants in collaboration with Griffith University, The Natural Edge Project and Engineers Australia. The project will research and deliver an effective toolkit for capacity-building engineers and other key technical professions, in the skill of finding and implementing cost-effective low-carbon energy approaches and energy efficiency options.

The capacity-building training program will empower engineers to address these issues through the course of their professional life. The project will deliver peer-reviewed capacity-building modules for use by both practicing and undergraduate engineers (ie in the workplace and through universities and vocational institutions). Given the project's focus, the ANU Department of Engineering have agreed for him to undertake this program based as part of the ANU Centre for Sustainable Energy Systems for the duration of this work.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Safe Robot Aircraft for Australian Aircraft Carrier?

Mark NicholsonDr Mark Nicholson from University of York was recently in Australia to teach Systems Safety Engineering. I bumped into him at the coffee shop and the next day he gave a presentation at the ACS Software Sig.

One interesting application Mark mentioned was safety analysis needed to allow UAVs (Robot Aircraft) to fly in the same airspace with piloted aircraft. The rules which are used to assess if an aircraft is safe to fly assume there is a pilot in it. So changes need to be made for when the pilot is actually sitting on the ground, flying the aircraft by remote control and, at least part of the time, a computer program is flying the aircraft.

Having a computer fly a plane might sound risky, but Mark pointed out that most modern aircraft are being flown by a computer most of the time now. Modern airliners, such as those from Airbus are controlled by a computer, with the pilots controls actually input devices to the computer, much like a computer game. Most of the time the computer is flying the aircraft with the pilot monitoring the systems.

Mark pointed out an even more demanding application is where military UAVs and piloted aircraft are taking off and landing on an aircraft carrier at sea. The relatively orderly process of air traffic control used at a civilian airport doesn't apply.

Tenix-Navantia Landing Helicopter Dock Ship Cross Section DiagramAustralia may be in need of Mark's skills for the Amphibious Ships Project. Defence plans to buy two large "Landing Helicopter Dock" ships to carry helicopters and landing craft. These will be large enough to also operate UAVs and F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter aircraft. But stopping the helicopters, fighters and robot aircraft from running into each other will need some carefully designed software.

Bell Eagle Eye, Model 918, is a tiltrotor unmanned aerial vehicleEven a relatively small UAV, such as the Bell Eagle Eye, Model 918 tiltrotor would pose a considerable risk to other aircraft operating from the ship. Armed UAVs would pose a further risk.

ps: The Landing Helicopter Dock ships are likely to be a Spanish design from the company "Navantia". The decision is years away, but recently the Defense Department is reported to have decided on Navantia's F100 destroyer. Having bought one ship from Navantia, it makes sense to buy another from the same company.

Education, Offshoring and Free Trade to remove ICT Trade Deficit

The Australian Computer Society released the "2007 Australian ICT Trade Update" on 19 April 2007. This was at the National YIT Conference held in Melbourne. I talked at the conference on "Making money from XML publishing", but that might not be enough to offset a $21 billion ICT trade deficit. ;-)

According to the report for 2006, Australia exported $5.7 billion of ICT and imported $26.6 billion. The ACS suggests to fix the problem:
  • Education and skills - Potential opportunities for Australian participation as a major venue for on-shoring' (i.e. being a major services exporter) will depend on local education and skills.
  • Conducive environment for global activities - For Australia to continue to be a successful exporter of ICT services, the nation requires reliable infrastructure such as high speed broadband, the ability of local suppliers to link into global production systems and a supportive regulatory environment.
  • Regionally focused ICT export missions and programmes - While North America and Europe are traditional export target destinations, opportunities for significant ICT export growth can be found in India, China and Southeast Asia. The Government should support continued regionally-focused ICT export missions and programmes, in consultation with the Australian ICT industry, to maximise such opportunities.
  • Offshoring capabilities - Australia has the infrastructure, capability and cost advantage to become an offshoring destination of choice for the US, Japan, UK and Europe for ICT-based activities and analysis in the areas of financial services, strategic business intelligence, risk and quality management, and research and development.
  • Free Trade Agreements - The ACS considers that FTAs can provide useful support for strategies aimed at developing Australian ICT exports, but are not of prime importance to such strategies. ..."
From: "ACS Releases 2007 ICT Trade Update - ICT Services Exports Improve by $.5 Billion, Offsetting a Rising ICT Trade Deficit", Media Release, ACS, 19 April 2007
A 23 page summary of the trade report as a 1.7Mb PDF file is available . The full report is prepared and published by Victoria University as a PDF document.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Renewable Energy for Australia

