Tuesday, March 31, 2009

New Australian Government Accounting System

The significance of Operation Sunlight for ICT became clearer later in the briefing. This will require a replacement for the Australian Government central accounting system, called the Central Budget Management System (CBMS). This will not be up to the phase of actually considering calling for tenders until some time next year. The data which agencies will need to supply to the system is not likely to change significantly. It was emphasised that this is not a project driven by a fixed deadline.

There are no changes planned to the way the information from the system is presented publicly. The same sort o reports will be issued on paper and on the web. This is unfortunate as the materials produced now are readily available via the web but not very easy to read. I suggest the Australian Government should take the opportunity to make the reports more user friendly online. Currently the budget web site scores 64/100 on a W3C Mobile OK test. I suggeste the Government aim for 80%.

Operation Sunlight Briefing

Greetings from the Operation Sunlight Briefing in Canberra. Operation Sunlight is an initiative from the Australian Minister for Finance to make government budgetary processes more transparent. Unfortunately while there is a lot of documentation, none of it seems to clearly set out exactly what the object of the exercise is. It would helps if there were examples of how this will help the community, particularly during the global financial crisis.

What are the key objectives of Operation Sunlight?

Operation Sunlight has six key objectives:
  1. Tightening the outcomes and outputs framework;
  2. Changing the Budget Papers to improve their readability and usefulness;
  3. Improving the transparency of estimates;
  4. Expanding the reach of budget reporting;
  5. Improving inter-generational reporting; and
  6. Improving inter-generational reporting; and
  7. Improving the financial framework
From: Operation Sunlight, Department of Finance and Deregulation, 20 March, 2009

Monday, March 30, 2009

Senate Submissions on the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme

The Australian Senate Economics Committee has published the 40 submissions received so far for the Inquiry into the proposed Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. Here is a copy of my submission (which was Number 7) followed by a list of the other submissions:

Submission to Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Inquiry

Tom Worthington FACS HLM

18 March 2009

This is in response to the invitation for submissions to the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Inquiry [1]. It is inadequate to aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to between 5% and 15% below 2000 levels by 2020, as detailed in the Draft Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bill [2]. The bill should be changed to aim for a 25% to 50% per cent reduction, as advised by IPCC scientists [3].

A reduction of 15% can be delivered just by the use of more effective use of computers and telecommunications (ICT) [4]. Better ICT can reduce energy use, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and at the same time lowering costs. As an example, the Australian Government is planning to replace interstate travel for some meetings with high-definition video teleconferencing [5].

As well as reducing greenhouse gas emissions from air travel, the use of teleconferences will reduce the cost of airfares. This process of "dematerialisation" is a technique covered in a course I have been teaching to postgraduate ICT students [6].

The Green ICT course was commissioned by the Australian Computer Society (ACS) and is conducted online via the web [7]. A Masters level version of the course is planned to commence at the Australian National University in mid 2009.


Tom Worthington is the Chair of the ACS Green ICT Special Interest Group and is an Adjunct Senior Lecturer, for the Australian National University Masters course in Green ICT. However, this submission is made in a person capacity and does not necessarily represent the views of the ACS or ANU.


1: Senate Standing Committee on Economics, Inquiry into the exposure drafts of the legislation to implement the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, 2009, http://www.aph.gov.au/Senate/committee/economics_ctte/cprs_09/info.htm

2: Australian Government, Draft Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bill, 2009, http://www.aph.gov.au/Senate/committee/economics_ctte/cprs_09/cprs_bill.pdf

3: ABC News, Scientists call for stronger emissions targets, 2008, http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2008/12/16/2447163.htm?section=australia

4: The Climate Group , SMART 2020: Enabling the low carbon economy in the information age, 2008, http://www.theclimategroup.org/news_and_events/smart2020pressrelease/

5: Minister for Finance and Deregulation, Australian Government signs teleconferencing deal with Telstra and Cisco, 2009, http://www.financeminister.gov.au/media/2009/mr_082009.html

6: Tom Worthington, Enabling ICT to reduce energy and materials use, 2009, http://www.tomw.net.au//ict_sustainability/enabling.shtml

7: Australian Computer Society, Green ICT Strategies Course Outline, 2008, http://www.acs.org.au/cpeprogram/index.cfm?action=show&conID=greenict

Submissions received by the Committee as at 26 March 2009

  • 1 Professor Joshua Gans (PDF 456KB)
  • 2 The committee received correspondence to its inquiry in the form of standard letters. An example of the letter is attached (PDF 44KB). These were recieved from: Mr Ray Gomerski; Mr Ian Addison; Mr William Shumack; Mr Peter Micenko; Ms Dora Ulgade; Sinclair Knight Merz; Ms Chloe Mason
  • 3 Olivier La Mer Adair (PDF 35KB)
  • 4 Alix Turner (PDF 116KB)
  • 5 Dr Gideon Polya (PDF 351KB)
  • 6 Australian Pipeline Industry Association (APIA) (PDF 196KB)
  • 7 Mr Tom Worthington (PDF 26KB)
  • 8 CRC for Rail Innovation (PDF 45KB)
  • 9 Association of Tourist Railways Queensland (ATRQ) (PDF 46KB)
  • 11 Griffin Energy (PDF 67KB)
  • 12 Mr Simon Corbell MLA, ACT Minister for the Environment, Climate Change and Water (PDF 168KB)
  • 13 CITIC Pacific Mining Management Pty Ltd (PDF 165KB)
  • 14 Cement Industry Federation (PDF 77KB)
  • 15 Ian McGregor, University of Technology, Sydney (UTS) (PDF 121KB)
  • 16 Dr Chloe Mason (PDF 63KB)
  • 17 Mr Des Moore (PDF 741KB)
  • 18 Dr Klaus Weber (PDF 12KB)
  • 19 Dr David Tranter OAM (PDF 17KB)
  • 20 Mr Andrew Farran (PDF 15KB)
  • 21 Energy Supply Association of Australia (PDF 1731KB)
  • 22 Mr David Kault (PDF 9KB)
  • 23 Quintessence (PDF 98KB)
  • 24 Dr Judith Ajani, Fenner School of Environment and Society, The Australian National University (PDF 92KB)
  • 25 Dr Geoffrey Davies, Research School of Earth Sciences, The Australian National University (PDF 117KB)
  • 26 Climate Action Canberra (PDF 22KB)
  • 27 Australian Workers' Union (PDF 132KB)
  • 28 Carbon Sense Coalition (PDF 215KB)
  • 29 Mr Gerard De Ruyter (PDF 12KB)
  • 30 Australian Geothermal Energy Association (PDF 155KB); Attachment A (PDF 97KB); Attachment B (PDF 755KB)
  • 31 Mr David Bath (PDF 71KB)
  • 32 Mr Ian Dunlop (PDF 100KB)
  • 33 Mr Barry Brook and Mr Tim Kelly (PDF 175KB)
  • 34 Dr Andrew Glikson, Research School of Earth Science and School of Archaeology and Anthropology, The
    Australian National University (PDF 648KB)
  • 35 Locals Into Victoria's Environment (PDF 288KB)
  • 36 Australian Plantation Products and Paper Industry Council (PDF 51KB)
  • 37 Housing Industry Association (PDF 47KB)
  • 38 Australian Ethical Investment (PDF 115KB)
  • 39 Energy Networks Association (PDF 96KB)
  • 40 Chevron Australia (PDF 54KB)

