Friday, June 28, 2013

What Should We Do About China?

Greetings from the Australian National University in Canberra, where Admiral Dennis C. Blair (USN Retired) is speaking on "What should we do about China?".  Admiral Blair started by saying he would later speak about the "young man"  Edward Snowden (who allegedly leaked intelligence from the NSA). However, he then returned to the advertised topic, saying that "China is so large and diverse you can find evidence to support any assertion about it". The task, he suggested, was to find what was most significant. He characterized China's leadership as driven by domestic issues and what is in China's interest, not some rigid ideology. However issues such as the sovereignty of Taiwan remain. Admiral Blair asserted that countries in the region need to be thing about what to do about the Taiwan issue.

Admiral Blair said that China's ambitions would expand as its economic and military power increases. He asserted that China's ballistic missiles were intended to intimidate nations which might wish to intervene over Taiwan. He further said that China's aircraft carriers were more for show than military use. This seemed to me to be a bit glib. China's first aircraft carrier (Shi Lang), is clearly a learning exercise. With its spacecraft, China has shown it can adapt and improve on existing technology obtained from other countries. China now has a operational spacecraft, the Shenzhou, while the USA has none.

Admiral Blair was the co-chair of the Commission on the theft of American intellectual property, which reported in May 2013 for the National Bureau of Asian Research.

At question  time one of the audience took the Admiral Blair to task about the USA's condescending attitude to China. He conceded in reply that there tended to be a "dialogue of the deaf" with both countries tending to state positions, rather than having a genuine dialogue.

In answer to another question Admiral Blair suggested that international treaties to limit weapons in space and cyber-warfare were possible. I suspect that the prospects for cyber-warfare controls are limited.

In the last few months ANU has hosted a series of talks by Australian and US strategic experts about regional issues including the South China Sea. It would be interesting to hear the views of their Chinese counterparts and others in Asia.

ps: The ANU Strategic & Defence Studies Centre has a Centre of Gravity Series of papers.

Higher Education Academy Professional Recognition Scheme

The UK based Higher Education Academy (HEA) runs the HEA Professional Recognition Scheme.
This is intended to lift the professionalism of university teaching. The scheme is aligned to the UK Professional Standards Framework (UKPSF). There are four levels of recognition (and typical job descriptions):
  1. AFHEA – Associate Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (Graduate Teaching Assistant)
  2. FHEA – Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (Lecturer)
  3. SFHEA - Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (academic leader or middle management)
  4. PFHEA – Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (senior leader)
The HEA is promoting their scheme internationally, with the Australian National University the first Australian subscribing institution. The HEA is more general than the Certified Membership Scheme run by UK Association for Learning Technology (ALT), which was also extended to Australia last year. The way the HEAPRS/UKPSF is structured is similar to schemes run for other professions, such as ACS CP/IP3/SFIA for computer professionals.

UK Professional Standards Framework

The UK Professional Standards Framework (UKPSF) consists of:


An Introduction.


Four categories of level of teaching responsibility, corresponding to the four levels of HEA recognition:
  1. Associate
  2. Fellow
  3. Senior Fellow
  4. Principal Fellow

Dimensions of Practice 

Three dimensions of practice:
  1. Areas of activity:
    1. Design and plan learning activities and/or programmes of study
    2. Teach and/or support learning
    3. Assess and give feedback to learners
    4. Develop effective learning environments and approaches to student support and guidance
    5. Engage in continuing professional development in subjects/disciplines and their pedagogy, incorporating research, scholarship and the evaluation of professional practices
  2. Aspects of Core knowledge:
    1. The subject material
    2. Appropriate methods for teaching and learning in the subject area and at the level of the academic programme
    3. How students learn, both generally and within their subject/disciplinary area(s)  
    4. The use and value of appropriate learning technologies
    5. Methods for evaluating the effectiveness of teaching
    6. The implications of quality assurance and quality enhancement for academic and professional practice with a particular focus on teaching
  3. Professional values:
    1. Respect individual learners and diverse learning communities   
    2. Promote participation in higher education and equality of opportunity for learners
    3. Use evidence-informed approaches and the outcomes from research, scholarship and continuing professional development
    4. Acknowledge the wider context in which higher education operates recognising the implications for professional practice

Standards for e-Learning Modules

The Australian Government has issued "VET specifications for packaging and sharing content and courses".  The report looks at standards for allowing e-learning content to be easily installed in Lean ring Management Systems.Standards considered include:
  1. IMS Common Cartridge (IMS CC)
  2. Sharable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM 2004)
  3. Experience/Tin Can API (Tin Can)
  4. IMS Content Packaging (IMS CP)
  5. IMS Learning Tools Interoperability (IMS LTI)
One limitation I have found with the implementation of such package formats is the assumption that the central LMS will always be accessible to the student. Many people in the world have only intermittent Internet access and so are excluded from on-line education. This includes some people in developing nations, military personnel on deployment and even some in rural and remote Australia.

The packages are relatively compact zipped files of web based documents.  But to be used, the package is imported into a LMS and unzipped, where it becomes much larger and can only be used by the student while they are connected to the LMS via the Internet. Even though the student may be doing synchronous e-learning, they are forced to use a synchronous connection to do it.

It should be possible to use the same packaged formats off-line. That is, the student would bicycle to their local cyber-cafe, connect to the LMS, choose the package they wanted and then download it, still in its compact zipped format. They would then disconnect from the LMS, cycle home, and install the package on their, PC, laptop, tablet or smart phone. They could then interact with the package off-line. Occasionally they would need to connect to the Internet to upload a progress report, but that would only need a slow, brief connection, perhaps via a smart phone (or SMS).

ps: I will be speaking on "MOOCs with Books" in the CSIRO Seminar Room at ANU, 4pm, 8 July 2013.

