Monday, January 31, 2011

Financial Analysis of al-Qa'ida in Iraq

An Economic Analysis of the Financial Records of al-Qa'ida in Iraq" is a fascinating look at the business side of a militant organisation. Financial records of al-Qa'ida for the Anbar province of Iraq were captured. Some of the insights from this were that the militant organisation had a similar structure to the forces opposing them and that the militants were so successful financially from extortion and theft, they could export some surpluses to fund foreign groups. Militant fighters were not well paid for their work, but even so mounting attacks was expensive and the authors suggest that disrupting the finances of militant groups could be an effective way to reduce attacks. A Summary (0.1 MB) and the Full Document (0.8 MB) are avialable.

An Economic Analysis of the Financial Records of al-Qa'ida in Iraq

by Benjamin Bahney, Howard J. Shatz, Carroll Ganier, Renny McPherson, Barbara Sude with Sara Beth Elson, Ghassan Schbley

This monograph analyzes the finances of the militant group al-Qa'ida in Iraq (AQI) in Anbar province during 2005 and 2006, at the peak of the group's power and influence. The authors draw on captured documents that give details on the daily financial transactions of one specific sector within Anbar province and of the financial transactions of the AQI provincial administration. Some of their conclusions are: AQI was a hierarchical organization with decentralized decisionmaking; AQI in Anbar was profitable enough to send substantial revenues out of the province in 2006; AQI relied on extortion, theft, and black market sales to fund its operations in Anbar; AQI needed large, regular revenue sources to fund its operations, but its administrative leaders did not hold much cash on hand. The authors' interpretation of data on compensation practices and participants' risk of death indicates that AQI members were poorly compensated and suggests that they were not motivated primarily by money to join the group. The authors also find that mounting attacks required organizational expenditures well beyond the cost of material used in attacks. One major conclusion is that disrupting AQI's financial flows could disrupt the pace of their attacks.

Document Details

  • Copyright: RAND Corporation
  • Availability: Available
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 114 ...
  • ISBN/EAN: 9780833050397
  • Document Number: MG-1026-OSD
  • Year: 2010
  • Series: Monographs


  1. Introduction
  2. AQI and the Political and Economic Environment in Anbar Province
  3. Auditing al-Qa'ida in Iraq
  4. The Economics of AQI's Compensation
  5. The Flow of Expenditures and the Pace of Attacks
  6. Implications
  • Appendix A:Anbar Province
  • Appendix B: Time Line of Events in Anbar Province

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Next Recent Changes Camp in New Zealand

Greetings from the last day of of Recent Changes Camp 2011: Canberra at the University of Canberra. The last topic of conversation was were the next event would be and what would be the theme. Suggested was the topic of "research" in New Zealand in mid 2011. One possible area which will be interested is the NZ Ministry of Education and Webstock.

Also what was discussed was another event for Australia. The consensus was to stick with education themed events for Canberra and new themes elsewhere, such as art in conjunction with This is Not Art in Newcastle.

What struck me was that there were people from several nations in the room discussing the use of Wikis, when the subtext was differences in culture. Perhaps that should be made the explicit discussions of scope for different cultures online.

Also there was discussion of the next Wikimedia Australia conference proposed for Adelaide. This would have formal academic double blind reviewed papers. An interesting aspect of this is how the wiki ethos can be melded with formal academic publishing practices. As an example, it is usually a condition for submitting papers for a conference that they have not previously been published and can be blind reviewed, which could preclude preparation of the paper using a public wiki. It would be interesting to see how the traditional formal review process which is built into packages such as OJS could be combined with a Wiki.Link

Bruce Declaration on Education

Greetings from the last day of of Recent Changes Camp 2011: Canberra at the University of Canberra. Yesterday we discussed "Wikis for Open Education", including in a podcast. Day three was to be about coming up with proposals "Bruce Declaration on Education". The idea was to produce a statement of principles on education, which could encompass how technologies such as wikis could be used, but not limited to the mechanics of how that is done.

The declaration is intended to inform current government inquiries into education and into the NBN. Policies, programs and funding could then be provided to have services directly to students, resources for teachers and for educational institutions.

There is a vigorous discussion taking place over formal and informational education, the role of teachers and institutions. As a former bureaucrat, I wanted to start from existing formal statements, such as Article 26 on the right to education of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (General Assembly of the United Nations, December 10, 1948). This is heavily loaded with decades of political baggage, but the original principles are very relevant to the application of Internet to education:
Article 26
  • (1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
  • (2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
  • (3) Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.

The process used was also interesting. We sat in the open area of the UoC "Teaching Space" using a video projector and Meeting Words and Wikiversity for group preparation of a document. Each of us sitting on the leather lunge chairs could use WiFi on our netbooks and tablets. Text entered into MeetingWords by anyone was immediately avialable to everyone and displayed on the wall screen. This text was tidied up and then pasted to the Wikiversity. This worked well but was an exhausting process and we could not keep this up for more than about 20 minutes.

We started to get stuck at the point of proposing concrete projects. Here is my wish list:
  • v-ALTC: In my view there is scope for putting in programs to replace the Australian Learning and Teaching Council which the Prime Minister cancelled last week. There could be a grass roots online version of ALTC, based on the approach taken by EdNA. I suggest a modest $10M over ten years.
  • v-Schools: The example of upper secondary schools in the ACT aalso providing vocational education and community facilities such as libraries could be emulated. I suggest $1B over ten years to set up new and remodelled educational facilities in Australia.
Anyone interested is welcome to join in the process.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Wikis for Open Education

Greetings from the second day of Recent Changes Camp 2011: Canberra at the University of Canberra. This afternoon's second session on "Wikis for Open Education" is being podcast by "Talking VTE".

Wikipedia defines Open education as ".. a collective term that refers to educational organisations that seek to eliminate barriers to entry". The barriers can be formal academic admission requirements. Open University UK and Athabasca University in Canada are given as examples. E-learning is commonly used for this (a version of my Green ICT Strategies course is offered by Athabasca).

Leigh Blackall suggested using the term "open networked education" so I did a search for this and found "Workshop for Australian education policy" which is described as "An experiment in pulling the materials together to work on open networked education policy...".