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Two poles for lightweight tent

In its review of one person tents, Backpacker Magazine (April 2009) commented that the catch with the Contrail Tarptent (and similar tarp tents) was that the trecking pole used as a support blocks the middle of the entrance. But the entrance is 42" wide at the base and 45" high, so by my reconing the side wall of the entrance is about 50" (1270mm). Treking poles extend to about 55"(1400mm), so if you had two, you could put one on each side of the entrance in a ^ shape, leaving the center clear.

The Wired effect

In "The Netbook Effect: How Cheap Little Laptops Hit the Big Time" (Wired magazine, March 2009), Clive Thompson describes how Mary Lou Jepsen in designing a low cost screen for Nicholas Negroponte's One Laptop per Child computer started the netbook computer craze. It is a good story, but like much of Wired (the dolly magazine of the computer industry) it is not quite true. Perhaps we need a new term: the "Wired effect": where you notice something happening and reach for the nearest media release to explain it, without giving the issue much thought.

I have been buying small, low cost disk-less computers for about a decade, long before the OLPC was started. These computers came from UK, Japanese and Taiwanese firms. They were not popular in the USA, because of their small size, limited performance and non-standard software. What changed in the last few years is that the performance of the electronics improved to where these little computers could do a good job of running office applications and at the same time wireless Internet access provided a viable alternative to on-board disk storage. With web based applications added into the mix, a netbook became a viable alternative for most personal computing.

Thompson's article does go on to give a reasonable analysis of the reasons for the netbooks success and the problems it is causing for the computer makers (how to sell a $1,000 laptop when the $300 model is good enough). ASUS deserve the credit for starting the current netbook boom with their EEE PC.

What the author fails to mention is that ASUS is trying the same success at the desktop with their nettop models: desktop PCs using similar low cost components to the netbooks. If successful, this will drive down the cost of desktop computers to lower than that of the netbooks. The nettops do not need their own keyboard, mouse or screen as they use standard desktop PC ones. Nor do they need a battery. If you take a $US300 netbook and remove the unnecessary components you end up with something between $100 and $200. As well as a desktop PC, ASUS are adding a PC built into an LCD panel to their EEE PC lineup. If you build the computer into an LCD screen, or an LCD TV, then the computer does not need a case, power supply, or some of the display interface components. That should take about $50 off the cost of the nettop, bring the effective cost of the unit to between $50 and $150 (not counting the LCD screen, keyboard or mouse).

Redesigning the Australian Government Online

On Saturday, March 28, 2009 I attended Bar Camp Canberra 2 in the famous Room N101 at ANU. This event was broadly about Internet, web and open source software, but being in Canberra, the theme evolved into using the technology to improve government processes. This free event was far better run and useful than most of the professionally run conferences I attend.

BarCamp is a series of user generated conferences, also described as "un-conferences". The venue and broad theme is set by the organisers, but the speakers and topics are volunteered by the attendees on the day. After getting a name tag, which you adorn with your blog or twitter tags, you can write a proposed topic on a post it note and stick it in a slot on the timetable on the wall. The early slots tend to fill up first, so a tip seems to be to get in early. There were two streams in two rooms and the primary room (N101) filled up first.

The organisers provide a minimum of structure to keep things moving, cutting off discussion to keep to time and making some rearrangements to the timetable. The audience is encouraged to interrupt the speaker at any point and there is a lively discussion at the end of most presentations.

About a quarter of the people seems to have a laptop or some sort of hand held device and be engaged in some sort of discussion of the presentations. There is a twitter tag for the event (#bcc2) and the list of these comments was put up on screen between speaker presentations. Also several people seemed to be preparing or modifying there presentations during the day. I only decided to speak after I got to the event and then prepared my talk in the next hour or so.

The quality of the presentations was mostly very high, with good slides. At some points I had difficulty understanding some of the twiteresq jargon used. One presentation from another ANU lecturer on Internet marketing was so full of unfamiliar terminology I had no idea what the presentation was about. Perhaps I will need to purchase their forthcoming book on the subject to find out what it was about. ;-)

I had a feeling of déjà vu when several speakers discussed how to get the Australian Government to adopt new ways of working using Internet based technology. This was very much the geeks saying: "this is so obvious why don't they get it, do it or get out of our way and let us do it". I recall taking part in such discussions about introducing Internet, email and the web to government, starting about 13 years ago. What was a little disappointing is that this batch of young Turks have not learnt from history and have not looked at how we managed to get Internet, email and the web into government a decade ago. A more subtle strategy is needed than just telling people to do something.

In 1995 at the AUUG Sixth Annual Canberra Conference in a presentation of Internet in Government I proposed a strategy for introducing the Internet into the Australian Government. This was essentially that we implement it at the working level and then, once proven successful, allow our executive and Ministers to take credit for it retrospectively. This strategy proved so successful that few realised what happened.

The "Internet conspiracy" was not exactly a secret, with a loose coalition of public servants, company employees and academics discussing the issue online and at computer conferences. Some later phases got more controversial, such as resistance to the regulation of the Internet. However even here the cabal was reasonably open, as document by Peter Chen in his PHD thesis "Australia's online censorship regime : the advocacy coalition framework and governance compared". Also I talked about it on ABC radio in "Filtering Porn on the Internet: Imperfect by Necessity".

While I was worried about speaking at BarCamp on as serious a topic as web for bushfire emergencies, I found I was not the first such speaker. One of the Google staff talked about the mapping system they provided for the Victorian fires. It would appear there is sufficient interest, expertise and resources to build a coordinated Internet based emergency system for Australia. This could be done be the web community, with the government needing to provide little more than endorsement of the finished product.