Australian Defence Facing the Next Enemy

Dr Robert O'Neill will speak on "Defence 2013 - preparing to face our next enemy" at the Australian National University in Canberra, 5:30pm 9 July 2013

Defence 2013 - preparing to face our next enemy

Public Lecture

Speaker Dr Robert O'Neill ... 
About the Lecture:
As the Australian Defence Force prepares to leave combat operations in Afghanistan in 2014, a question arises as to who our next enemy might be. For what contingencies should the ADF train? How should our forces be organized, equipped, commanded and deployed in the interval between 2014 and the next possible assignment? Shall we prove to be very good at preparing to fight our latest war, which will probably never repeat itself, or might we be able to take a well-founded look into the future and prepare the ADF for the challenges it will actually have to face? Releasing his Centre of Gravity Paper Dr O'Neill will explore the challenges facing the ADF today and how they should prepare to face the next enemy. Previous Centre of Gravity papers can be downloaded from
We hope you will join us for drinks and nibbles after the speech.
About the Speaker:
Dr Robert O'Neill, AO is Honorary Professor at the US Studies Centre. O'Neill served as Planning Director for the Centre before its CEO was appointed. One of the world's leading experts on strategic and security studies, O'Neill previously served as Director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London and then as Chichele Professor of the History of War and Fellow of All Souls College at Oxford University. Earlier in his career, O'Neill was Head of the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at the ANU. Professor O'Neill's extensive record of public service includes appointments as Chairman of Trustees of the Imperial War Museum, Chairman of the Council of the Centre for Defence Studies, King's College, Chairman of the Sir Robert Menzies Centre for Australian Studies in the University of London, and Chairman of the Council of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the Lowy Institute for International Policy. A prodigious author and editor, O'Neill wrote the Official History of Australia's role in the Korean War, influential reports for the Ford Foundation on reducing levels of conflict in the Asia-Pacific region, as well as dozens of academic books and innumerable articles and essays. Professor O'Neill is a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia and a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society in Britain. O'Neill is a graduate of the University of Melbourne and the Royal Military College of Australia. A Rhodes Scholar, he received his PhD in Modern History from Oxford University.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The emergence of the Australian Intelligence Community

Greetings from the Australian National University in Canberra, where Dr John Blaxland is speaking on "The emergence of the Australian Intelligence Community". In this talk he is looking at the Australian Intelligence Community up to WW2. He will be covering later periods at the annual confeence of the AIPIO (Australian Institute of Professional Intelligence Officers), next week

Dr Blaxland pointed out that Australia has a divide between intelligence and police forces, unlike Canada and the USA. Much of this is familiar from history books (and the Wikipedia). One aspect I was not aware of is that University of Sydney provided code-breaking during WW2. This function was transferred to what became the Defence Signals Directorate (DSD), which has recently been renamed the Australian Signals Directorate.

One point which needs to be corrected in Dr Blaxlan's talk was when he said the Australian WW2 intelligence units were doing things "Ian Flemming could only dream of", it appears he is only familiar with Flemming as the author of James Bond books. But Flemming worked for the British Naval Intelligence during WW2.

This presentation is held in conjunction with the . Dr John Blaxland provides a century-spanning reflection on how the Australian Intelligence Community emerged and how it works. The talk covers the origins of intelligence and security in the early parts of the twentieth century and traces the rapid expansion of intelligence and security organisations during the Second World War -- all of which set the scene for the post war intelligence arrangements. Those post-war arrangements saw a number of organisations working in separate locations, answerable to different authorities and working to different priorities. It wasn’t until the momentum for reform gathered pace in the mid 1970s that they underwent a metamorphosis into what emerged as the Australian Intelligence Community. If you want to have a clear understanding of how the Australian Intelligence Community functions and how it came to be that way, this is the talk for you.

European e-Competence Framework

The European Union issued the "European e-Competence Framework" (version 2.0) in November 2010. The e-CF lists 36 ICT competences for ICT practitioners. This is similar to Skills Framework for the Information Age (SFIA) and the UK Government Knowledge and Information Management Professional Skills Framework (GKIMPS) but intended for international use. However, unlike SFIA which has been actively used and updated, the eCF seems to have been developed and then forgotten.

e-CF has five proficiency levels, spanning European Qualifications Framework (EQF) levels 3 to 8. The top level in this scale is a doctorate/PHD. In comparison, SFIA has seven (GKIMPS has four). e-CF has 32 competences in five areas, whereas SFIA 96 skills in six categories.

The eCF has four "dimensions", described in "European e-Competence Framework 2.0":
  1. 5 e-Competence areas, derived from the ICT business processes PLAN – BUILD – RUN – ENABLE – MANAGE
  2. A set of reference e-Competences for each area, with a generic description for each competence. 32 competences identified in total provide the European generic reference definitions of the e-CF 2.0.
  3. Proficiency levels of each e-Competence provide European reference level specifications on e-Competence levels e-1 to e-5, which are related to the EQF levels 3 to 8.
  4. Samples of knowledge and skills relate to e-Competences in dimension 2. They are provided to add value and context and are not intended to be exhaustive.
The 32 competences look very similar to SFIA:


A.1. IS and Business Strategy Alignment
A.2. Service Level Management
A.3. Business Plan Development
A.4. Product or Project Planning
A.5. Design Architecture
A.6. Application Design
A.7. Technology Watching
A.8. Sustainable Development


B.1. Design and Development
B.2. Systems Integration
B.3. Testing
B.4. Solution Deployment
B.5. Documentation Production


C.1. User Support
C.2. Change Support
C.3. Service Delivery
C.4. Problem Management


D.1. Information Security Strategy Development
D.2. ICT Quality Strategy Development
D.3. Education and Training Provision
D.4. Purchasing
D.5. Sales Proposal Development
D.6. Channel Management
D.7. Sales Management
D.8. Contract Management
D.9. Personnel Development
D.10. Information and Knowledge Management


E.1. Forecast Development
E.2. Project and Portfolio Management
E.3. Risk Management
E.4. Relationship Management
E.5. Process Improvement
E.6. ICT Quality Management
E.7. Business Change Management
E.8. Information Security Management
E.9. IT Governance

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Alliances under austerity: what does America want?