A Bright Future: 25% Renewable Energy for Australia by 2020The document "A Bright Future: 25% Renewable Energy for Australia by 2020" was released by a coalition of environment groups on 23 April 2007. As the title says, it proposes a renewable energy target for Australia. The report has received a lot of press criticism for not costing the proposals. But it is much better thought out than proposals from the federal government for incandescent light bulbs to be banned, or by state governments to put in desalination plants.

The report is sponsored by the Australian Conservation Foundation, Greenpeace, and Climate Action Network Australia. Unfortunately it is provided as an environmentally unfriendly 28 page, 525 KB PDF document. Here is the Executive Summary:
Climate change threatens the human, economic, and environmental future of Australia. Temperatures are set to rise by up to 6°C by 2100 unless we act now. Even a 1°C rise would see drought increase by up to 70 per cent in NSW, and regular bleaching of over half of the Great Barrier Reef. The actions we take, or fail to take, in the next fi ve years will decide whether we cross the threshold of dangerous climate change.

Any plan for deep cuts in greenhouse emissions entails a major roll-out of renewable energy technologies. Countries around the world have introduced ambitious renewable energy targets to reduce emissions and ensure that they get a slice of the rapidly growing renewable energy market. Australia is missing this opportunity.

A 25 per cent by 2020 legislated renewable energy target would see Australia join the global clean energy revolution. Combined with medium energy efficiency measures, the target would conservatively deliver:
  • 16,600 new jobs, n $33 billion in new investment,
  • 15,000 MW new renewable capacity,
  • 69 million tonnes reduction in electricity sector greenhouse emissions (almost as much as the total emissions from road transport), and
  • enough renewable electricity to power every home in Australia.
More than 17,000 Australians are already employed in renewable energy or energy efficiency, despite the lack of government support for these industries. A 25 per cent target would increase the number of clean energy jobs to over 33,000.

Australia has plentiful renewable energy resources, and a quarter of our electricity could easily be supplied by a mixture of hydropower, bioenergy, wind, and solar. This would prepare us for a further transition to clean energy after 2020.

With a 25 per cent renewable energy target, our electricity prices would still remain among the cheapest in the world. A 25 per cent target, coupled with medium energy efficiency measures, would add around $64 to the average household annual electricity bill, or $1.25 per week. In contrast, current projections for business as usual electricity use could see average household electricity bills increase by $234 per year.

In order to make sure that we realise these benefits, Australia needs:
  • A national legislated target for 25 per cent of electricity to come from renewable energy by 2020.
  • A national target for zero electricity growth by 2010, followed by annual average reductions reaching at least 1.5 per cent by 2020, and supporting measures to achieve it.
  • Urgent amendment of National Electricity Market regulation so network expansion costs can only be passed on to consumers if companies demonstrate that demand management or energy efficiency are not alternatives.
  • A fixed price for solar PV electricity going into the electricity grid (called a ‘feed-in tariff’), sufficient to ensure householder investment.
In addition to the renewable energy and energy efficiency targets, other actions will be required to reduce electricity sector emissions to 30% below 1990 levels. Introducing a price on carbon, improving the efficiency of fossil fuel power stations, significantly increasing co-generation, and fuel switching will all be necessary.

From: The Executive Summary of "A Bright Future: 25% Renewable Energy for Australia by 2020", by Australian Conservation Foundation, Greenpeace Australia Pacific, and Climate Action Network Australia, 23 April 2007.

Gavin Dispain and Web Standards in Canberra

Gavin Dispain talking on Australia Government web sitesAfter the last Web Standards Group meeting in Canberra, I invited the organizer, Gavin Dispain, to give a guest lecture in the web design course at ANU, on web design in government agencies. The lecture is today (ANU staff are welcome to attend). I needed to provide an introduction to Gavin for the lecture and it seemed appropriate to do it as a web page (this blog entry), with some web links.