Mentioned in discussion was the "Khan Academy", a not-for-profit US based educational body. Perhaps another to mention is the Lalit Kala Akademi (Kala National Academy of Arts India).

It seems to me that Montessori approach to school design can be applied across the educational school, vocational and university sectors.

The discussion then got onto the professionalism and certification of teaching. I don't see this as a bad thing. A technology based society needs competnet people to keep things working. Despite romantic notions of the apprentice learning at the feet of the master, teaching is a skill which needs to be learnt.

Wikis for Vocational Education

Greetings from the second day of Recent Changes Camp 2011: Canberra at the University of Canberra. This afternoon's session on "Wikis for Vocational Education" is being podcast by "Talking VTE". Leigh Blackall mentioned Making the Invisible Hand Visible. The Case for Dialogue About Academic Capitalism by Susan Awbrey. One institution mentioned which maintains a mix of commercially orientated and personal self development course was the Tasmanian Polytechnic.

I suggested that educators need to educate the community. In response it was mentioned that the Productivity Commission is having an inquiry into the Vocational Education and Training (VET) sector (submissions close 28 February 2011). Also there is the "Higher Education Base Funding Review".

"Electronic Engagement: A Guide for Public Sector Managers" by Dr Peter Chen (2007) discusses some of how to make these views made. This in part comes from his PHD Thesis "Australia's online censorship regime" (2000). Peter interviewed me for his thesis in how I helped make a submission to a Senate inquiry.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Do your PHD through Wikiversity

In the last session of Recent Changes Camp 2011: Canberra
at the University of Canberra Leigh Blackall demonstrated how he was using Wikiversity for his PhD. I was sceptical as to the value of this and if it would be accepted by formal university processes. Leigh pointed out that there were several Examples of PhDs using Wikiversity. These ranged from a relatively traditional approach where the PDH thesis is put on the Wiki at the end of having been written, to one where the notes and work in progress is put in the wiki and publicly available from the start.

eLearning Services for Flood Recovery

eLearning Services at the Queensland Department of Education and Training has madevirtual classroom’ spaces available for students where the floods have disrupted normal classes. This initiative could be usefully expanded to be part of an Australian Learning Commons to provide educational resources to students across Australia.

Maths, English & Science materials are provided, including:

  • Resources - self-paced digital learning resources by year level
  • Activities - self-paced structured lessons by year level
  • Programs - self-paced vodcasts or daily scheduled multimedia events by year level
There is also a special collaborative project Healing words - Helping hands for Education Queensland teachers to discuss the floods and share experiences.

Teaching and Learning Commons at University of Canberra

The Recent Changes Camp 2011: Canberra is taking place in the Teaching and Learning Commons at University of Canberra. This is a newly opened facility in Building One of the university, just above the refurbished refectory.

The learning space is a mezzanine, allowing the students to look down at what is happening in the refectory. A walkway and bridge allow access to rooms placed around the periphery of the building. The floor is divided into sections, each for a different style of learning with a different level of formality. At one end the "Teaching Commons" has has a glass wall with its own doorways, an open area, with a kitchen and the several breakout rooms. This allows a class to have an area to themselves and then to use several breakout rooms.

What also makes the space interesting is that the University of Canberra Teaching and Learning Centre is co-located in the space. In a way the physical space is a physical manifestation of the style of education being advocated. As commented on at the event I am attending, the walls of the rooms become covered with cooperatively written notes and are a sort of whiteboard wiki.

Some areas are equipped with desktop computers. The room the event I am at is using is called "The HotHouse" this is about 8 x 12 metres. All the walls are painted with gloss white whiteboard paint (IdeaPaint brand), allowing all the walls to be written on. There is a short throw Epson projector fixed to the ceiling projecting a 2 metre picture on one wall. The projected image is good, dispute the gloss of the walls. One problem was that there are spotlights on the ceiling pointed at the walls which create glare from the shiny walls.

There is glass in all rooms, allowing someone in a room to see out into the open area and see in. This makes the floor feel large and open. Considerable care has been taken with the design of the space. One small detail is that luminous contrast strips are installed on the stairs. Some of the smaller rooms are around the outside of the building, most windows are covered with blinds to block light to allow use of video projectors. This removes views of the outside. However these rooms have been palced on the sides of the building which do not have good views.

Wikis for Education

The second session at Recent Changes Camp 2011: Canberra
is on "Wikis for Education". This is a topic I did not think I knew much about, but realised I had run two courses were I got the students to edit the Wikipedia, one is 2007 was Writing for the Web for Local Government and the other Electronic Document Management: Course for government staff. In these I had the students edit or create a Wikipedia entry for their organisation. Government staff were reluctant to edit the Wikipedia, saying they were lot allowed to. I had to reassure them it was okay for the purposes of the course. With a little practice they became comfortable with this.

One issue which came up is open access Creative Commons type licensing for educational materials. The Austrlaian Government has adopted a policy for open access to materials, as have some state governments, particularly Queensland. Universities in Australia are government funded, but so far there is no policy requiring, or encouraging open access. There are such policies for research publishing, where open access is encouraged, but not for education.

An example of a more "open" approach is the Graduate Diploma of Education at the University of Canberra.

One tool mentioned which breaks out of the linear text model is SpicyNodes.

There was some discussion of how Moodle 2 allows integration of external tools.

Wiki culture in the shadow of Wikipedia

The first session at Recent Changes Camp 2011: Canberra
is on "Wiki Culture". Some issues discussed were the dominance of Wikipedia, resulting in culture ways online.

Recent Changes Camp 2011 Canberra

Greetings from Recent Changes Camp 2011: Canberra
at the University of Canberra, an informal symposium on anything to do with Wikis. There are 21 of us at the event. About a third are from the university, most of the others are from other Canberra universities. There are also some from interstate and overseas.We are in the Learning Commons, Level 2, Building 1 of UoC (just above the refectory). All are welcome to come and join in the discussion.