Greetings from University House at the Australian National University in Canberra, where Dr Bates Gill, CEO of the US Studies Centre is speaking on "Alliances under austerity – what does America want?". Dr Gill said it was a delight to spend time learning more about the Australian end of the relationship with the USA. He has spent three decades writing on strategic issues in the Asian region, with numerous books.

The public perception is that US defense spending is declining, whereas that of China, India and other Asian countries is increasing. Dr Gill pointed out that defense spending has been declining in western countries over the last few years, But over ten years, defense spending is still high by historical standards. Australia and Korea have increased spending, whereas there has been a decline in Europe.

Dr Gill  pointed out there was a more diffuse threat environment. He suggested that the USA wanted more flexibility and independence from its allies. He suggested that this predates the global financial crisis. He suggested the framework for security should be broadened to include cultural engagement(seems a good idea to me as the USA on its own has not been good at winning hearts and minds).

In my view what seemed to be missing from Dr Gill's  analysis was they type of soft diplomacy used by China, with a combination of very targeted aid and economic investment. On a visit to Samoa, I noticed that the US Peace Corps office was being guarded by local staff wearing Chinese People's Liberation Army caps.

While on a visit to Sri Lanka recently, I was surprised to find the hotel full of US military officers there for a Multinational Communication Interoperability Programme workshop. Down the coast, China funded the Port of Hambantot which has strategic implications.

Dr Gill suggested more prepositioning of US equipment in the Asian region would be needed. This is a somewhat controversial issue in Australia, with a recent article in  Online Opinion magazine asking "
Is Central Australia the geostrategic centrepiece in the USA's new look east policy?".

Dr Gill suggested  the USA wanted to engage China in ways which both assure and deter. He said this would be "tricky".

I suggest that Australia needs to be clear on what it wants from the relationship and what it needs to contribute and the limits of USA's capabilities. As an example, it appears that Australia is planning to build 12 long range, very large, conventional submarines, for the Collins Class Submarine Replacement Project. Essentially Australia will attempt to build conventional submarines using technology from the USA's nuclear boats. There are both strategic and practical difficulties with this approach.

If larger replacements for the Collins Class Submarines can be built, they will be integrated into the US submarine strategic forces. This may involve Australia in wars far from its shores, preempting Australian political decisions. This could result in Australia being the target of retaliation using strategic weapons, as a way for the USA's opponents to send it a message.

The USA has no recent experience of building conventional submarines and Australia has a poor record of building such submarines. It is almost certain that the project will result in the underwater equivalent of the failed US Zumwalt Class Destroyer project. Australia will spend  billions of dollars and after more than a decade have, at best, one operational submarine. An alternative strategy would have European built submarines of a proven design, which will protect Australia, rather than project power.

One issue Dr Gilldid not address is cyber-warfare. China is reported to be heavily investing in this area, partly because it is cost effective. So perhaps the USA and Australia should be investing more in this area. Australia regularly hosts military exercises, where Australian, US and other forces practice. Some of these are "staff" exercises, run in an office with no real weapons, others have ships, aircraft, vehicles and tens of thousands of personnel. Alongside this can be cyber-war games. At present this is seen in Australia and the USA as a secretive practice for a very small number of personnel. I suggest a change of view is needed, to where it is seen as a mainstream activity, which many personnel will be involved in, alongside civilian security agencies, police, industry and academia. It needs to be realized that the most potent cyber-weapons are civilian systems, not military ones (just as civilian aircraft and ships are taken up for military use during mobilization).
In this lecture, Dr Bates Gill, CEO of the US Studies Centre brings his considerable expertise of American policymaking to bear to examine how the effects of the global financial crisis and American budget crunch are changing the United States’ alliance relationships. As part of the US ‘pivot’ to Asia, Washington will have new expectations, requests and demands of its key allies, including Australia. How will financial decisions affect US strategy? Will this mean Australia has to share a higher security burden or could it lead to an increased voice and influence for Australia in shaping the US approach to the Asia-Pacific.

Dr Bates Gill commenced as CEO of the US Studies Centre in October 2012 after a five year appointment as the Director of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. He previously led major research programmes at public policy think tanks in Washington, DC (Brookings Institution and Center for Strategic and International Studies) and in Monterey, California (Monterey Institute of International Studies). He has also served as a consultant to US companies, foundations, and government agencies, especially with regard to their policies in Asia. He received his PhD in foreign affairs from the University of Virginia, and, in addition to his experience in the USA, has lived and worked for lengthy periods in France, Switzerland, Sweden, and China.

Monday, June 24, 2013

The Iraq war: A case-study in British strategic failure

Brigadier Richard Iron, British Army (ret.) will speak on "The Iraq war: A case-study in British strategic failure" at the Australian National University in Canberra, 5:30 PM 3 July 2013.
Lecture Topic:
How do the British, and especially the British Army view the Iraq war? In this lecture, Richard Iron, British Army (ret.) argues the invasion of Iraq in 2003 represents a case of strategic failure.
Drawing on his own experience planning, participating in and later analysing the conflict for the British army, Iron examines the British role in Iraq and what it has meant for the United Kingdom. He draws on his personal experience, such as the retaking of Basra in 2008 to provide insight into how the war was fought.
Finally he will touch on Iraq today, and examine the political, military and economic changes and the US 'legacy' ten years after the conflict.