My advocacy of the use of email, mailing lists and Web 1.0 in government probably seems very quaint and old fashioned to the twitter users a decade later. I look forward to attending more BarCamps and learning new ways to do old things, if not new ways to do new things. ;-)

Saturday, March 28, 2009


Greetings from Bar Camp Canberra 2 at ANU. This is an "un-conference". All welcome (it is in the famous Room N101). I am proposing to talk about web for bushfire emergencies at 11:40am. You can follow the event on Twitter at: #bcc2

Friday, March 27, 2009

ABC Mobile Web site continuing problems

During Mark Scott, Managing Director, ABC, talk at the Innovative Ideas Forum 2009, I did a quick check and the ABC's new mobile web site which showed accessibility and HTML validation problems. Mr. Scott said he thought the accessibility problems had been fixed and he would go back to the office and check. To assist, here are some details on the test results.

I ran a TAW (Web Accessibility Test) based on the W3C - Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 (WCAG 1.0). This reported 0 Priority 1, 14 Priority 2 and 1 Priority 3 automated test problems. While there were no Priority 1 automated errors, manual inspection requests were flagged, such as:
  • Human review required Suspicious text equivalent for image, can not be file name or file size or placeholder text (1)
    • Line 32: 'image'
In this case the alternate text for someone who can't see images is the word "image". This is not useful text and appears to have been inserted so as to trick the automated test process. Other inappropriate ALT text appears to be honest mistakes by an inadequately trained web designer:
alt='White Space'
The W3C Markup Validator reported 79 errors. Many of these errors were due to unencoded ampersands and are not serious problems and easily fixed. More serious is that no "Doctype" is specified so it is not clear which particular HTML standard is intended. The document seems to be a mix of different pieces of HTML pasted from different sources. The validation assumed XHTML 1.0 Transitional, but I was unable to find any setting for which the code passed validation.

Most desktop web browsers will accept invalid code most of the time. However, mobile phone browsers tend to be more sensitive and may produce no useful display. Adaptive technology used by people with a disability will tend to be more sensitive and so may not work.
Also it is not a good idea to hope the web pages will display correctly when communicating emergency information.

The ABC should be using tools to check the web pages are technically correct. They should also ensure the staff using the tools are trained in how to design web pages.

Connecting with Audiences in the Digital Age

Mark Scott, Managing Director, ABC, talked at the Innovative Ideas Forum 2009. This was a thoughtful presentation on how the ABC is investing in digital delviery, despite limited resources. He used the example of how Twitter was used during the Victorian bushfires. Mr Scott said "The ABC is the emergency broadcaster". So at question time I asked if the ABC ws investing sufficient in the mobile service for he community to rely on it. I did a quick check and the ABC's new mobile web site appears to still not meet with accessibility guidelines and has dozens of validation errors. Mr. Scott said he thought the accessibility problems had been fixed and he would go back to the office and check. If the ABC uses the web and mobile phones as an integral part of its service it then I suggest it has an obligation to provide that service to the wide community and in emergencies. That requires funding, planning and testing by the ABC.

Dr Summers on blogging

Dr Anne Summers, gave a thoughtful and entertaining talk at the Innovative Ideas Forum 2009, on the implications for serious writing of the Internet. She expressed concern about the loss of historical information as paper is replaced by ephemeral digital media. Dr Summers showed us her facebook page live, which was impressive. As an author, her business model appears to be to use the web to promote books for sale. As with the previous speaker I asked if there might come a time when the writing would be supported from online advertising. Dr Summers replied that she had signed up for online ads, but the revenue was minimal. She also comfortable she was comfortable with online books but hers may not suit that medium. I jokingly suggested she sign up for my ANU course on how to do it.

Green ICT Strategies Course at ANU

My course "Green ICT Strategies" has been approved by The Australian National University ro be offered as a postgraduate course, starting July 2009. Those doing Masters courses at ANU, as well as students at other universities worldwide, as well as those just interested can enrol. The course is still also available from the ACS and the open source content available from my web site.

This is a "flexible" course, with what people familiar with ANU courses will see as an unusual 7000 series course code: COMP7310. The significance of this is that the course will provided mostly online, via the ANU's new "Wattle" system, with the Australian developed Moodle learning management system. There will be face to face workshops, but these are option. The assessment is by contributions to the 13 weekly discussion forums and written assignments. The students could apply online and do the course completely remotely without every setting foot on the campus. But I expect that for many, there will still be benefit from face-to-face interaction.

Green ICT Strategies COMP7310 - Details

Offered By: Department of Computer Science
Academic Career: Graduate Coursework
Course Subject: Computer Science
Offered in: Second Semester, 2009
Unit Value: 6 units
Course Description: ICT is both part of the problem and part of the solution to climate change. A study sponsored by the Australian Computer Society has shown that computers and telecommunications equipment in Australia generated 7.94Mt of carbon dioxide in 2005, 1.52% of national emissions. This course investigates the contribution of ICT to carbon emissions and how technology can reduce those emissions.
This subject is drawn from practices being developed in the public and private sectors internationally. Implementation methodologies and assessment tools currently being field-tested are introduced. Qualification schemes and accreditation are yet to be established and it is possible those completing this subject may be involved in that development.
This course was developed in conjunction with the Australian Computer Society. The Learning Outcomes have been designed for Level 5 competencies of the Skills Framework for the Information Age (SFIA) common reference model.
Learning Outcomes: At the conclusion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Identify new and emerging hardware, software and communication technologies for energy saving and materials reuse.
  2. Ensure that appropriate methods and tools for the planning, development, operation, management and maintenance of systems are adopted and used effectively throughout the organisation.
  3. Recommend alternative solutions which reduce environmental impact, assesses feasibility, and recommends new approaches.
  4. Contribute to the sustainability of the systems capability strategy which meets the strategic requirements of the business. Incorporate Green ICT into the models and plans to drive forward the strategy, taking advantage of opportunities to improve business performance, as well as environmental benefits.
  5. Write green ICT requirement documents for to products and services.
  6. Assess the conformity of systems to environmental standards, such as ISO 14000 series, Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT), and Energy Star Program.
Indicative Assessment:
  • Contributions to the 13 weekly discussion forums, 20%
  • 2 assignments, 40% each.
CRICOS Provider Number 00120C - ABN: 522 34063906

From: Green ICT Strategies COMP7310, ANU, 2009

Web advertising to support Austrlaian TV production

As soon as Marcus Gillezeau, stopped showing bits of the "Scorched" telemovie and started to talk off the cuff at the Innovative Ideas Forum 2009, he started to become interesting and more credible. I asked him about flipping the business model for his production from funding from TV advertising supported by Internet promotion to Internet web based advertising supported by TV. He argued passionately that as the creative person, this is not an issue for him, but for his promotional partners. He seemed to think it necessary for him to go to companies to sell the advertising, the idea that the ads would find the content automatically (as Google Adwords does) does not seem to be something he is aware of.