The event runs until Sunday afternoon. At present the first session on "WikiCulture" is under-way. We have three rooms available in the very new and very well equipped commons, so have space for three sessions. So far on the agenda are:

Wikis for Education/Assessment/ Postgraduate/Wikipedia, Wikis for Printing/Replace WP, Wikis for Fun,

Extended WIki Editing/why wikis don;t work/structure in wikis, Wikitravel/Gender mix (more males use wiki), Key facilitation for wikis/wikis for non-computer people, Wikis in Vocational Education and Training/Resources for Education

Referencing and appraising scientific literature/Wikinews/More Wiki Conference, Why isn't Wiki a bigger social platform/Advanced skills/Bots

Thursday, January 27, 2011

ANU Education Innovation Series

A series of free Education Innovation Workshops is being run during February 2011, by the Educational Development Group, College of Engineering & Computer Science at the Australian National University. These are hands-on sessions intended for those developing courses with ANU's "Wattle" (Moodle based) Learning Management System. Priority will be given to ANU Engineering and IT staff for workshop places, but educators from other ANU colleges and other Canberra educational institutions are encouraged to apply (contact Lauren Kane for details):

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Canberra 2030 Planning Report

On 16 October 2010 I attended a Canberra 2030 "Time to Talk Workshop" workshop. The ACT Government has now released an outcomes report on these consultations. Unfortunately the ACT Government has only provided the report as large PDF (3.42MB) and Text Format (4.52MB) files. The report is not provided in an easy to download and read web format.

The most controversial issue with Canberra's planning at present is over the density of residential development around the CBD ("Civic"). In line with the ADC Cities Report: Enhancing Liveability, my view is that the population of Canberra should be increased, to more than one million people, make it more sustainable. This would result in the character of the suburbs around the city and town centres changing, with eight story apartments replacing detached housing.

Also provided are:
  1. Discussion Papers (zip - 7.2MB): With: Canberra in 1990, City Form, Environmental Sustainability, Getting Around, Housing, Land Use & Planning, Liveability and Wellbeing, Living in the Nation’s Capital, Population, Water, and “Who Pays”.
  2. Presentation slides from community forums(zip - 11MB):Community Forums Round 1, 2 and 3.
  3. Reports (zip - 12.7MB): Australia to 2050: Future Challenges – Intergenerational Report 2010, Australian Treasury of the Commonwealth of Australia, Spotlight on Australia’s Capital Cities, KPMG, Cities, Who Decides?, The Grattan Institute, State of Australian Cities 2010 – Infrastructure Australia and The Cities We Need, The Grattan Institute
  4. List of Community Champions (zip - 37KB)
  5. Small Group Reports (zip - 4.8MB) : Boomerang Centre, Forum for people with a disability, Lanyon High School, Weston Creek Community Council, Majura Primary School, Jetty Research report from the Random Telephone Survey
  6. Survey Report (zip - 1.5MB)
  7. Submissions (zip - 36.2MB)
  8. Group/Organisation Submissions (zip - 7.2MB)
  9. Letters to the Editor (Canberra Times) (zip - 4.3MB)
  10. Web Discussion (zip - 1.2MB)

Monday, January 24, 2011

Multi-story prefabricated housing for flood victims

The Queensland Government is providing housing for displaced residents in the declared flood areas. One option in some areas is prefabricated housing. Such housing is normally thought of as being flimsy, low quality single story, temporary disposable buildings. But there are systems for permanent, high quality, multi-story modular building. I suggest the Queensland, Victorian and Federal governments look at using these building systems for providing accommodation for flood victims. When no longer needed for flood victums, they can be used as long term, low cost accommodation for students and others.

One modular system, has been used for the Laurus Wing of Ursula Hall at the Australian National University in Canberra. Two wings of six story apartment blocks have been built for single students and couples using shipping container sized modules. The same system is being used at other Australian universities. This style would not be suitable for large families, but would suit individuals and couples. It could also be used to provide a type of accommodation for students and others which is not readily available in Australia.

Sensor LED Light Strip Kit

Jaycar Electronics sell a Sensor LED Light Strip Kit. This consists of a 300 mm flexible self adhesive strip with 12 LEDs in it, a PIR detector the strip plugs into and a 240 to 12 volt power supply.

The LEDs are rated at 130 lumen and are 2 Watt per strip. With the light spread out over the length of the strip they are more useful than one bright LED.

The PIR detector is much smaller than those used for 240 lights, being about half the size of a matchbox.

I installed the strip under a shelf in my pantry. About the only problem is that the plug for the power supply is a little loose.

The lights are quite bright and so make the area above the shelf where they are installed seem dim. I might move them to the top shelf and install a second strip (extra strips can be purchased separately). The strips have a socket on one end and a plug on the other and up to six can be daisy chained together and run from one power supply.

The Sylvania 72452 LED Motion Activated Guideway Lighting Kit provides similar features. But it has the LEDs in a rigid bar.

Gungahlin College and Library an Example of the School of the Future

Artists Rendering of the New Gungahlin LibraryIn "Australian Learning Commons Proposal" I outlined how all Australians could be offered free online publicly accessible education from pre-school to university level. This would be supported through public libraries and schools. The new $72.4 million Gungahlin College in Canberra provides a good example of this approach.

Gungahlin Library PlanThe College will accommodate 900 upper secondary students and include a CIT learning centre (for vocational TAFE education). The college library will be available to the community, providing the , with learning rooms for adults and children.

The Gungahlin College is planned to have a 5 Green Star design rating from the Green Building Council of Australia. The ACT Government aims to install photovoltaic (solar power) systems at all public schools over the next four years. One enhancement I would suggest is extra investment so that the solar panels can provide emergency power to the buildings during blackouts. This way the schools can be used as emergency centres during disasters. As recent flooding in Queensland has highlighted, standard solar panels cease to provide power when mains power is lost.

Largest screen for a pocketable tablet computer is 6 inches

In "Largest screen for a smart phone" I suggested
a 4 inch screen was the largest which could be used for a easily hand held device: the size of a credit card: 85.60 × 53.98 mm (standardised as the ID-1 format). Following this approach the size for a larger, but still pocket size tablet computer would be the B7 size used for passports (ID-3 125 × 88 mm or 4.921 × 3.465 in).This would provide a 6 inch diagonal screen, assuming the screen went to the edge of the device.

It should be noted that B7 is approximately 4:3 ratio, which is squarer than the format used by many of the smart phones and tablet computers. The wider screens are useful for watching HDTV (16:9 format), but 4:3 is better for most information displays.