About the speaker:Brigadier Richard Iron, British Army (ret.)
Richard Iron commanded 1st Battalion of the King’s Own Royal Border Regiment, serving in Bosnia and Macedonia. During two years as an instructor at the UK’s joint staff college he was responsible for development of campaigning concepts. He was subsequently appointed Assistant Director Land Warfare (Doctrine) responsible for the development of British Army doctrine, including its capstone Army Doctrine Publication Land Operations. In this latter post he also deployed to the Coalition Land Component HQ in Kuwait in 2002-03, where he led a UK/US planning team. He was also responsible for the British Army’s subsequent analysis of the Iraq War. He was a Visiting Fellow of the Changing Character of War programme in 2009/10 and occasionally returns to Oxford, most recently to assist with developing a new funding strategy in November 2011.

ANU MOOCs for Exploring Education Not Profit

Greetings from the Australian National University in Canberra, where Professor Marnie Hughes-Warrington,  Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic) is reprising her keynote presentation to the THETA conference ‘Navigating the Edge of the World’. Professor Hughes-Warrington started by explaining that as a historian, she could use her skills to get a perspective on on-line education, and MOOCs in particular. When exploring a new territory, the explorers project their own wishes on the unknown.

Professor Hughes-Warrington explained that as a new initiative MOOCs are an exploration, not a business venture for ANU. At the same time she argued that MOOCs have very large numbers of students and so there is potential for this being treated as a startup, which would later earn income.

Professor Hughes-Warrington pointed out that many of those undertaking MOOCs are school students and those with degrees. The MOOC therefore can act as a way to connect with potential students.

Professor Hughes-Warrington discussed how ANU is adapting to on-line education. There are obvious synergies between MOOCs and traditional on-line courses. ANU has been offering on-line and blended courses for many years (I have been running COMP7310 on-line since 2009).

Professor Hughes-Warrington also discussed more flexible evidence based forms of assessment, using e-portfolios. This is particularly applicable, in my view, for postgraduate education.

Professor Hughes-Warrington poitned out ANU has a Course Assessment: Consultation and Finalisation policy. ANU students are required to be consulted about the proposed assessment at the start of a course. The logistics of how to do this with a course having a large number of students is challenging. In my view the ANU policy should be dropped for other reasons: it is unfair on the students. As a student, one of the primary criteria I use to select a course is the assessment. If the assessment is changed after the course starts, then the student is not getting what they signed up for.

One area I suggest need to be explored is to look at education from the point of view of the learner, not the educator. Spending a year as a student of higher education, the most important insight was how hard it was being a student and how administrative problems were so frustrating. One of the advantages of e-learning is that it puts problems with administration out in the open, where hopefully they will be solved.

ANU is taking a cautious approach to MOOCs, as was done with the ANU e-Press. In my view there is a risk that other institutions may over-invest in free on-line courses, with the irrationally exuberant idea that some time soon, somehow, this will make them money. We may be at the beginning of a MOOC bubble which will burst within a year, bankrupting universities and companies, much like the  1990s Dot.COM bubble.

ps: I will be speaking on "MOOCs with Books" in the CSIRO Seminar Room at ANU, 4pm, 8 July 2013.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Australian Universities and the Global Gymnasium

Donald Meyers' book "Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline" makes an interesting counterpoint to "Raising the Stakes: Gambling with the future of universities" (2013) by Peter Coaldrake and Lawrence Stedman. Both books criticize government interference in the running of universities, but Coaldrake and Stedman have a much more positive outlook on the future. Another difference is that Meyers' book is available free on-line, whereas the reader has to pay for access to Coaldrake and Stedman's words.

For a short summary of Meyers' book, see "The Academy in Decay" (Ruth F. G. Williams in Agenda, 19(2), ANU ePress 2012). This is available free online as a web pages, as well as free eBook and conventional paperback.

Ancient Agora (place of assembly) of Thessaloniki. A modern glass floor has been installed to show excavations under the amphitheatre.
For those wondering about the title of the first section of Williams' article "The academy and the agora", "The academy" was the site of a sacred grove of olive trees near Athens and Plato's school of philosophy (thus the prototype university) whereas the agora was the ancient town square, used for both political meetings and commerce (depicted in the 2009 film Agora). But another ancient site of learning and physical activity may also be relevant: Gymnasium (more on this later).

Publications detailing past experiments in Australian tertiary education are timely, as Australia embarks on another grand experiment, with federal funds being redirected from universities to schools. Already this has lead to some rationalizations, with the University of Canberra cutting some language courses and sending student to ANU language classes instead.

A different perspective of higher education is provided by "The Idea of the Digital University: Ancient Traditions, Disruptive Technologies and the Battle for the Soul of Higher Education" by Frank Bryce McCluskey and Melanie Lynn Winter (2012). This book is about what lessons the "American Public University System" (a for-profit company), can teach the public system.

ANU Budget Consultation Process

The ANU has embarked on an exercise to save about $50M a year, asking staff and students for suggestions. I had an entertaining few weeks submitting eight suggestions for improving administrative, research and educational practices at ANU. Part of the fun is in seeing how the suggestions were edited by the ANU secretariat for publication. ANU has done a reasonable job consulting staff and made the brave decision to make the suggestions public. The summarization of the suggestions is reasonable and it will be interesting to see what decisions the ANU Council makes.