Are hoax web sites ethical and legal?

The more Marcus Gillezeau, talks about "Scorched", a Channel 9 telemove, at the Innovative Ideas Forum 2009, the less I like it. The TV show created a character "Cassy Hoffman" inspired by the Lonelygirl15 hoax. While a creative person might decide that such a hoax is okay as a work of art, it is worrying that this was funded by a government body, the Australian Film Commission. While it is one thing for someone to spend their own money creating hoaxes for commercial gain, it is not acceptable for my taxes to pay for it. Marcus was also proud of having carried a "faux" (that is hoax) news service. About the only saving grace of this material is that is is of the poor quality of the script, acting and production should make the more than casual viewer that this is a hoax.

Back the book

In her welcome to the Innovative Ideas Forum 2009, Jan Fullerton, Director-General, NLA, emphasised that the library has embraced new digital technology while not forgetting the book. There are about a dozen people in the audience blogging (tagged "iif2009") and twitering (hashtag #iif2009). Unfortunately Marcus Gillezeau, Producer/Director, Firelight Productions' keynote is disappointing so far. This is about "Scorched", a Channel 9 telemove. Marcus talked about how the movie was supported by online extensions. Unfortunately the video he played made it clear that this is just old fashioned soap TV dressed up with some minimal web base content. Perhaps this will help Channel 9 sell more TV advertising, but does not do much for genuine use of the technology or Australian culture. However it is a useful warning of how old media will try to hijack the new media to cynically exploit it.

How high the lectern

It is organised chaos at the National Library of Australia, with last minute preparations for the Innovative Ideas Forum 2009 . My bus was cancelled (the ACTION Canberra bus service changed the timetable) but the alternative bus which arrived turned out to be quicker (shame it was dangerously overloaded with public servants). I turned up at the reception desk for the forum gave my name, got a strange look and was asked to go down and help with the IT for the event. There were a half dozen A/V people, speakers and Warwick Cathro, the MC organising flash drives with presentations on them. I decided there were enough people and my help would not help. The biggest issue seemed to be if the lectern could be raised high enough for Mark Scott, Managing Director, ABC. I decided to retreat to the Bookplate cafe in the library foyer, where I could watch the passing parade of people and blog in comfort.

Worshipping at the temple of information

The Innovative Ideas Forum 2009 is in Canberra today at the The National Library of Australia. The library building is a 20th century interpretation of a Greek temple, raised on its own artificial granite acropolis. At first glance a building full of books may seem a strange place to have an event about 21st century media, web-based social networking and digital content. But the NLA is one of the world centres for expertise in digital media. You can walk into the library with nothing, not even a pencil, use the computers there to research and write on a topic, publish your work online and walk out again (after lunch and a coffee). The library collects Australian online publications in its Pandora Archive, including some things companies and government would prefer were forgotten. The ARROW Discovery Service has Australian research outputs. Picture Australia has a catalogue of images from cultural institutions.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Micro-blogging emergency warning system

The US National Park Service uses Twitter to release public information during incidents at the Lake Mead National Recreation Area (NRA). While the park authorities stress this is not an emergency warning system, it is used to announce park emergencies. Such a micro-blogging service could be a useful model for an Australian Emergency Warning System.

Typical message:
LMNRA ALERT - Recap...Reported as tour bus accident to NPS at 3:25 PST. 4 fatals reported at least 20 injured...exact num unknown.
The park also has a Lake Mead News distribution list on Google Groups. Curiously, while the new Twitter service was mentioned in the group, the group is not mentioned in Twitter. That is the alert messages are brief text only messages. There are no URLs to more details.

Twitter includes a facility for including URLs (web addresses) in messages. To minimise the space a large address might take, Twitter replaces the addresses with tinyurls. The Twitter messages are short enough to be sent by SMS. This approach could be used for emergency messages. The short text message would be in a format suitable for SMS, SMS-CB, pagers and other devices. A short URL in the message would link to more details on the web.

Innovative Ideas Forum 2009

The National Library of Australia is hosting the Innovative Ideas Forum 2009 in Canberra, 27 March 2009. The venue has free wireless internet access and the Library is encouraging blogging and twittering, with blogs tagged "iif2009" and tweets with hashtag #iif2009. Mark Scott, Managing Director of the ABC is a speaker and I might ask him about deficiencies in the accessibility and emergency features of the ABC's mobile web site. Here is the program:

Chair: Warwick Cathro,
Assistant Director-General, Resource Sharing & Innovation,
9.30am Welcome: Jan Fullerton, Director-General, NLA
9.40am Marcus Gillezeau, Producer/Director, Firelight Productions
"21st Century All-Media Storytelling - The freedoms and challenges of a multi-platform universe"
10.30am Dr Anne Summers, Author and Columnist
"The implications of web-based social networking for cultural heritage institutions"
11.15am Morning Tea
11.45am Mark Scott, Managing Director, ABC
"Connecting with Audiences in the Digital Age"
12.20pm Rose Holley, Manager of the Australian Newspapers Digitisation Program, National Library of Australia
“Enhancement and Enrichment of Digital Content by user communities: The Australian Newspapers experience"
1.00pm Lunch
Chair: Mark Corbould,
Assistant Director General, Information Technology, NLA
2.00pm Darren Sharp, Senior Consultant with Collabforge
" Library 2.0: Citizens Co-Creating Culture"
2.45pm Jillian Dellit, Director, The Le@rning Federation Secretariat
"Creative Tension? The Challenges of Social Networking for Schooling in our Federation."
3.30pm Jo Kay, Freelance Geek, Designer, and Facilitator
"Virtually Creative: Exploring Innovative Arts and Educational Communities in Second Life"
4.15pm Closing remarks: Jan Fullerton

Combating Academic Plagiarism

Combating Student Plagiarism: An Academic Librarian's Guide (Chandos Series for Information Professionals) by Lynn D Lampert (Chandos Publishing, 2008) suggests requiring students provide a bibliography with written assignments and also submit drafts and parts of assignments progressively as they work. This is designed to make it more difficult for students to show how they got to their final work. This might also make it easier for the student, rewarding them with marks for the progress of the work and thefore encouraging them to work in stages, rather than leaving everything to just beofre the final deadline for the finised work. This would work with online Learning management Systems, such as Moodle. The student would be able to submit parts of the work as they progressed and the assessor would not be swamped with bits of paper. This might be taken further to provide the student with an online set of tools fort keeping track of their work, including the bibilography. Also for group assignments, an online system with some of the features of social networking could keep track of who contributed what.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Seminar Confessions of a Converted Lecturer

Greetings from the Robertson Lecture Theatre,at the ANU in Canberra, where Professor Eric Mazur is giving a Seminar on "Confessions of a Converted Lecturer". There is an audio version of the lecture available from the ABC.