This suggests that the numerious 7 inch tablet computers are too large. But also devices such as the Dell Streak 5 smartphone/tablet PC with a 5 inch screen (5:3 aspect ratio) with a case (case: 152.9 × 79.1 mm or 6.02 x 3.11 inches) are not quite right either.

How To Government Web Site

"" is a new website from the US General Services Administration for government staff on how to communicate online with Web Content, Social Media, Contact Centers (call centers), and Technical Solutions (Cloud computing, mobiles, apps...). This is similar to the guidance which the Austrlaian Government Information Management Office provides on topics such as Web Publishing.

The problem with such guidelines is the breadth and complexity of what government does. I have used the Australian Government guidelines for teaching web design. I suspect that policy agencies would be better off providing systems and training which has the policy embedded in it. That is rather than giving a complex explanation of what must be in a government web site, provide an interactive service where government staff can enter details and have the web site created.Link

Largest screen for a smart phone

In "Should the iPhone 5 get a larger screen?" (CNET
January 21, 2011 11:15 AM PST) David Carnoy asks if the iPhones 3.5 inch screen should be made larger to compete with 4 inch Android phones. He comments that some of the screens larger than 4 inches (such as the 4.3 inch EVO are "bulky"). When teaching web design for mobile devices to students in 2006 I had to consider how large a screen to design for. The larger the screen, the easier it was for the students to design for.

So I considered what ultimate limit there was on the size of a mobile phone screen. I decided the limiting factor was the size of the human hand, this was partly because the phone had to be comfortably held in the hand and also fit in a pocket (and pockets are sized to fit hands). But what size is a hand. In a flash of inspiration I considered the size of the typical credit card: 85.60 × 53.98 mm (standardised as the ID-1 format).

Allowing for margins, the height of a credit card is also about the same as the width of a newspaper column (1.83 inches or about 47 mm). That would suggest a reasonable amount of content could be displayed on a portrait format screen that size.

Credit cards are also about the same size of a business card. This seem reasonable, as both are designed to be held in the hand and fit in a wallet, which fits in a pocket. The wallet has to be a little larger than the cards it accommodates. So the size of a credit card seemed to be a natural maximum size for a hand held, pocket size device. This has a diagonal size of 101 mm (4 inches) and supports Mr. Carnoy's view that devices with screens bigger than 4 inches are clumsy.

ps: There is speculation in the Wikipedia about the origin of the size of a credit card. I suggest it derives from the human hand.

Looking for a real book in a library

While on holiday I got a message to say that a book I had requested was ready for collection from the library. Back from holidays I went to the library and asked at the front desk for the book. But was told that because I had taken so long the book was no longer there.

What I found somewhat perplexing was that the person at the desk seemed to have no way to find out where the item was now, nor any interest in helping me find it. After some time standing there waiting for them to tell me where the book was, I asked them if they knew where it was. The response what as my book request had expired all record of it had been deleted from the computer. I assumed the staff would then look up the location of the book in another system and stood there a little longer. But getting no response I said "perhaps I will look in the catalogue?".

The catalogue said the item was on the shelf. So I went looking for it. As with many modern libraries there are no books on the main floor, just computers. The books are hidden in the basement and on the upper floors. Finding a sign which indicated these books were in the basement, I entered the lift and pressed the button for the lowest level. Nothing happened. Then I noticed a sign against that level saying "staff only". So I went to the information desk and asked how I got books out of the basement. The staff member looked at me like I was an idiot and said: "use the stairs".

After finding the stairs to the basement I was confronted by a row of shelving which seemed to stretch to the far distance. There were one or two people down there who looked like they had not seen daylight for some time. In the place where I expected to find my book on e-records, there were books in Thai. So looked in another section, then on the sorting shelves, then on the upper levels of the building.

Giving up in frustration, I went back to my desk and sent a query to "Ask a Librarian", which Australian libraries seem to have standardised on. I asked "Is there somewhere else I should be looking?" and commented "I realise that it is a somewhat old fashioned concept, but it might be useful to have some staff in the library to help people find books." Ten minutes later there was email from the library. I thought "that was quick". But the message was telling me another unrelated book had arrived.

When I collected that book the next day I found the one I had been looking for also waiting for me. Then an apology arrived by email, then another apology from someone else at the library and another.

It turned out that the people I had asked where the stairs were was the reference desk for the library and I could have asked for help finding the book there. But the desk was labelled something like "iHelp" and was stocked with pamphlets for computer courses, so I assumed this was just for help with computer use.

Perhaps I should see this as success with the process of turning libraries into online information centres, but it is a little sad to see the passing of the era when libraries were about books (that is "paper" books).

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Australian Government Information Policy

The Australian Information Commissioner has invited comment on "Towards an Australian Government Information Policy" by 1 March 2011. The paper provides a very comprehensive overview of Australian and overseas policies and initiatives for information access and discussion of the issues. It is 65 pages and is provided as a very efficiently formatted 226 Kbytes web page and a 818 Kbyte PDF file. The document is issued under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Australia licence.

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Major reports and initiatives on government information policy in Australia
  3. Freedom of Information reforms
  4. Australian Government agencies with a responsibility for government information policy
  5. Developments in other jurisdictions
  6. Examples of public sector information publication, use and reuse in Australia
  7. Key issues for Australia
  8. Public Sector Information Principles in a National Information Policy
From: Towards an Australian Government
Information Policy
, Office of the Australian Information Commissioner, November 2010

Friday, January 21, 2011

Delays with National Registration and Inquiry System

Delays are being reported with the National Registration and Inquiry System due to high demand with the floods in Queensland and Victoria. The system is provided by Emergency Management Australia and the Red Cross to help people find family and friends in a disaster. The system allows for registration and search for people via web forms:
Welcome to the National Registration and Inquiry System website.

We are experiencing some delays with NRIS due to high volume. Please be patient while we work to rectify this as soon as possible.

During an emergency, letting people know that you are safe and well can bring your loved ones great peace of mind.

This service is launched during emergency situations to help people reconnect with family and friends.