The ANU suggestions were grouped into four clusters and here are some I found most interesting:
  1. Revenue
    • Grow student numbers (14 suggestions): The commentary suggests that domestic undergraduate students are the largest potential growth area, with the current deregulated environment, but ANU aims to remain a research-intensive university. Another reason not to pursue more domestic students is that the federal government, will likely introduce measures to curb government subsidies for these students in the next year. In Suggestion 101 "Professional development single courses" I proposed 'Rename the “Fee paying non-award” course option to “Professional development single courses”, as at USQ: This would encourage more full fee paying students.'
    • Pursue on-line courses (13 suggestions): Surprisingly, the commentary indicates that ANU has no strategy towards on-line courses. This is curious, as the university has invested in the technical infrastructure to support  on-line courses and use it to run the on-line ANU course COMP7310. The ANU  did not embark on a growth path with multiple Australian and international campuses, which has caused other universities financial problems. I suggest a relatively modest investment in training staff in on-line learning techniques and additional educational support staff could produce a growth in international student numbers (and revenue). Using new educational techniques this could also improve student outcomes. In  Suggestion 201 I proposed to "Convert the ... University Teaching and Learning modules to e-learning format. Make these a formal postgraduate course. Offer the course to ANU students. Encourage staff to use the course as a template for their own courses."
  2. Non-staff expenses
    • Improve energy efficiency and actively reduce usage of energy (27 suggestions): The commentary envisages a saving of 10% on energy use (about $2M per year). This seems easily achievable from the work my ICT Sustainability masters students have done, assessing energy use of campus buildings
    • Examine ANU procurement and enable areas to seek best value for money – examples include office supplies, IT, refurbishment and cleaning (41 suggestions): The commentary discusses consolidation of purchasing to save costs. However, it would be worthwhile first looking for over-provisioning. As an example, as part of energy reduction measures, I have students categorize staff in an organization and then allocate the appropriate IT equipment. As well as save energy, this can save costs.
  3. Staffing
    • Tighter and more transparent performance management, enforcement of performance expectations (28 suggestions): Measuring performance in a university can be difficult, with research delivering returns over a very long period and education subject to many external pressures. One measure not discussed by the commentary are performance measures on university departments (called "colleges" in ANU).
    • In Suggestion 178 I proposed 'Merge all the staff at ANU who support learning and course development at ANU into one organization along the lines of UniSA’s “Learning and Teaching Unit” (LTU)'.
  4. Administration and systems
    • Consolidation/removal of duplication – general (46 suggestions): The commentary notes that ANU professional (non-academic) staff numbers are higher than any other GO8 university. However, ANU's emphasis on research requires more support staff. As an example, the ANU can't just use off the shelf computer hardware and software to support research into new IT systems and these bespoke systems (which will become the products of tomorrow) require more support. One example is the development of new e-learning software. But streamlining can be a false economy, in Suggestion 258 I proposed "Move ANU email to servers in Australia, using commercial contractors and/or a consortium of Australian universities.".
    • Streamline business and student processes into single processes for the entire University – general (31 suggestions): The commentary notes ANU's paper-based approach to administrative processes, but questions how quickly this could be changed. One way I suggest the change could be accelerated is through training of staff in on-line working. In many cases paper based forms with signatures (or their PDF equivalent) are devised where there is no need. I discussed this in
      Suggestion 234 "Remove most paper and PDF forms from ANU administration. Make use of the ANU’s on-line systems to record information.". To improve the quality of coruses,as well as streamline processes, in
      Suggestion 190 I suggested 'Add a field to Study-at for each course, to indicate if the Student Experience of Learning and Teaching (SELT) survey is conducted and make “yes” the default. Course conveners would have the option of changing the setting to “no”. The ANU’s IT system would read the setting in Study-at and issue the survey if the setting is “yes”. Also include a one to five star rating for each course in StudyAt, with a link to the detailed SELT results.' In Suggestion 98
      I proposed to 'Flip the Graduation Process
      Make awards to students within one week of their completing their program. Send an email with a link to the electronic copy of their certificate and details of how to receive an optional paper copy and attend an award ceremony. Issue electronic tickets for guests to attend the ceremony.' In Suggestion 200
      I proposed to "Flip ANU’s governance, by using on-line tools for consultation and decision making, in the same way the “flipped classroom” improves education. Rather than communicating detailed information verbally face to face at meetings, it can be placed on-line and then the valuable meeting time used for discussion and feedback"

Open Access e-Publishing Part of the Academy

Getting back to the commentary by Williams, they note that Meyers' book is only available as a free PDF document with commercial and university presses declining to publish it. However, this may be due more to commercial decisions as to what would sell, rather than a form of censorship. The PDF version of the book is very well formatted and at less than 1 Mbte is easy to download so is not limited in its distribution by not being released by a commercial publisher of a quasi-commercial publisher (ie: a loss making university press). The book is cataloged by the national Library of Australia, with a link to the PDF.

Meyers might consider making a print edition available through a Print on Demand service, such as Lulu. As it is, the typesetting of the book is much better done than many commercial and university presses.

Back to the Gymnasium

Williams' article used the academy and agora in discussing the academic and financial pressures facing universities. I suggest another inspiration from ancient Greece is the Gymnasium. This word is now used in English to refer exclusively to a place for physical exercise. However, in ancient Greece there were also for scholarship (the word gymnasium refers to an advanced secondary school in much of Europe).

In the original Gymnasium of ancient Greece,  scholarship existed alongside physical exercise and academia was not isolated from the everyday world of politics and commerce. More integration with the world would help Australian universities.

In 2008 I visited Delphi in Greece. Walking the sacred way I received no advice from the oracle, just a phone call. On returning to the Australian National University a few weeks later I had the curious feeling of being back at Delphi. As I walked from my office to the cafe opposite, I noticed covered walkway outside the sports centre with adjacent trees resembled the stoa the Gymnasium of Delphi. At the cafe, as athletes go past, staff students, public servants and business people discuss matters large and small, much as they would have done at Delphi thousands of years ago. For me the task of universities is how to retain this dialogue in an on-line world.

ps: I will be speaking on "MOOCs with Books" in the CSIRO Seminar Room at ANU, 4pm, 8 July 2013.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

UK University Innovation Policy

The paper "A pilot study on the emergence of university-level innovation policy in the UK" from the Cambridge University Center for Economics and Policy (200*), attracted my attention as I am quoted in it:
The Australian government, among others, has been accused of believing that “if a high technology/ science park is created, with suitably high-tech buildings, then high technology firms will be attracted to move in from somewhere.” ...
Worthington, T. (1997), Canberra: Cambridge or Thebes?, Australian Computer Society

Friday, June 21, 2013

ANU Research Shows Strong Emotions Against PM

Greetings from ANU University House at the Australian National University, where journalists Steve Lewis and Chris Uhlmann are in conversation with Andrew Hughes, ANU political marketing researcher. Steve and Chris are discussing how much of their political satire The Marmalade Files is real.