There were three parts to the seminar:
  1. Education
  2. Peer instruction
  3. Results
He also mentioned that he changed from teaching to helping students learn. This reminded me very much of the approach used for the ACS postgraduate ICT courses. While I had accepted that this approach could be used for postgraduate courses, I was not sure it could be used for undergraduates. Last year I decided I was not going to give any more conventional lectures. This semester I have been attempting to use a different technique. If this did not work, my solution was to cease teaching undergraduates at the end of this semester.

The Professor described how he used to give conventional lectures. He would summarise the textbook into lecture notes. The students would then take their notes in the lecture. He then evolved a technique of handing out his notes at the end of the lecture, then he tried handing out the notes at the beginning of the lecture. Then he realised that he could not simply repeat what was in the lecture notes in the lecture.

The Professor then asked if lectures should be focused on the delivery of information. He argued that there is no time for assimilating information in a lecture. Furthermore he argued that most students will not be motivated enough to spend the time on their own outside the classroom. This seems to be a theme which other US based academics have discussed at ANU. I find it a little worrying that the university would be designed around teaching people something they are not interested in learning.

Even if there is a role for educational institutions teaching disinterested students, it is unlikely to be the job for Australia's leading university. Essentially the ANU's success has come from saying: "if you are exceptional and keen, then we will help you learn".

Towards the end of the seminar the Professor joked that he reflected he early on considered giving up on undergraduates. The audience laughed. Perhaps I should not give up on teaching undergraduates.

Masterclass on National Bushfire Warning System

Apart from "Green ITSM" I have offered draft material on how to build a National Bushfire Warning System for Australia as part of a masterclass. on technical writing at ANU. So I need to write something on the topic. As a starting point, I have the abstract in the seminar announcement , a conference talk on "Community Warning Systems" and an "Australian Community Warning System Proposal" submitted to the Council of Australian Governments. Since then I have looked at "Obligation for Australian broadcasters to provide emergency warnings ", "Fault in Pacific Tsunami Warning System", "Mobile beep for emergency Cell Broadcast" and "Australian Emergency Alert System". My conclusion from this is:
  1. SMS is not suitable for large scale use in a community warning system. SMS is too slow (taking around an hour to send 1M messages) and addressing information is lacking.
  2. Cell Broadcast (SMS-CB) is technically suitable (able to send millions of messages in a few seconds to all mobile phones in a specific location), but not currently sufficiently supported by the mobile phone industry to be usable for warnings to the general public.
  3. SMS and Cell Broadcast would be suitable as part of a system for relaying emergency messages from emergency services to the public via the broadcast media. This would improve on current methods using faxes and phone calls.
  4. Short text messages could reference detailed web based information.
  5. Standardised, efficient formats are required for web based emergency information. Accessibility and mobile guidelines can be used for designing an efficient readable format, as well as specialised guidelines for emergency information.
Given I now have my conclusion, I need to find some references to support it. ;-)

More seriously, the problem is to define the topic sufficiently to be able to find relevant work. Emergency management is a very wide topic, and even communication for emergencies has a large literature. One good place to start is the recent work on XML based formats for emergency messages, being pioneered by the
OASIS Emergency Management Adoption Technical Committee and members such as Renato Iannella at at NICTA.

Masterclass on Climate Change with ITSM - Part 2

My draft "Green ITSM" talk will be used as a sample of work for a masterclass. on technical writing at ANU. So I need to write something. This is an adaptation of an existing talk on Green ICT:

Green ICT Strategies: Lowering Cost and Carbon Emissions with ICT
  1. 25% to 50% CO2 Reduction needed by 2020
  2. First global Green ICT Course
  3. Green ICT
  4. Business ICT Competencies
  5. Learning by Doing
  6. Students Teach Each Other
  7. Online References Used
  8. Some Green ICT Topics
  9. Dematerialisation: doing more with less
  10. More Information
To this I need to add new material on IT Service Management and ITIL. The first question is if anyone else has written on Green ITI or green ITSM. A web search for "Green ITIL" found only 42 entries. The first is a lengthy blog post "The New Color of ITIL: Green" By Denise P. Kalm and Marv Waschke in Mainframe Executive, March 12, 2009. This follows the same approach I was intending: explain where green can be fitted into ITIL's existing approach. The next is "Green ITIL" from the British Computer Society, March 2009. This takes a slightly different approach, saying even the latest ITIL (Version 3), does not include measures of environmental impact in IT service delivery. However, while the article goes on to claim this could be done, it does not detail how.

The next article of interest is a white paper "Green ITIL" from Capgemini (8 December 2008). Capgemini provide a far more detailed proposal of how ITIL can incorporate sustainability. They start with the concept of "Corporate Social Responsibility" (CSR), which I accidentally attended a conference about in Malaysia. Capgemini argue that CSR is the link from Corporate Governance to the IT Functiopn of an organisation. Within IT, there is IT social responsibility (which is not a term I am familiar with) then linking to, at the lower level, to Service Management Policy, which where ITIL comes into play. This provides an excellent way to link green ICT into wider corporate social policies, where such policies exist. It also provides a context for incorporating green ICT into ITIL and then being able to make decisions on IT resource allocation including sustainability issues.

However, Capgemini's approach assumes that green issues will fit withing ITIL's existing framework of services: IT Services, Application services, Infrastructure services, Network Services, Data Services and Security Services. It then firther assumes that ITIL's categorisation of Processes, Methods, Functions, Roles and Activities apply. Lastly it assumes that sustainability measures can be captured in the Key Performance Indicators (KPI) for monitoring the IT service management, so that this can then be used with techniques such as Balanced Scorecard and, at a higher level, Corporate Balanced Scorecard.

Capgemini argue that measures such as "Carbon Score" can be used to include CO2e in a balanced scorecard approach. While this seems rerasonable for major new acitvities such as new equipment purchase, software development or service acquistion, by extending it to consideration of environmental impact of in Requests for Change (RFCs), Capgemini may have extended Green ITIL a step too far. It is unlikely to be useful to consider the envrionmental impact of every small change to a system.

Capgemini are on firmer ground with their example of an organisation deciding if an IT servcie should be provided 24/7. While customers would like service continuously, in reality most servcies are only heavily used during officie hours on weekdays. There is a high envrionmental cost in running these services after hours and on weekends. However, this analysis appears to be falwed. It would suggest that the logiocal conclusion would be to shuit down the computer system after hours. There would be few indsutries which such a proposal could be justified on envrionmental or other grounds. The real world solution would be to design the system to reduce capacity to match demand, thus reducing energy use automatically after hours and on weekends when demand is low.