To get started, choose an emergency event from the drop-down box, then continue to register yourself and family members, or search for loved ones. ...
I noticed some difficulties with the design of the web interface which might be slowing the system down:
  1. Encryption of home page: The site Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS) page for its home page. This may slow down response time as the page content has to be encrypted. There is no need to encrypt the home page as it contains no sensitive information. Encryption may also prevent the caching of page content. The home page should be changed from HTTPS to HTTP.
  2. Encryption of Images: The Australian and Red Cross logos on the top of each page use Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS).
    img src="../../images/EMA%20Logo.jpg" alt="Attorney Generals Department"...
    img src="../../images/RedCross_PowerOfHumanity.gif" alt="Red Cross" ...
    As with the home page, there is no need to encrypt these images.
  3. Not Selecting Emergency First: Registration and search facilities are provided separately for each emergency. Thus the user has to select which emergency (Queensland or Victoria) first and then if they want to register or search. However, the interface presents tabs for register and search prominently on the top of the screen before requesting the emergency further down. As a result it is likely many people will select register or search without having selected an emergency first and then either get no response or be presented with an error message. The interface should be changed to first ask the for the emergency and only then offer the choice of register or search.
  4. Use of ViewState: Microsoft ASP.NET "View State" is used to communicate information between the on screen form and the database application.
    input type="hidden" name="__VIEWSTATE" id="__VIEWSTATE" value="/wEPDwULLTEzODc3MD ...
    While this can be used to create sophisticated interfaces, it does add a considerable overhead. It is not needed for simple interfaces. As an example, all of the options in the search forms (such as the names of all the countries of the world and the list of all the forms of street name), are being duplicated in the ViewState field (encoded as a base64 string). This doubles the size of the search form file. View state should be disabled for these controls.
It is likely these problems are due to the interface the general public see being a cut down version of a more complex system used internally by emergency staff. But because many more people will use the public interface it needs to be optimised for efficiency.

Volunteer flood mapping for Queensland

The MAPS mapping volunteers have posted an interesting report on their work mapping the Queensland floods:

... RCQ created a project that involved volunteers from GISCorps and MAPS. This project produced a number of documents which outlined possible scenarios, hardware and software requirements, etc. The GISCorp volunteers also focused on mapping the capacisty of RCQ Emergency Services in the pre emergency period.

During December 2010 the rain really started falling and on the 29th MAPS recieved a call for assistance. ...

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Which students succeed at online learning

Johnelle Bryson Welsh's dissertation "Identifying Factors That Predict Student Success in a Community College Online Distance Learning Course" (2007) while researching US colleges, provides useful insights into students of e-learning courses generally. Demographic variables (such as age and gender) do not effect course results. The online students tend to older, married, worked full-time, and supported others. Successful students had better computer skills. Literacy was an issue for many students. One odd result was that students enrolled in only one course did worse than those undertaking two or more courses.
The study's purpose was to identify demographics, educational background, finances, formal and informal education and experiences, reading habits, external environmental factors, psychological factors, and computer efficacy factors that predict a student's ability to successful complete an online (Web-based) distance learning community college course. Major student retention theories and student attrition and persistence research guided the study. Distance learners (N = 926) completed four surveys, which collected data for 26 predictor variables that included age, gender, marital status, ethnicity, support others, course load, first-time student, last semester attended, student type and location, financial stability, tuition payment, prior learning experiences, reading habits, family support, enrollment encouragement, study encouragement, time management, study environment, employment, extrinsic and intrinsic motivation, locus of control, self-efficacy, computer confidence and skills, and number of prior online courses. Successful or unsuccessful course completion was the dependent variable. Statistical analyses included Cronbach's alpha, Pearson chi-square, two-sample t test, Pearson correlation, phi coefficient, and binary logistic regression. Variables in each factor were entered sequentially in a block using separate binary logistic regression models. Statistically significant variables were course load, financial stability, prior learning experiences, time management and study environment, extrinsic motivation, self-efficacy, and computer skills. Selected predictor variables (N = 20) were entered hierarchically in a logistic regression model of which course load, financial stability, and self-efficacy were statistically significant in the final block. Correlation coefficients were computed for statistically significant predictor variables to determine whether the significance was confined to the control group or an overall level of significance. Findings were supported through cross-validation and forward stepwise entry of variables in logistic regression. Despite having two or more at-risk factors, distance learners who had high levels of self-efficacy, good computer and time management skills, financial stability, a favorable study environment, were enrolled in more than one course, and believed their prior learning experiences helped prepared them for their course were more likely to be successful.

Flood affected archives and libraries

The Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) has complied a List of libraries in flood affected areas for the recent Queensland and Victorian floods. The Australian Society of Archivists (ASA) is compiling a similar Register of Disaster Affected Archives. The Register will be used by Blue Shield Australia with helping save cultural heritage. Organisations are asked to send details of affected archives.

Better solar cells with Buddhist singing bowls

Niraj Lal, University of Cambridge, will talk on "Making solar cells better with Buddhist singing bowls" at the Australian National University in Canberra, 3pm, 10 February 2011. The title of the talk refers to the bowl shaped nano-structures used to make the solar cells more efficient:

"Making solar cells better with Buddhist singing bowls "

Niraj Lal (University of Cambridge)


DATE: 2011-02-10
TIME: 15:00:00 - 16:00:00
LOCATION: Ian Ross Seminar Room

The ability to structure materials on the nanoscale has opened new approaches to light trapping for solar cells. Particularly promising is the use of plasmonic resonances of metal nanoparticles and nanostructured surfaces to enhance absorption in thin-film PV materials. The work presented in this talk demonstrates a new class of plasmonic photovoltaic enhancement: that of localized-plasmon enhanced absorption within nanovoid structures. The talk introduces plasmonic photonics, describes some of the photovoltaic work occurring in the UK, and reports first cells fabricated within nanosized Buddhist singing bowls that yield a four-fold enhancement in overall power conversion efficiency. Nanovoids also show a spatial distribution of light intensity within the void that varies for different wavelengths, suggesting a first step towards plasmonic enhancement for third-generation solar cells.

Niraj Lal graduated as the Angus Nicholson Honours Scholar from the ANU in 2007 with a BSc (Hons) in physics under the supervision of Professor Andrew Blakers at the Centre for Sustainable Energy Systems. He is currently studying as a Gates Cambridge Scholar for a PhD from the NanoPhotonics Group of the Cavendish Laboratory, University of Cambridge, UK. Before starting his PhD, Nij worked in science communication - travelling across regional and remote Western Australia with Scitech delivering shows about slime, bubbles and hands-on science to primary-school kids.