Gavin is from the Australian Department of the Environment and Water Resources. He spoke at the 7th Web Standards Group meeting in Canberra, January 2007 on "A Web Standards Audit of 105 Australia Government Web Sites".

Gavin is part of the Core of the Web Standards Group and organizes Canberra meetings. The group is passionate about using standards to create web pages. These are the same standards the students learn about in the course. They then have to do an assignment where they assess a web site and modify it for compliance with standards.

I turned to the web to get some background on Gavin and his work. A quick search found a photo of Gavin giving the talk. There are also a lot of web pages praising Gavin's work on web standards. But there is little about his background.

Gavin Dispain at SCUWith a little digging I was able to find he studied for a Bachelor of Applied Science (Coastal Management) at Southern Cross University, graduating in 1997. He won the Centre for Coastal Management Prize, the John S. Lake Memorial Prize, and the Royal Australian Institute of Parks and Recreation Prize). His Honours, also at SCU earned him the University Medal. He completed a Master of Internet Communication at University of Canberra 2005.

Gavin joined Environment Australia as a graduate and was promoted to be the Marine Group Web Administrator. He is now the Department's Web Manager. From there he has made a distinguished contribution to the development of web sites across the Federal Government.

For details of past and future WSG Meetings in Canberra, visit the web page and joint the list. Slides and podcasts of some talks are available.

Creating coordinated web, PDF and presentation content with ICE

ICE: The Integrated Content EnvironmentThe Integrated Content Environment (ICE) provides a way to create large complex document, particularly learning content for web based systems, print and for live presentations. It is free open source software which works with Microsoft Word and word processors (and others which use the OpenDocument format).

The courseware author writes one document using a template supplied with ICE and the ICE software then generates versions of the document for the Web (HTML), Learning Management Systems (IMS package), Printed documents (PDF), and slide presentations.

The ICE web site is generated using the software and shows the type of documents generated. As an example the "About ICE" page has buttons for the PDF and presentation versions.

The templates and ICE software run on the user's PC. The system can also save a copy of the document to a remote repository. This allows very large and complex documents to be created in pieces. Different people can work on parts, with the system keeping track of it all.

ICE is intended for heavy duty university research and education. However, there is no reason why it can't be used by one person preparing a short vocational course, an article or writing a book, provided they are prepared to spend time learning to work it.

The software can be downloaded for free. There are versions of the ICE software for Microsoft Windows and for Macintosh OS X, using Microsoft Word or Open Office.Org word processors.

In addition you need the Subversion version control system, which is also available free (but will not run on Microsoft Windows). This brings up the major problem with the ICE system: it is corporate software designed for an organisation with IT support staff to look after it. It is not intended for one lone author with a computer and a good idea. Installing the software is very complex and should be left to an expert, unless you have a lot of patience.

Assuming your IT expert managed to install the software (or you can follow the technical guide), there is a user guide to help you use the software. The author creates word processing documents using supplied templates. The templates help the ICE software then convert the documents to web pages, slides and PDF documents.

ICE has been written by University of Southern Queensland (USQ) for their educational content, but shows a lot of potential for other use. Preparing major reports for government agencies and private organisations would seem a prime application. What tends to happen is that an organisation will spend moths or years preparing a large report and then have problems in the last few hours in the mad scramble to get it ready for launch. I have had the experience of having to have a defense report online as soon as the Minister finished speaking in Parliament.

Usually the full report is provided as PDF, then there is a web summary, media release and slide show for the launch. All these have to have last minute changes incorporated. ICE's use of the Subversion version control system would allow each person to do their bit and then check it into the repository (with a record of who changed what and when). ICE could then generate the package of materials, with the full report in PDF, web version and presentation.

Rather than just a web summary, ICE could generate the full text of the report in accessible web format. This would overcome the problem that only a handful of people ever actually read the reports created. It is too hard to download hundreds of pages of PDF and then find the bit you want. Most people read what someone else wrote about the report, not the actual document. Automatically breaking the report into chapters, each with an index at the top, would make the report far more readable.

In several cases of I have taken reports in PDF and created an easy to use web version. My version tends to rate better with search engines than the original, because it uses accessible web design. Even people from the organisation which created the official report will refer people to my version, as it is easier to use.