One of the people present mentioned that negotiations were almost complete to produce a TV series based on the Marmalade Files, set in Canberra.

Also it was mentioned that research at ANU has just conducted, involved attaching electrodes to voters to measure their emotional response to political advertising. The research is yet to be published, but preliminary results indicate that Bob Katter rated well, whereas Julia Gillard rated negatively, even on what was intended as a positive advertisement.

Software for Synchronised Asynchronous Constructivist e-Learning

The ANU College of Engineering & Computer Science needed some topics for student research projects, so I submitted one on "Software for Synchronised Asynchronous Constructivist e-Learning" (Project Code: CECS_912).  This is based on some recent investigation into e-learning and longstanding frustration with the limitations of current e-learning software. An example of a previous successful student project is Junran Lei's Semantic Web for Museums, for COMP 6703 eScience, 2006.

Student research opportunities

Software for Synchronised Asynchronous Constructivist e-Learning

Project Code: CECS_912

This project is available at the following levels:
CS single semester, Honours, Masters


asynchronous learning, synchronous learning, electronic learning, web conference, videoconferencing, pedagogy, MOOC


Mr Tom Worthington


On-line learning research literature uses the terms synchronous and asynchronous to describe tools and learning activities. This project will investigate software tools which will permit breaking down this division. It is proposed that syncronisation of asynchronous learning can address problems with large scale e-learning, such as Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). The combination of synchronous and asynchronous forms of on-line learning could be used to promote a constructivist approach. This could be done by relaxing the current lockstep approach of packages such as Blackboard Collaborate, where the aim is for all the class to see precisely the same images on screen at precisely the same time. As well as imposing severe limited on the equipment, this also limits the opportunity for the student to build their own internal model by exploring the topic for themselves, as they have to keep up with the live presentation. Relaxing the real time aspect would also the student time for reflection and to be able to explore the materials themselves, within a time limit.

Goals of this project

Provide a theoretical framework to synchronous and asynchronous forms of on-line learning and implement a free open source prototype to demonstrate this in practice.


Training, experience or an interest in teaching would be an advantage.

Student Gain

Software and tools to support e-learning is a growth industry worldwide.

Background Literature

Worthington, T. (2013). Synchronizing Asynchronous Learning: Combining Synchronous and Asynchronous Techniques. In Proceedings of 2013 8th International Conference on Computer Science & Education (ICCSE), 26 Apr - 28 Apr 2013 , Sri Lanka.

Preprint available at:

Presentation notes:


Synchronizing Asynchronous Learning: MOOCs with Books

Authors of The Marmalade Files Speak in Canberra

Steve Lewis and Chris Uhlmann, authors of The Marmalade Files will speak at the Australian National University, 6pm 21 June 2013:

Separating fact from fiction in an election year

Featuring Steve Lewis, News Limited, Chris Uhlmann, ABC, Andrew Hughes, ANU

Sometimes reality is stranger than fiction. Join us for a politics-in-the-pub style debate at University House, separating fact from fiction in the lead up to the 2013 Federal Election. Featuring the authors of the The Marmalade Files and Press Gallery stalwarts Steve Lewis and Chris Uhlmann, and ANU political marketing expert Andrew Hughes.

Steve Lewis is the national political correspondent for News Limited, a position he has held since 2007. Lewis arrived in Canberra in 1992 as a reporter with The Australian Financial Review.

Chris Uhlmann is co-anchor and political editor for 7.30. He previously co-hosted 666 ABC Canberra’s top rating breakfast program, and worked as the chief political correspondent for ABC radio current affairs.

Andrew Hughes is a lecturer in the ANU College of Business and Economics, specialising in political marketing. ...

Thursday, June 20, 2013

What is Happening in the South China Sea?

Greetings from the Australian National University in Canberra, where Dr Christopher Ward is speaking on "South China Sea: The disputes and prospects for international law". His first point was that while the media concentrates on disputes between China and Taiwan, Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia, there are also disputes between all these countries. The disputes are due to possible oil and gas under the South China Sea. Disputes cover the Scarborough Shoal, Sprately Islands, Natuna Islands, Paracel Islands and the Gulf of Thailand.

China's claim to most of the South China Sea is based on the "Nine-dotted line", which was drawn up by the then Kuomintang government of the Republic of China in 1947. Dr  Ward pointed out problems with the vagueness of this claim. He explained that determining maritime claims are based on an area around islands, but this requires a determination first as to what is an island and who claims it.

Dr  Ward pointed out that Vietnam lost the Battle of the Paracel Islands to China in in 1974, however modern international law does not recognize a change of sovereignty by conquest.

Dr  Ward pointed out that the International Court of Justice does not take into account shows of military force, or existing mineral extraction in the area. He suggested that a dispute between all the claimants in the South China Sea would be two complex to resolve by the court. However, he suggests Arbitral tribunals might be used, as allowed under Internationale law. He described the Philippines request fro such a tribunal to be cleverly designed. There is a description of the case in "The Philippines v . China Case and the South China Sea Disputes", by Robert Beckman, Director, Centre for International Law, National University of Singapore, March 13-15, 2013.

Dr  Ward  suggested the obvious solution was for the countries to put their claims aside and agree to exploit the resources jointly, as with the Timor Sea Treaty between Australia and East Timor.