Office of the Information Commissioner

Special Minister of State, Senator John Faulkner has announced draft laws to establish an Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC) The Minister invited submissions via the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet website by 15 May 2009. But unfortunately the invitation did not include a copy of the documents to be commented on, nor any information on how to obtain a copy, making comment difficult.

In October 2007 I set the design of a computer system to speed FOI requests as a workshop exercise for students of Electronic Document Management at the Australian National University. The problem is that the volume of material could overwhelm manual FOI processes in the relatively small OIC. A system using XML and web technology could be used to speed the process.

The standards established in the National Archives free open source "XML Electronic Normalising of Archives" (XENA) and "Digital Preservation Recorder" (DPR) software tools could be used to process electronic records extracted from agency systems, such those based on Tower Software's Trim.

The OIC staff could use an online system to coordinate requests with agencies. OIC staff could then automatically check the conformance of agency staff with the new laws.

The CSIRO developed FunnelBack search system has already been interfaced to Trim to allow the searching of records in an agency.
This and similar tools should make it possible for agencies to deal with FOI requests. If those requests use a common electronic format across government, it will considerably speed the process, reduce costs and simplify compliance monitoring.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Masterclass on Solving Climate Change with IT Service Management

I will be talking on "Solving Climate Change with IT Service Management", at the IT Service Management and IT Architecture Special Interest Groups in Adelaide on 21 April 2009. Therefore I need to adapt the usual talk I give on Green ICT to emphasise Service Management and IT Architecture. In addition the COMP2410 students at ANU asked for more help on how to write a report on an ICT issue. I therefore offered my draft for the Green ITSM talk for a masterclass. The idea is that my fellow lecturers will critique my work with the class watching. They can then get more of an idea of how writing happens. Also they will see that everyone makes the same mistakes and has to go through the sames process.

The topic:

Like the students I have a set essay topic for my rpesentation:

"Solving Climate Change with IT Service Management"

Green ICT is the study and practice of using computers and telecommunications in a way which maximises positive environmental benefit and minimise the negative impact. A common misconception is that Green ICT is for engineers and environmentalists, but this is a management issue where IT Service Management specialists can apply their skills to contribute to the business as well as the environment.

Green ICT seeks to inform accepted management practises to achieve efficient and effective business interaction. The same skills which IT professionals apply to management of projects can be used to estimate, report and reduce carbon emissions, helping organisation to meet the new requirements imposed by governments.

The Australian Computer Society has produced the world's first online postgraduate course in Green ICT, specifically designed for IT professionals. The course is modelled on the ACS's IT Service Management course and designed to align with the Skills Framework for the Information Age (SFIA). The course content is available free online.

This is for a one hour presentation. Normally I would prepare the equivalent of eight A4 pages of notes for a one hour talk. This is also about the average lenght for an paper in an ICT journal, such as JRPIT. The notes for a talk need not be as formally structured as a journal paper, it should still be defensible and readable.

Unlike the students I have some existing material to work from, rather than starting from scratch. But the students have been given a carefully structured description of the problem and suggested readings, whereas I have to make all that up myself.

As with any written work, the starting point is to decide what it is you are trying to say and who you are saying it to. With an academic paper, the audience is reasonably clear: it is the person marking the assignment, or the reviewers of the paper and ultimately your peers. n the case of this seminar, the audience is ICT professionals with a background in the specialist areas of IT Service Management and IT Architecture.

The aim of the presentation therefore is to tell the audience about Green ICT (which they are assumed not to know much about) and relate it to IT Service Management (which they know about but I don't). I therefore need to learn a little about ITSM and see if anyone has previously related it to Green ICT.

If this was a full paper I would do a literature search. But that is not needed for a talk. The structure of the Green ICT course I will be discussing was based on the IT Service Management.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Obligation for Australian broadcasters to provide emergency warnings

In "ABC Mobile Web Site Failed Accessibility Test" I criticised the ABC for not providing a more planned emergency warning service to the public. As far as I can see, there is no legislation specifically requiring the ABC to provide emergency warnings (there is for commercial broadcasters) but they did volunteer for the job.

The ABC has used slogans such as: "ABC Local Radio, your emergency services broadcaster":
  • "During the Bushfire season, for regular fire updates, tune into ABC Local Radio, your emergency services broadcaster. ..." ABC Goulburn Murray, 16 October 2008
  • "ABC Adelaide is your Emergency Services Broadcaster. Stay listening on air and online for the latest information. ...", From: Index of Emergency Incidents Stories, ABC, 14/03/2008
  • "For more information contact your local CFA Branch and keep listening to ABC Radio, your emergency services broadcaster....", From: Fire Ready Victoria Meetings, ABC Goulburn Murray, 22 January 2008
This role seems to have been endorsed by the state governments, with their emergency web pages advising the public to listen to ABC local radio for emergency information:
  • "As part of an on-going partnership, 774 ABC Melbourne and the Country Fire Authority (CFA) provide listeners with quick, free access to the most up-to-date information and advice available during fire emergencies. ... Link to website: ABC Local Radio ..." From: "ABC Local Radio", Office of the Emergency Services Commissioner (OESC), Victoria, 15 November 2008
  • "During a serious emergency where life or property may be at risk, you can also obtain information by: Listening to your local ABC Radio station at 15 minutes past the hour and 15 minutes to the hour. ...", From: "Emergency Alerts", Fire & Emergency Services Authority of Western Australia (FESA), 2008

More formally there are Memorandums of Understanding between the ABC and the Victorian Emergency Services Organisations (4 February 2004) and the Queensland Department of Emergency Services (6 September 2005) for the ABC to broadcast emergency messages. While the MoUs are non-legally binding arrangements, it would seem to be a formal commitment by the ABC to provide an emergency service.

Emergency warnings are not mentioned in the ABC Charter. This is a curious anomaly, as it is a requirement for commercial broadcasters, under the BROADCASTING SERVICES ACT 1992 - SECT 61CE. However, under the ABC's ACT the Minister can direct the ABC to broadcast a "particular matter" in the national interest. An emergency warning would seem to be in the national interest.

The federal government is building a system to provide state governments with access to the phone directory for emergency calls. This is to cost $11.3M. It would seem prudent to spend a small amount on communicating the emergency warning to the broadcasters in a coordinated and reliable way.

While the carriers and broadcasters should be consulted about how an emergency warning is communicated, they should not be able to impede the work. Under the ABC, Broadcasting and Telecommunications Acts the Commonwealth Government has the authority to direct carriers and broadcasters to provide emergency warnings.