ICE might make coordinated, well managed accessible web based reports easier to generate. But this assumes an organization has the discipline to accept the systematic process the software imposes. It also requires the organisation to accept easy to read, accessibly formatted documents. In many cases organizations seem to prefer to produce reports which look pretty, even if they are harder to read.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Ying Tong A Sad Walk with a Goon

Ying Tong (Play) by Roy SmilesThe current production of the play "Ying Tong - A Walk with the Goons" By Roy Smiles is getting a lot of attention for its Goon humor. But the Australian premiere in Canberra at the Street Theatre in 2006 was a very dark comedy.

Ying Tong is about Spike Milligan's struggle with writing and, in passing, his relationship with Peter Sellers. While Sellers went on to have a successful acting career, Milligan became trapped by his Goon past. While being a very successful and productive author, he was always seen as a former Goon.

The Street Theatre seems to specialize in plays about geniuses struggling with their inner demons, with their previous presentation of Peter Parnell's play "QED" about the life of physicist Richard Feynman.

QED burdened the audience with almost a lecture about Feynman's scientific theories. Roy Smiles only hints at Milligan's past in Ying Tong. This makes for a more accessible play, but still one really only decipherable by Goon Show fans. Non fans will have difficulty understanding what is going on, which of course, was always part of the fun with this type of humor.

If you want to hear Milligan at his best, read his seven volumes of war memoirs:
  1. Adolf Hitler: My Part in his Downfall (1971)
  2. Rommel? Gunner Who? A Confrontation in the Desert (1974)
  3. Monty: His Part in My Victory (1976)
  4. Mussolini: His Part in My Downfall (1978)
  5. Where Have All the Bullets Gone? (1985)
  6. Goodbye Soldier (1986)
  7. Peace Work (1992)

Friday, April 20, 2007

Digital Culture - Technology and Media in 2020

Digital Culture Talk
National Library of Australia

Technology and Media in 2020
Speaker: Abigail Thomas

Time: 12.30 to 13.30
Date: Wednesday, 30 May 2007
Venue: Library Theatre, NLA
Entry: Free
  • What will media and technology look like in 2020?
  • Do the seeds lie in current trends like the desire for user generated content, creativity, always-on connections and on-demand content?
  • Or should we look to science fiction to help us predict the future?
Biographical details: Abigail Thomas, Head, Strategic Innovation & Development, Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Abigail Thomas has nine years’ experience within the digital and new media environment in the UK and Australia.

In her current role in the ABC’s new Innovation Division, Abigail is responsible for strategic research and development and the creation of innovative projects across the ABC which utilise new media platforms and technologies. This includes interactive television, video downloads and virtual worlds such as Second Life.

Abigail joined the ABC in 2000 and has had a number of different roles including responsibility for project managing the launch of ABC2, the ABC’s digital multichannel, overseeing audience and industry research in the new media space as well as providing policy and strategic advice on corporate issues.

Abigail also worked in the UK for the Government’s Department for Culture, Media and Sport as Head of Commercial and Digital Broadcasting, with responsibility for government policy on the development of digital broadcasting, at a time when digital TV had just been launched in the UK. Prior to that she undertook a visiting research fellowship for the UK Government, researching digital TV developments in a number of countries (UK, Europe, US, Australia, New Zealand and Japan) and comparing government, industry and academic perspectives on the future implications of digital broadcasting and its regulation.

Bobby Graham
Web Content Manager
Web Publishing Branch, IT Division
National Library of Australia
Tel: +61 2 6262 1542
Previous talks in the Series:

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Tag Cloud for Australasian Journal of Information Systems

This Tag Cloud shows the frequency of phrases used in the Australasian Journal of Information Systems:

It is generated dynamically by Zoom Clouds and can be applied to any web site which has an RSS or Atom Feed. If you can't see the generated version, here is how it looked when first created:

adoption (10) algorithm (8) australia (3) borders (4) business models (3) business value (3) communication perspective (3) consensus (5) chronic conditions (4) conceptual model (3) comparative analysis (2) ccm (2) chronic condition (2) conflict (2) diffusion of innovation (4) dynamic databases (3) electronic commerce (2) formal education (2) fulfilment (2) gps (3) healthcare workers (2) health solution (2) industrial survey (2) integrator (3) infrastructure business (2) logistics (2) longitudinal study (3) model curricula (5) negotiation (5) online shopping (6) organisational performance (3) patch management (4) perspectives (2) paradox (2) path expressions (2) requirements elicitation (2) research strategy (3) requirements engineering (11) software project success (2) small and medium enterprises (3) smes (6) service requirements (2) storage (3) small business (4) shopping experience (3) software projects (2) transformation (2) virtual presence (4) virtual shopping (2) xml query (4)

Tag Cloud for Net Traveller Blog

This Tag Cloud shows the frequency of phrases used in my Net Traveler Blog:

It is generated dynamically by Zoom Clouds and can be applied to any web site which has an RSS or Atom Feed. If you can't see the generated version, here is how it looked when first created:

amazon (3) australian government (3) actors (2) anu (2) australian universities (2) best practices (1) crucible (3) china (5) citizen journalism (3) chinese equivalent (1) controversy (1) canberra (7) constraints (1) dey alexander (2) development organisation (1) energy grants (2) eco (2) electricity (2) exception (1) folding bicycle (2) first episode (2) fedora (4) google (5) have signed (2) interchange format (1) international covenant (1) jobs (2) journalism research (2) microsoft research labs (4) national library of australia (3) nick craswell (2) photovoltaic (2) private cars (2) renewable energy (2) rubbish removal (2) research job (3) sml (3) standards australia (1) storage technologies (2) standards development (2) standardization (1) sydney (3) scholarships in australia (2) w3c (2) web ir (2) water energy (2) web standards (1) web accessibility (2) world wide web consortium (1) world wide web (1)

Information Retrieval at Microsoft Research Labs

Recommended: Nick Craswell is speaking on Information Retrieval (Web IR) in Canberra Wednesday (I visited Nick at Microsoft Research Labs Cambridge, on a bicycle tour of Europe):
The Australian National University

Nick Craswell Challenges in Web Information Retrieval (Web IR)
Nick Craswell (Microsoft Research Labs, Cambridge, UK)

DATE: 2007-04-18 TIME: 16:00:00 - 17:00:00 LOCATION: CSIRO Seminar Room S206 (come to reception on Level 2, CS&IT Bldg)

ABSTRACT: When building a Web search engine, we can benefit from core IR techniques, such as probabilistic ranking models and evaluation methods. But we also face problems that are not yet so well-studied in the field of IR. This talk explores several of these. For efficiency reasons, we need to crawl the web selectively. This raises an interesting query-independent ranking problem. We have large-scale logs of user behavior. I will present a novel approach for dealing with sparsity of this data. We may also have relevance judgments for a large number of queries, as in the new TREC "million query" track, which allows for large-scale parameter tuning experiments. Each of these problems lends itself to data-driven solutions. The talk should thus give a favour of the work that goes on in the area of commercial Web IR.

BIO: Nick is a PhD graduate from ANU Computer Science who worked in CSIRO's Enterprise Search group before joining Microsoft Research in Cambridge. Nick is now employed as a researcher in the team behind Microsoft's search engine. He is a coordinator of the TREC Enterprise Track and the INEX Entities Track. He is also a Senior Reviewer for the ACM SIGIR Conference and is author of many influential and highly cited papers in the Information Retrieval area.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Economics of Rainwater Tanks in Australia

Oxygenics Water-Saving ShowerheadA report on "The economics of rainwater tanks and alternative water supply options" suggests tanks could delay the need for water desalination plants, particular when the energy costs of such plants are considered. The report was prepared by economics consultants, Marsden Jacob Associates for the Australian Conservation Foundation, Environment Victoria and the Nature Conservation Council of NSW.

One shock in store for house holders is that water from a rainwater tank costs at least $2.15 per kilolitre and possibly much more, taking into account the cost of the tank. But then the bigger shock will be that water from desalination plants costs around this as well. State politicians seem reluctant to tell voters that water is going to have to at least double in cost in the next few years.