Evaluating Teaching

Greetings from the ANU College of Engineering & Computer Scienc, where Lauren Kane from the Flexible Learning Unit is laading an Education Design Workshop on Evaluation.

ANU has a "Policy: Student Feedback on Teaching and Learning", "Guideline: Student Surveys on Teaching and Learning" and a system for student surveys. The standard surveys include "Student Experience of Learning & Teaching".

One interesting aspect of the discussion was the role of feedback from students during a course so changes can be made quickly, as distinct from (or not) evaluation at the end of a course for changes next time it is run. Angelo & Cross, in "Classroom Assessment Techniques" (1993) have CATs, including the Minute paper (a very short survey).

It struck me that online systems make this feedback much simpler. The Moodle Learning Management System, which ANU uses, for example, has a feedback module. Also information about student engagement can be obtained directly from the system by analysis of the use of the system. In "Academic Analytics: Indicators of Engagement" at Moodle Moot Au 2010 Colin Beer (Central Queensland University) provided an interesting analysis of information in a learning management system (LMS).

There was a discussion of how feasible it is to get regular feedback in a course and act on it. There was also a discussion of how detailed feedback should be. Rather than numeric ratings I suggested students could give a few words and a tag cloud could be generated.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Bike Share Station in Melbourne on Oprah

Oprah's Ultimate Australian Adventure has one scene where Oprah walks with the Prime Minister Julia Gillard along the Yarra River in Melbourne. The walk past a row of shiny bright blue bicycles. This is an automated bicycle rental facility (called a "station"), part of the Melbourne Bike Share next to Sandridge Bridge, at Southbank (just across the river from Flinders Street Station). You can just see the solar panel powering the station in the photo of the PM and Oprah. I noticed the station when in Melbourne in August 2010.

Australian Whole-of-Government Common Operating Environment

The Australian Department of Finance and Deregulation, has issued a "Whole-of-Government Common Operating Environment Policy" (WofG COE). The most controversial part of this is the mandating of the Office Open XML file format (as used by Microsoft Office), rather than the Open Document Format (as used by and other office packages).

National Archives of Australia developed its Xena open source archiving software to convert documents to ODF format for electronic archiving. Unless Archives decides to change the format used, each document will need to be converted from OOXML to ODF for long term storage. Prudence requires the original version of a document to be kept, along with the converted version, so this will increase the amount of storage needed.

However, what might be more significant is the lack of web standards from the COE. An "Internet Browser" is included as a standard application, but there are no versions of web document formats mandated, such as HTML or CSS. Also there is no mention of ebooks.

In my view the use of office applications suites, be they producing OOXML or ODF, are of questionable value. These applications encourage authors to create poorly structured, hard to read documents which waste system resources.

The COE also specifies the ISO/IEC 32000-1:2008 version of PDF (equivalent to Adobe PDF 1.7). The "Australian Government’s study into the Accessibility of the Portable Document Format for people with a disability" recommended the continued use of alternate formats to PDF. In my view packaged web formats such as the ePub ebook format, would be preferable to PDF.

Copyright Policy Form

The Austrlaian Digital Alliance is holding a "Policy Form: Righting the Copyright Imbalance", 4 March 2011, at the National Library of Australia, in Canberra.

Policy Form


A forum for ADA members, stakeholders and government on the Australian copyright reform agenda

4 March 2011, National Library of Australia, Canberra

The theme of the forum is ‘righting the imbalance of copyright law’, with the aim of setting a copyright agenda for the forthcoming 2-3 years. It is an opportunity to reach a consensus amongst copyright users to prioritise and focus the ADA’s advocacy efforts and to stimulate the copyright debate.

Program (TBA)

Background information (TBA)

Copyright law must balance the interests of authors and the need for incentives for creativity on the one hand, and the wider public interest in access to knowledge for the advancement of learning, innovation and research on the other. Recent changes to our copyright law have increased protection but have failed to include sufficient parallel measures to ensure reasonable access to works. This has resulted in substantial damage to our creative and innovative potential by simultaneously restricting access to, and raising the cost of, knowledge.

The forum will hold sessions on the most pressing areas of imbalance in Australian copyright law, including the following issues: safe harbours, the iiNet case, general exceptions, orphan works and introducing flexibility to the Copyright Act. The forum will take the following format:

  • For each session, three expert speakers will present a brief position statement outlining a clear perspective on the goals of copyright policy for the particular issue and propose key reforms on how to achieve those goals with words, drafting or a clear framework.
  • Attendees will be provided with a package of information on the copyright issues to be discussed, allowing presenters to assume a good background level of knowledge.
  • Presentations will be followed by a discussion with the audience to be guided by a chair, whose role will be to ensure audience participation and useful outcomes.
  • In the final session of the day, Kim Weatherall will sum up the goals and reforms discussed for each issue and propose a course of action.


RSVP by 25 February 2011.

If you have any questions regarding the forum, please contact Matt Dawes by telephone on (02) 6262 1273 or by email at

ICT for Education in the Asia Pacific Region

Digital Review of Asia Pacific provides a useful overview of what is happening with computers and telecommunications across the region. The latest time series publication is "DIGITAL REVIEW of AsiaPacific 2009–2010". This includes a section on "Regional issues in ICT in education":
One item I came across was mention of Open and Distance Learning Association of Australia (ODLAA) which is hosting the inaugural Education 2011 to 2021 International Summit in Sydney in February 2011.

Emergency and Education Communication Vehicle

The "Emergency and Education Communication Vehicle" (E2CV) of the Thailand National Electronics and Computer Technology Center (NECTEC) provides an interesting mix of uses which might be applied in Australia. The Thailand Ministry of Science and Technology in collaboration with Cisco Systems equipped a truck with broadband wireless communications and its own power supply. During an emergency this is used by response teams. When not needed for a disaster the vehicle is used for education in remote areas. That second use is innovative, as most emergency command vechicles sit idle in a car park.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Optus ZTE 7 Inch Tablet Computer Looks Okay

Optus are offering a 7 Inch tablet computer in Australia. This appears to be the ZTE Blade. The unit is priced higher than the Huawei Ideos Tablet S7 (sold by Tesltra as the T-Touch Tab), but much lower than the Samsung Galaxy Tab. The ZTE unit does not have a capacitive touch screen and is a lot less responsive to finger input than the Samsung, but seems faster than the Telstra unit. It gets a reasonable review from CNET.