Apart from the Broadcasting Act, the Telecommunications Act 1997 - SECT 335 contains provision for the government to require service providers to supply specific services for the management of natural disasters. In 1999, at the Defence Department, I got this ready to use, in case Y2K caused chaos.

The Emergency Management Agency moved from Defence to Attorney General's in 2001, but someone seems to have forgotten to change the Telecommunications Act to transfer the natural disasters authority from the Defence minister to the Attorney General.

The current ad-hoc arrangement of phones and fax machines for communication between the states, commonwealth and broadcasters is not a satisfactory "system".

Australian TV to broadcast web pages

According to media reports the Australian Freeview consortium proposes to use MPEG-4 video and an MHEG-5 electronic program guide (EPG) for new Australian free to air digital TV transmissions. The use of MPEG-4 has received the most attention as this would require an extra chip in the digital TV tuners (or some upgraded software) over the current MPEG-2 standard (and also government approval). What has received less attention is that the MHEG-5 standard includes a subset of HTML 3.2 slightly modified for TV. This is used for providing the program guide, but can also be used for web-like interactive content, including advertisements.

MHEG-5 is used in the UK and and New Zealand and so seems a reasonable choice for Australia. HTML 3.2 is a very old web standard and would not be a good choice for regular web pages, but is suitable for the limited role it has on a set-top box. MHEG-5 is also used for digital signage.

Unfortunately no technical details of what Freeview propose to do are provided on their web site. Freevie have also chosen not to use the standards they are reported to be proposing other Australians use. The Freeview web site seems to be entirely composed of Flash media and so very difficult to access.

Another issue is if Freview's limited form of interactive TV will be of much interest to an audience now acquiring iPhones, Wiis with web browsers and Google Android phones. It may be that by the time Freeview is available, it will be of no more interest than old fashioned analogue TV.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Science in Islam Hapmered by Poor PR

The Collins Class Submarine StoryScience and Islam: A History by Ehsan Masood (Icon Books Ltd , 2009) gets a good review in New Scientist ("Time to acknowledge science's debt to Islam?, Jo Marchant 25 February 2009). Both the book and the reviewer look for explanations for science not being as prominent in the Islamic world. However, I doubt this is a real phenomenon and may be just bad marketing on the part of science. As an example I visited the Museum of Technology and Islam the day after it opened in Istanbul. By now I assumed I would easily find details of the museum and its fascinating exhibits on the web. But the museum seems to be hard to find and Masood's book has no mention of the Museum.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Turkish undersea railway earthquake warning system

According to International Railway Gazette, the control centre for the new Marmaray rail tunnel linking the European and Asian part of Istanbul will receive earthquake information from the Kandilli Early Warning System. The railway runs under the Bosphorus in a very earthquake prone region. The trains will be automatically stopped by the control centre when an earthquake warning is received. The tunnel is equipped with flexible joints and flood gates to protect against earthquakes. Last year I visited the Kandilli Observatory and Earthquake Research Institute, at Bogazici University who run the earthquake warning system for Turkey and looked at their warning system and discussed how to use new technology to get emergency information out quickly. The Institute provides a very valuable service.

Grow tomatoes at Canberra Data Centre?

A greenhouse is using the exhaust from an electricity generator to help grow tomatoes and reduce carbon emissions. Perhaps this could be used at the proposed data centre in Canberra to reduce emissions and objections. There may be some objection to eating plants grown in engine exhaust, but it could be used for a plant crop which is not eaten:
... Last month, two of GE’s 4MW, natural gas-fuelled J624 GS engines began powering Royal Pride Holland’s new greenhouse cogeneration plant. ...

exhaust ... gas to be recycled in the greenhouse as a special fertiliser to help boost crop production instead of venting the gas into the atmosphere. In addition to supporting the greenhouse’s operations, surplus electricity from the cogeneration plant is being delivered to the local grid...

From: Netherlands Commercial Tomato Greenhouse Boosts Production with Cogeneration Plant Powered by World’s First 24-Cylinder Gas Engines, GE, 02 October 2008

Sydney to Canberra Hybrid Fast Train

On 12 February 2009, the UK Government announced that Hitachi trains from the Agility Trains consortium would replace the InterCity 125 trains used between UK cities. This is of relevance to Australia, as the XPT trains used between Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne are derived from the old UK trains. The new Agility Trains may therefore be suitable for use in Australia

Agility Trains will run at 201 km/h and one version will be a hybrid, capable of operating on electricity and diesel. This could be very useful for Australia: the train could run on the electrical supply in Sydney, then change to diesel for the country run to Canberra. While not as fast as Very High Speed trains, such as the TGV (320 km/h) the Angel trains would not require new track or overhead wiring. It should be noted that Queensland's electric tilt train is also partly made by Hitachi.

Very high speed is not needed to make the train trip from Sydney to Canberra by train feasable. At present the rail journey takes more than four hours, at an average speed of about 65 km/h. The new trains could be run from Sydney central station, stopping at Sydney airport and on to Canberra in under three hours. If the trains were equipped with power points beside each seat for laptop computers, as is being done on the refurbished Thalys and WiFi access, as on the Cambridgeshire Guided Busway, it would be attractive to business and private travellers.

Collins Class Submarine Story

The Collins Class Submarine StoryThe Collins Class Submarine Story: Steel, Spies and Spin by Peter Yule and Derek Woolner ( Cambridge University Press, 2008) provided a detailed look at the development process for a complex defence system. The Australian Defence Force's new submarine project, the selection of the design, the politics of building a submarine in Australia and the issues with design, building and testing. A large proportion of the book is devoted to problems with the software for the combat data system of the submarine. What is surprising is that how even with a carefully documented system involving very detailed negotiations, misunderstanding between the parties as to who was to do what when can remain. This book provides useful insights for anyone involved in the development or acquisition of complex high technology products. The Australian Government is considering a Collins class submarine replacement and this book should be required reading for all involved in the new project.

Friday, March 20, 2009

E-portfolios for Vocational Education in Australia

The government funded Australian Flexible Learning Framework have released a report on "E-portfolios for RPL Assessment". E-portfolios are a way for a student to document their experience systematically to have it recognised formally (the ACS uses e-portfolios as part of its Computer Professional Education Program). The media release accompanying the report ("E-portfolios support COAG initiative") had a little too much "spin", linking it to a supposed Council of Australian Governments initiative. Unfortunately I was unable to find any mention of the claimed initiative on the COAG web site, even after I fixed the broken link in the media release. However, any failing in the media release should not be allowed to detract from the well written report, or its useful recommendations.