The only flaw I can find from a quick skim of the report is that demand management measures are not given more weight. The report points out that saving water is cheaper than water tanks or desalination plants, but does not seem to go on to quantify this. This confusion seems to extend to the general community, where people are considering thousands of dollars on water tanks, before they have spent hundreds on a dual flush toilet and low flow shower.

The full text of the report is available online, but it is a large (1Mbyte) PDF document. The issue is an important one and the authors should take the trouble to produce an easier to access version of the document. They could at provide the Executive Summary in a separate PDF file, which would take a few mouse clicks to produce, or better still as a web page, which would take a few minutes work.

Here is the Table of Contents of the report:
Executive Summary 4
1. Introduction 8
2. The relative cost of rainwater tanks 9
2.1. Rainwater Tank yields 9
2.2. Cost of rainwater tanks 11
2.2.1. .Rainwater tank costs 12
2.3. Cost of alternative water sources 12
2.3.1. .Case Studies: Sydney and SEQ 14
2.3.2. .Summary 15
2.4. Other potential impacts 16
2.4.1. .Water mains 16
2.4.2. .Stormwater systems 17
3. Adding environmental costs to levelised costs 19
3.1. The cost of carbon 20
4. Deferring alternative water sources with rainwater tanks 22
5. Cost of rolling out rainwater tanks 31
6. References 33
Some excerpts from the Executive Summary:
Marsden Jacob Associates (MJA) has been commissioned by the Nature Conservation Council of NSW, Environment Victoria and the Australian Conservation Foundation to conduct research into the impact of a targeted rainwater tank roll-out in Sydney, Melbourne and South East Queensland (SEQ).

For individual property owners, the cost effectiveness of rainwater tanks is typically determined by comparing the cost of installing and operating a rainwater tank against savings from household water bills plus the impact of garden water restrictions. However, considering the benefits only from the perspective of the property owner does not recognise the broader cost savings to the community such as deferred water infrastructure, savings to stormwater infrastructure, and environmental externalities such as the cost of greenhouse gas emissions.

The present study compares the yield and levelised cost (i.e. the cost per kilolitre supplied) of various long term water source options in Sydney, Melbourne and SEQ against the potential yield and cost of rainwater tanks. Previous research by MJA for the National Water Commission indicates that both the yield and the cost of tanks varies significantly based on individual household variables - in particular the size of the roof collection area. This study compares the cost of rainwater tanks with other water infrastructure such as dams and desalination plants. Levelised cost (the cost per kilolitre of water supplied) is a factor of water yield from a particular technology and the cost of supplying it. Yield from a 5 kilolitre tank for a small (50m2 ) and large (200m2) roof collection area was shown to vary from around 47 kL to 105 kL in Sydney, 24 kL to 86 kL in Melbourne and 41 kL to 99 kL per year in Brisbane (airport sites only).


In addition, the key findings of this report include:

rainwater tanks will be widely installed in new housing developments due to regulations imposed by both the Queensland and NSW governments. While new dwellings can be designed to be 'rainwater tank-friendly', a growing proportion of future dwellings are expected to be in high density unit blocks which are mostly unsuitable for rainwater tanks (although the majority of new dwellings since 2001 have been detached 'rainwater tank-friendly' dwellings). However there is also significant potential for take-up of rainwater tanks in existing dwellings. The majority of existing dwellings, particularly in SEQ, are detached houses, making them suitable in theory for rainwater tanks. Many may not accommodate a tank due to limited land area or plumbing constraints. There are currently around 1.1 million houses potentially suitable for rainwater tanks (i.e. detached and semi-detached houses)1 in Sydney and 0.9 million in SEQ.


Water sources could potentially be deferred by more than the indicated time if demand management initiatives reduce future demand, or may be deferred by less than the time indicated due to other factors such as the need for emergency water supplies or specific regional growth requirements. The deferral of water sources will be cost effective only to the extent that rainwater tanks are less expensive than alternative water sources ..

Similar results would be expected for Melbourne depending on the growth in the number of dwellings and the impact of demand management initiatives. Additional demand management initiatives could potentially defer the need for water infrastructure even further. ...

research indicates that rainwater tanks are more than five times as energy efficient as desalination plants per kilolitre of water produced (rainwater tanks requiring around 1 MWh/ML compared with a typical desalination plant requirement of 5 MWh/ML); ...