Managing Digital Records Course

State Records NSW is running a course in Managing Digital Records: An Introduction, staring in late February 2011. They also provide (and a pre-requisite for the face to face course) free e-learning modules online in Digital recordkeeping concepts and framework for recordkeeping in the NSW public sector. Link

Course outcomes

By the end of this course participants should:

  • recognise the opportunities and challenges provided by digital recordkeeping
  • define which digital records to make and capture into digital recordkeeping systems, including web records
  • understand the role of metadata in the management of digital records
  • define best practice in the creation and disposal of digital records, and
  • understand preservation requirements and strategies for digital records.

Course content


  • the opportunities and challenges of keeping records in digital form

Recordkeeping systems

· what are recordkeeping systems and why is it important to keep records in recordkeeping systems

· requirements of the Standard on digital recordkeeping in relation to recordkeeping systems

· how to define what records to make and keep


  • what is metadata and recordkeeping metadata
  • why is metadata vital to good recordkeeping
  • requirements of the Standard on digital recordkeeping in relation to metadata
  • what constitutes good and bad metadata

Best practice in the creation and disposal of digital records

  • what is 'best practice' in relation to the creation of digital records
  • some practical tips to improve digital records creation
  • scenarios for appraisal and disposal in the digital environment
  • the destruction of digital records or their retention as State archives

Website recordkeeping strategy

  • designing a recordkeeping strategy for web records

Preservation of digital records

  • the issues with preservation and what can be done now
  • the NSW Government's approach to the preservation of digital records

Course schedule for 2011

This one-day course will be held from 9am to 4:30pm on the following days in Sydney and regional NSW:

  • 24 February - Newcastle
  • 29 March - Sydney Records Centre
  • 30 March - Wagga Wagga
  • 9 May - Sydney Records Centre
  • 24 June - Sydney Records Centre
  • 26 July - Sydney Records Centre
  • 18 August - Sydney Records Centre
  • 9 September - Tamworth
  • 24 November - Sydney Records Centre


$330 (including GST) per participant.

A 10% discount is available for any additional attendees from the same organisation registering on the same registration form.

Payments may be made via Purchase Orders, EFT, Visa, MasterCard or cheque.

To register

Go to our online registration page at:

Disaster Preparedness for Cultural Institutions

The Queensland Disaster Information Network (Q-DIS) is sharing information on disaster preparedness and planning for museums, which is relevant to the floods in Queensland.

Climate Change Update and Its Relevance to the IT Industry

Lee Stewart from The Climate Project (TCP) will sopeak on "Climate Change Update and Its Relevance to the IT Industry" in Sydney, 2 March 2011. The ACS also runs the masters-level online course "Green Technology Strategies" in the ACS Computer Professional Education Program.

Australian Computer Society

Climate Change Update and Its Relevance to the IT Industry

This presentation will help you understand Climate Change its effects, explore and understand some of the solutions and also look at the relevance to the IT industry. The presentation will be delivered by The Climate Project (TCP) presenter Lee Stewart who has recently been trained and mentored by former Vice President Al Gore, author of New York Times Bestsellers An Inconvenient Truth, Earth In The Balance, and Assault On Reason — and corecipient of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. TCP’s mission is to educate the public about the harmful effects of climate change and to work toward solutions at a grassroots level worldwide. Already 1 in 70 Australians have already seen a personal presentation and has been seen by a global audience of over 7.3 million. This presentation will include the latest climate science and will also have relevance to the IT community.


Lee Stewart is Co-Founder of Change2. He has over 15 years corporate experience in New Zealand, UK and Australia where he has worked in sales and marketing in the IT sector. Three years ago he Co-Founded Change2 which develops engaging and interactive online education that helps bring about sustainable cultural and behavioural change. In the last two years Change2 has won a number of awards including best education and best green eLearning solution.

Lee is also on the national sustainability and leadership committee for the Australia Information and Industry Association (AIIA) and a recent graduate of the Australian Company Directors course.

His goal as a Climate Change Presenter is to help drive the IT and Business Community towards more sustainable models and encourage them to take a more leading role.

About this Event
Venue: Australian Computer Society, Sydney NSW 2000
Date: Wednesday 2nd March 2011
Time: 6:15pm for 6:30pm start - 7:30pm

Evaluating Teaching Workshop at ANU

Lauren Kane from the Flexible Learning Unit ANU College of Engineering & Computer Science, will present a free Education Design Workshop on Evaluation, 20 January 2011 in Canberra.

ANU has a "Policy: Student Feedback on Teaching and Learning", "Guideline: Student Surveys on Teaching and Learning" and a system for student surveys. The standard surveys include "Student Experience of Learning & Teaching".

One commonly used techniques were detailed by Angelo & Cross, in "Classroom Assessment Techniques" (1993). These CATs, include the Minute paper (a very short survey).

ANU College of Engineering & Computer Science


Lauren Kane (CECS Flexible Learning Unit )


DATE: 2011-01-20
TIME: 10:00:00 - 11:30:00
LOCATION: Graduate Teaching Room (Ian Ross Building)


Beginning in June and continuing each month in 2010, the Flexible Learning Unit will hold Education Design Workshops. Each workshop will cover the theory concerning an element of education design and attendees will actively participate in application of the theory to their own courses.

How can I estimate the effectiveness of my teaching, and use the information I gather to improve it?

We ask that participants bring a laptop with a wireless internet connection.

Please contact Lauren to register your interest.


Lauren Kane has been working as an educational developer in CECS since the middle of 2009. Lauren is closely involved in the design of a number of CECS courses, and the development of Wattle sites to support teaching and learning.

Preparing IT systems for flooding and other disasters

Stilgherrian interviewed me on Sunday for his Patch Monday podcast "Flood-proofing your business IT" (17
"The floods in Queensland and now further south in Australia are a reminder that natural disasters can strike even in rich, technologically advanced nations. Data backups are essential, but business continuity planning also needs to cover communications links, the computers themselves, documentation, premises and, of course, the human factor. ..."