Summary of recommendations
  1. The Framework should seek closer collaboration with the COAG (Council of Australian Governments) RPL initiative to ensure the benefits of e-portfolios for RPL are widely communicated and supported in the VET sector.
  2. Examples of the use of e-portfolios to support ‘live’ evidence generation in the RPL process which involves a variety of RTOs, RPL candidates and industry contexts should be trialled, documented and shared.
  3. The potential of an assessor’s or ‘group’ e-portfolio which integrates RPL, evidence validation and results recording should be investigated.
From "E-portfolios for RPL Assessment - Key findings on current engagement in the VET sector", by Wendy Perry for the Australian Flexible Learning Framework, March 2009

Open Source Disaster Management Project in Google Summer of Code

The Sahana open source disaster management system has been selected for the Google Summer of Code 2009. Students interested in particiapting, by helping develop software can obtain details at the Google Summer of Code 2009 IDEAS and Guidelines for Students Participating in Google Summer of Code 2009 for Sahana.

Mentors: If you are an active Sahana Contributor and would still like to be involved in the GSoC as a mentor, it's not too late. Please visit http://socghop.appspot.com/org/apply_mentor/google/gsoc2009 to register and we will also get you caught up on all pertinent information you need to know about.

A full timeline of important dates for this summer can be found here: http://socghop.appspot.com/document/show/program/google/gsoc2009/timeline.

We look forward to seeing all the proposals that come in!

Worst computer user interface of the week: SBS Dateline

SBS Dateline have an email service to tell you what is on the show each week. I went to unsubscribe from this service and was confronted by a very confusing web form. It only has one tick box and one button. But the instructions use negatives. It would be a lot simpler to have a box you tick to be removed from the mailing list, than one you untick to unsubscribe:
You are currently subscribed to the Dateline Newsletter from SBS. Please untick the box below if you no longer wish to receieve this newsletter.

(Please untick) I would like to unsubscribe from the Dateline Newsletter.

Fault in Pacific Tsunami Warning System

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center (PTWC) issued a warning 19 March 2009 after a magnitude 7.7 earthquake near Tonga. A small tsunami of 0.04 m was later reported and in all six messages were issued, before the warning was cancelled. While the text based warning messages worked as planned (I received trimmed versions by mobile phone SMS as well), there appear to be continuing problems with the HTML versions on the NOAA web site. The PTWC needs to review its web design to ensure poor formatting is not impeding this important service.

When I attempted to access the PTWC web site at 8:10am this morning the system reported:"Information Alert - Status : 504 Gateway Time-Out -
Description : Lost connection to origin server". The site worked on a second attempt. While the text versions of the warning messages were readable, the HTML versions were blank, with the PTWC page header and side menu, but no warning message. On examining the HTML source code I found a large amount of formatting information and text about last year's tsunami exercise and awareness month commented out, but no current tsunami warning. It is not clear if this excessive formatting and redundant information caused the problem with displaying the message, but it would place an additional and unnecessary load on the system. This problem was previously identified 9 January 2009.

I will be discussing this issue at a seminar on a "National Bushfire Warning System" at The Australian National University in Canberra on 16 April 2009.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Sustainability in Australian Government ICT Procurement

Greetings from the ACS Canberra 2009 Conference at the National Convention centre in Canberra. Lindsay Tanner, the Minister for Finance and Deregulation and the Government's number one blogger, is giving the keynote address. The theme of the talk is reform of government computer and telecommunications. Whole of Government ICT Sustainability plan with Department of Environment and AGIMO. The intent is to have mandatory standards and government energy targets with reporting and audit to manage the government's carbon footprint and lead by example. The Gershon Report found that a lack of a data centre strategy would cost $1B over the next few years. The data centre strategy will include sustainability. I am talking on Green ICT at 11:15am.

CSS 3 on the way for mobile and gaming web

John Allsopp gave an impassioned talk about CSS 3 at the March Canberra WSG meeting at the National Library of Australia. This talk, the approach John suggests and the technology it was about , could change the way the Australian Government does web pages and save lives.

This was impromptu talk due to the unavailability of the planned speaker. It had never occurred to me that anyone could be that passionate about Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), a highly complex and frustrating piece of web technology (the CSS standards are much bigger than the HTML one). CSS 3 is the newest and least supported of the CSS standards. Until this talk I had dismissed CSS 3 as something which would be good to have, but so little supported by web browsers that it was not worth looking at, and may never be supported.

John argued that new versions of browsers, particularly Firefox, Safari and Opera, had some useful CSS 3 features. The not so subtle subtext of his presentation was that web designers should give up trying to make web pages look identical on every web browser. Even if this were possible on desktop versions of browsers, it will make less and less sense as the web is accessed on hand held devices (such as the iPhone and Google Andriod smart phones) and games machines (such as the Wii). New devices will have very different size screens and user interfaces, so the desktop metaphor will not suit these.

John argued for designing web sites which will use advanced features on advanced browsers but still be compatible with old browsers. He argued that with new CSS features this can be done without lots of Javascript and CSS hacks, as used in the past.

All of that would have made an interesting academic argument, with a little more passion than usual, but hardly significant for day to day web design. However, John then went on to demonstrate some CSS features available now on newer browsers which can be used to create very elegant Apple Mac and iPhone type effects. The point he emphasised was these techniques were available now, did not require a large amount of code and were backward compatible.

What particularly struck me was how these features could be used for efficient hand held appliciaitons. CSS can be used to create elegantly shaded and curved buttons, without the use of any images. Such buttons will suit smart phones, without the need for large image downloads. Also animation techniques where the item selected changes size and colour can make maximum use of a small screen. At the same time the application will still be compatible with a desktop computer.

A few days ago I criticised the ABC for launching their "ABC Mobile" service with an interface which did not meet accessibility standards. Chris Winter, from ABC Innovation, responded to say they had fixed that problem. The ABC might like to direct their innovation at using some of these new CSS features. It should be kept in mind that the ABC provides information, not just entertainment and in particular the ABC provides emergency information during natural disasters. The techniques John was showing with CSS3 promise a way to provide visually appealing interfaces which are efficient and so would suit web pages designed for emergencies. I will be talking about this at a seminar on a "National Bushfire Warning System" in Canberra, 16 April 2009.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Dematerialising the Australian Government to reduce hot air

My talk on "Green ICT Strategies" for the ACS Canberra conference is now available. In this I argue the Draft Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bill should aim for a 25% to 50% per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, up from the current 5% to 15%. A reduction of 15% can be delivered just by the use of ICT. One example of this is the Australian Government replacing interstate travel for some meetings with high-definition video teleconferencing. The technical term of this is "dematerialisation" so this is a case of dematerialising the Australian Government to reduce hot air. ;-)