While international law play some role in such disputes, I suggest that military projection also plays a role. An arms race is taking place in Asia, with nations acquiring maritime weapons systems, including submarines, aircraft carriers, patrol aircraft, anti-ship missiles and ships. Australia has ordered two Canberra class Landing Helicopter Dock (LHD) ships and Hobart class air warfare destroyers. Only lacking are F-35B short takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) aircraft to form a carrier battle group. Australia is already planning to order the conventional variant of the F-35, and as the recent decision to order the "G" variant of the F/A-18F shows, such decisions can be made quickly. The UK changed its order from the F-35B, to F-35C and then back to F-35B.

Real-time surveillance with wireless cameras

Professor Chun Tung Chou, University of New South Wales, will speak on "Enabling real-time tracking in embedded camera networks using compressive sensing" at the Australian National University, in Canberra, 11am 24 June 2013. Apart from the obvious application in building security, I expect this could also be applied to robot surveillance aircraft (UAVs).

Enabling real-time tracking in embedded camera networks using compressive sensing

Associate Professor Chun Tung Chou (School of Computer Science and Engineering, University of New South Wales, Sydney)


DATE: 2013-06-24 TIME: 11:00:00 - 12:00:00 LOCATION: CSIT Seminar Room, N101  ...


An embedded camera network consists of distributed video sensors interconnected by wireless links. Due to the high data rate of video sensors, it is not feasible to stream the video data to a centralised location (sink) for processing. This means that a lot of the video processing must be performed on the embedded device. However, this presents a challenge because of limited computation power on embedded platforms. For example, conventional background subtraction methods can only process a few video frames per second on embedded platforms.
In this talk, we discuss how compressive sensing can be used to address this computational bottleneck. We present a compressive sensing based background subtraction method, whose accuracy is similar to conventional methods, but is five times faster. We show that this faster background subtraction method enables real-time tracking in an embedded camera network. If time allows, I will also discuss briefly on some of my other work on using compressive sensing in wireless sensor networks.


Chun Tung Chou is an Associate Professor at the School of Computer Science and Engineering, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge, UK. He has published over 100 articles on various topics, including, wireless mesh networks, wireless sensor networks and system identification. His current research interests are wireless sensor networks, compressive sensing and nano-communication.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

A Little of Don Tillman in All of Us

Greetings from the Paperchain Bookstore in Canberra, where Graeme Simsion is speaking about his book "The Rosie Project: A Novel".  Graeme started by making the case for independent booksellers (and he is at the top of their sales list at present). He related his own journey from an IT consultant, through being a struggling author. The book started as a script of a serious film called "The Face of God". The film rights have been purchased by Sony/Colombia. Graeme suggested Carey Mulligan for the character of "Rosie".

Graeme mentioned the problems in writing a book, including people identifiying with the characters. He said the character Peter Enticott was not based on "Peter G. Enticott", autism spectrum disorder researcher at Monash University.

It came as a surprise when I received an email from Graeme about his novel some months ago, as I only knew him as a data modeling expert, admittedly one who told wonderful stories as part of the education he provided. In reading the Rosie Project I could hear Graeme's voice and his development as a story teller.

Graeme's main character, Don Tillman, is a socially challenged academic, who tries to use intellect to navigate the perils of romance with hilarious results. When I first read the book I was a little annoyed that Graeme was having a dig at me (as with Don, if I am asked to "wait a minute" I will start my stopwatch, pre-plan exactly where to walk in a city on the other side of the planet), but then I realized that universities are full of such people. Graeme explained that he had met many characters in IT who were a "bit misunderstood", but the character is based on one friend.

Professor Don Tillman PhD has his own Twitter account. Also he can be found in a search of the Victorian Government website, under Geneticists. and on Zoom Info. There is also a real geneticist "D Tillman". Perhaps he needs together with my own fictional character, Professor Klerphell.

If you watch "Big Bang Theory" you will enjoy The Rosie Project.

ps: Federally funded Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) for Living with Autism Spectrum Disorders, is being set up in Australia.

Software for Synchronised Asynchronous Constructivist e-Learning

The ANU College of Engineering & Computer Science needed projects for students to do, I created one on "Software for Synchronised Asynchronous Constructivist e-Learning". This topic can then be tailored to the student's level (undergraduate to masters) and interests (software development or theory):

Student research opportunities

Software for Synchronised Asynchronous Constructivist e-Learning

Project Code: CECS_912

This project is available at the following levels:
CS single semester, Honours, Masters


asynchronous learning, synchronous learning, electronic learning, web conference, videoconferencing, pedagogy, MOOC


Mr Tom Worthington


On-line learning research literature uses the terms synchronous and asynchronous to describe tools and learning activities. This project will investigate software tools which will permit breaking down this division. It is proposed that syncronisation of asynchronous learning can address problems with large scale e-learning, such as Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). The combination of synchronous and asynchronous forms of on-line learning could be used to promote a constructivist approach. This could be done by relaxing the current lockstep approach of packages such as Blackboard Collaborate, where the aim is for all the class to see precisely the same images on screen at precisely the same time. As well as imposing severe limited on the equipment, this also limits the opportunity for the student to build their own internal model by exploring the topic for themselves, as they have to keep up with the live presentation. Relaxing the real time aspect would also the student time for reflection and to be able to explore the materials themselves, within a time limit.

Goals of this project

Provide a theoretical framework to synchronous and asynchronous forms of on-line learning and implement a free open source prototype to demonstrate this in practice.


Training, experience or an interest in teaching would be an advantage.

Student Gain

Software and tools to support e-learning is a growth industry worldwide.

Background Literature

Worthington, T. (2013). Synchronizing Asynchronous Learning: Combining Synchronous and Asynchronous Techniques. In Proceedings of 2013 8th International Conference on Computer Science & Education (ICCSE), 26 Apr - 28 Apr 2013 , Sri Lanka.

Preprint available at:

Presentation notes:


Synchronizing Asynchronous Learning: MOOCs with Books

Who is buying my Green Technology Strategies book?