See also my:

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Australian Government Renewable Energy Grants

Wind GeneratorTo its credit the Australian Government has a number of renewable programs and grant schemes. The Photovoltaic Rebate Programme will be of most interest to householders. PVRP provides rebates for installing solar panels or wind power on your roof:
From: Renewable Energy in Australia - Government Programmes, Department of the Environment and Water Resources, 2006
Solar PanelThere are also some state government programs listed:Of course if these governments were to simply adjust the thermostats in their offices, it might have a bigger impact on energy use. Government buildings are maintained at around 22 degrees plus or minus 1 degree. If allowed to fluctuate between 19 to 26 degrees C, they may be actually more comfortable as well as saving energy.

Self Watering Pots

Self Watering PlanterMy smart apartment balcony is a harsh environment for plants. The Canberra sun can dry out plants quickly. One way around this is to use a self watering pot. These have a water reservoir in the bottom.

The pots are usually made of plastic and do not look as good as more natural materials. So I fitted the self watering pots into glazed ceramic ones. The air gap between the ceramic and plastic pots provides some insulation, reducing the heat in summer.

Plastic self watering pot being fitted with a plastic sleeveOne plastic pot did not fit, so I cut the top off with a small saw. The pot then fitted, but did not quite come up to the top of the ceramic pot and there was a gap between the two. So cut a piece out of the off-cut top of the plastic pot to make an adjustable sleeve. This I inserted into the top of the pot to cover the gap to the ceramic one. The springy plastic held it firmly in place until the soil was added to cover it.

Keep in mind that some plants do not benefit from the constant water supplied from the pot and may need to be left dry some times. Also the water could harbor mosquitoes other pests in some areas.

Canberra Rebuilt

Former Prime Minister and Cabinet building being demolished at 3–5 National Circuit, Barton. Photo 14 April 2007 by Tom WorthingtonA buildings boom is going on in Canberra at the moment. Many of the government buildings I worked in and visited are being demolished for new privately owned offices to be rented to the government. One of the latest to go is 3–5 National Circuit, Barton, which housed the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. I took a quick snap.

You might think there would be calls for these historic buildings to be retained. But like the recently demolished Cameron Offices , these buildings are from the 1970s and coincided with the Brutalist period in architecture . The buildings are raw concrete boxes up on stilts, with flat grooves. They were ugly to look at, the roofs leaked and the services were inadequate. The grey walls were relieved only by some patches of bright colors, usually from fiberglass which has now weathered to a milky white.

Some in the architectural profession have argued for the retention of these buildings and part of Cameron Offices will be retained. But I don't think that anyone who worked in the buildings will miss them. Perhaps Cameron Offices should be stripped of the metal deck roof and other modifications added to try and make it livable and be turned into an architectural school, to remind that profession that buildings are not just artistic statements: they have to actually work.

The replacements buildings, such as ABS House, on the outside are bland shiny, cubic metal and glass clad boxes. But on the inside they are much more comfortable and efficient than the old buildings. Canberra is starting to look like a generic business park, which could be anywhere in the world.

There are other alternatives, such as Australian Ethical Investment's new environmentally friendly office in Canberra. This is a a low rise office building retrofitted with energy saving features. Unfortunately many of the energy saving features, which make the building interesting had to be hidden around the back to satisfy the local rules.

NICTA Building under construction in Canberra. Photo by Tom Worthington 14 April 2007Another alternative is the new
National ICT Australia (NICTA) Building. This is several glass boxes, but interestingly arranged with a sloped roof on top. It is being built on London Circuit in Canberra City 8,000 of the 20,000 square metre space will be for NICTA and related startups. While it has the sloping roof, it is not quite the design I suggested.

UniLodge@ANU Student Accommodation in CanberraThe NICTA Building is adjacent to the eastern edge of the Australian National University (ANU) campus. This area, called the
"ANU City West Precinct", "ANU City West Integration Precinct", or "The Exchange" has its own Master Plan and is being developed with a mix of office buildings for technology companies, university offices, student accommodation and entertainment. The first new building is UniLodge@ANU, providing student accommodation and some retail services. It avoids the shiny glass box look.