Changed business model for communications and media

The Australian Communications and Media Authority reports that communications and media service providers are

The communications sector is bundling of voice and content services, increasing data quotas to encourage consumption of content and developing mobile applications. The media sector is developing internet-based distribution channels, pay-per view and subscription services, internet-based ‘catch-up’ viewing formats and new content for the wireless devices. This detailed in the media release "Media and telcos adapting business to the new digital economy" and the 31 page "Report 4—Changing business models in the Australian communication and media sectors: Challenges and response strategies". (MS Word, 425 kb).

Introduction 1

Summary 3

Fixed-line service providers: Challenges and responses 5

Overview of challenges 5

Other factors affecting PSTN revenue 6

Emerging voice service providers 7

Strategies in defence of voice revenue 7

Mobile service providers: Challenges and responses 9

Overview of challenges 9

Increasing use of data services 9

Mobile applications 11

Internet service providers: Challenges and responses 13

Overview of challenges 13

Service bundling 13

Television broadcasters: Challenges and responses 15

Overview of challenges 15

Increase in digital television content 15

New content delivery platforms 16

ISP content service offerings 17

Radio broadcasters: Challenges and responses 19

Overview of challenges 19

New distribution formats for radio content 19

Digital radio 20

Print news media: Challenges and responses 22

Overview of challenges 22

Trends in online and offline newspaper readership 23

Strategies to increase revenues from online newspaper readership 25

Consumer willingness to pay 26


This report is the last in a series of four research reports to be published under the ACMA’s communications report series. Other reports in this series include:

Report 1—Australia in the digital economy: The shift to the online environment

Report 2—Take-up and use of voice services by Australian consumers

Report 3—Australian consumer satisfaction with communications services.

This suite of reports is designed to complement the ACMA Communications report 2009–10 which is produced in fulfilment of reporting obligations under section 105 of the Telecommunications Act 1997 (the Act). The Act requires the ACMA to report on the performance of carriers and carriage service providers with particular reference to consumer benefits, consumer satisfaction and quality of service.

These four reports also form part of the ACMA’s ongoing research and reporting program (Research at the ACMA: research program overview 2010–11), which is available on the ACMA website.

The communications report series seeks to inform ACMA stakeholders about convergence and the digital economy and their impact on communications and media services.

The term ‘digital economy’ covers the global network of economic and social activities that are enabled by digital information and communications technologies such as the internet, mobile and sensor networks.1

As an evidence-based regulator, the ACMA has an interest in monitoring and understanding the developing digital economy and its impact on the industries that it regulates, particularly in relation to:

regulating for the citizen in an IP-based media and communications environment where usage of voice over internet protocol (VoIP), mobile communications and the internet continues to grow, which in turn provides challenges for safeguards, such as access to the emergency call service and online security

voice regulation, where continued growth in VoIP usage and the number of people identifying mobile phones as their main form of communication poses challenges when it comes to applying regulatory requirements that are based on traditional fixed-line voice services

supporting consumers making informed decisions in an environment of ongoing network, device and service innovation

regulating content in an environment where content is increasingly available on multiple platforms including the internet, mobile and traditional broadcasting networks.

This report presents an overview of some of the major challenges confronting the communications and media sector in Australia arising from the emerging digital economy and ongoing convergence of networks, services and consumer access devices.

This report also examines industry responses to these challenges both here in Australia and overseas.

The ACMA has prepared this report using a range of information and data including:

ACMA data including the ACMA annual industry data request

publicly available industry reports and media coverage of industry developments

consumer survey data including Nielsen Online (relating to web traffic trends in Australia) and Roy Morgan Single Source in relation to changing newspaper readership.


The internet and digital communications more broadly, have empowered citizens and consumers by providing them with more flexibility in their use of voice and media services, enabling people to ‘mix and match’ services to suit their lifestyle needs.

The internet in particular has changed the way Australians communicate and access content, removing geographical barriers and allowing new forms of communications and information sharing to emerge, such as social networking and user generated content.

The internet has also presented challenges for many businesses in the traditional communications and media sectors because consumers can now access cheaper communications alternatives and more diverse content.

Challenges to established market operators have also emerged as a result of network and device convergence, which has facilitated the blurring of boundaries between communications and media services, allowing increasing cross-sectoral forays in terms of service provision.

In meeting these challenges, communications and media providers within Australia and globally are adopting a number of initiatives which seek to protect existing revenue streams and also enable diversification into other services.

Within the communications sector, these response strategies have typically tended to include:

bundling of voice and content services, such as IPTV, to existing broadband subscribers

expansion of data download quotas to broadband subscribers to facilitate increased consumption of data services

more generous mobile caps and pricing packages to facilitate the development of the mobile content service market

handset and handset application innovations, as evidenced by the emergence of the next generation of wireless devices such as smartphones

offering further incentives to customers on the condition of retaining existing traditional fixed-line telephone service.

Within the broadcasting and print newspaper sectors—both faced with increased audience and readership fragmentation—these strategies have tended to focus on a number of initiatives including:

development of online distribution channels to increase the profile of content and services in the face of growing online participation

attempting to monetise content on the internet, through the introduction of pay-per view or subscription services to select ‘premium’ content

meeting audience demand for flexibility in content viewing and content format—typified by the emergence of catch-up viewing formats

development of video content specifically for the next generation of new consumer tools, such as smartphones and other wireless devices

development of new content sources, where consumers are able to access a greater variety of content nationally and globally, such as with digital television, digital radio, IPTV and internet radio.

In addition, established communications and media players today are increasingly faced with new market entrants, which are able to draw on their market presence in a particular sector to move into areas not traditionally in their domain. Companies such as Google are utilising market presence in their traditional areas of operation to package and provide a broader suite of services to customers. Voice and content services, for example, are an increasing part of these new service offerings. As consumers are presented with opportunities to bypass traditional communications and media options, additional pressure is likely to be placed on established revenue streams.

1 Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Australia’s Digital Economy: Future Direction, 14 July 2009.

From: Report 4—Changing business models in the Australian communication and media sectors: Challenges and response strategies, ACMA, 13 January 2011