The notes for my course "ICT Sustainability" are available as a paperback book from Lulu, a print on demand service: "ICT Sustainability: Assessment and Strategies for a Low Carbon Future". This has not exactly been a best seller, with a sale every day or two. What is curious is that the previous edition "Green Technology Strategies", is selling much better. In February, 46 copies were sold. Most of this was one bulk sale to Ingram and most of the other recent sales have been through Ingram. Who are buy the book? Why don't they buy the new edition? Should I withdraw the old edition?

Monday, June 17, 2013

Climate Commission Says Leave Coal in the Ground

Greetings from The Playhouse Theatre in Canberra, for Professor Tim Flannery and the Climate Commission community forum on "How is the climate changing and what does it mean for our future?". I am not sure who chose the music, but the Bee Gees "Staying Live" seems apt. This meeting is timely with the Climate Commission having released today "The Critical Decade 2013 Climate change science, risks and responses" (by Professors Will Steffen and Lesley Hughes) that "... most of the fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground". The Australian Government is reported to already have rejected this finding. The Federal Resources Minister, Gary Gray, is reported to have argued that coal is helping bring hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. Mr. Gray considers it better to bring millions out of poverty for a few years even as this condemns thousands of millions to greater poverty  some years later.

The Climate Commission argues that the world needs to "de-carbonize" by 2050 to limit global warming to 2 degrees. In my view aiming for a 2 degree rise is a poor strategic choice by the commission.In effect the commission has accepted a political compromise to minimize the economic impact. However, the commission is supposed to leave the politics to the politicians. In my view the commission should work on a zero temperature increase, then leave it to the politicians to compromise. Also the commission might look for some economic positives with alternative energy. The fear of being left behind with Australia having coal which it can't sell because it is banned as a dangerous pollutant and having no alternative, may be effective.

Will Steffen mentioned that ANU has a new six star energy saving building (the Frank Fenner building). Recently I attended a seminar in the building and found it very comfortable. Such a building has non-environmental benefits which may have more influence on decision making, than the environmental issues. I teach "ICT Sustainability" at ANU and suggest my students find direct business benefits from the energy savings measures they find.

At question time many of the speakers said they were staff and students of the ANU. This raises one positive and relatively uncontroversial way government can address climate change, through education. Post-secondary education is a major export industry for Australia and education about sustainability could be a future major contribution to this.

ps: A video of the evening will be on the commission's web site.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Enron Play Has Message for Today

The play "ENRON" at the New Theatre in Newtown, Sydney has lessons for the Australian government as it considers how to deal with tax avoidance by Google and Apple. The performance Last night had strong performances from the large cast, a strong script and imaginative set. The Australian Treasury, Law Society and the Auditing and Assurance Standards Board should arrange block bookings.

The play by Lucy Prebble is the story of how Enron's downward slide started with questionable business practices which were not challenged by regulators and moved on to outright fraud. The show used metaphor to explain complex accounting schemes in an entertaining way. But one scene which had floor traders bidding for a slice of bread was a little abstract for me.

Most telling was a scene where Skilling explains how the government regulations on energy trading are written by people not as smart as him and he feels obliged to take advantage of the loopholes in the law. This might be said of the loopholes used in tax laws by Apple and Google to avoid paying tax in Australia, using the "Double Irish Dutch Sandwich".

Lax laws place honest company executives in a difficult moral dilemma: should they act ethically and pay tax, or use the loopholes as their competitors do? The Australian Treasury has issued a 28 page "Implications of the Modern Global Economy for the Taxation of Multinational Enterprises Issues Paper" (May 2013). The Australian government needs to move quickly to close the loopholes, not only to stop billions of dollars in tax avoidance, but to lessen the moral risk of future Enrons.

Report on Coursera MOOCs at Edinburgh University

The 42 page document "MOOCs at Edinburgh 2013: Report Number 1" by the "MOOCs@Edinburgh Group", details the student experience with the first six Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) run by Edinburgh University as part of the Coursera consortium. The report suggests to me that MOOCs are most popular with university academics wanting to learn about e-learning and current students supplementing conventional courses. Also it suggests that the workload of on-line university courses should be half that of face-to-face courses (four, rather than eight hours a week).

The 5 and 7 week University of Edinburgh courses were run in 20013, with a total enrollment of over 300,000 students (which the report curiously calls "learners"). Courses were offered in Philosophy; E-­‐learning, Artificial Intelligence, Astrobiology, Equine Nutrition and Critical Thinking. AI was at Masters level and the others undergraduate.

40% of those enrolled used the the course web site in the first week, by week five this had dropped to 29%. From a survey conducted, this was the first MOOC for 75% for 53% their only MOOC. Students were typically from the USA or UK, 25 to 34 years old and of age. Most interestingly, Teachers and current university students were the most represented groups, with 40% already having a degree. This suggests that MOOCs are being taken by teachers looking to learn about them and current university students supplementing their conventional courses. This suggests that good areas to address with MOOCs are teacher training (particularly in e-learning) and short modules to supplement existing courses (not whole courses).

Students were happy with the MOOCs. Students spent 2 to 4 hours per week studying per MOOC. This is far less than the 8 to 10 hours typically required for a university course. Four hours might be a more realist figure for universities to aim for part time students to spend on a course and is likely to be a more realistic figure for how much time they really do spend. With this time budget, course designers could then cut unproductive parts of courses, such as lectures (live and prerecorded).

12% of the students were issued with Statements of Accomplishment (SoAs). This is far lower than I would expect from a typical university course which might have around 75% of the students to complete the course and pass.

It took University of Edinburgh ten months from starting discussions with Coursera to the first delivery of six courses. This seems very fast progress, I would expect this would typically take eighteen months to two years.

ps: I will be speaking on "MOOCs with Books" at ANU in Canberra, 4pm, 8 July 2013

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Designing a Park for the Sydney Baby Boom

Greetings from the Annandale Neighbourhood Park Consultation. This is being held in a disused carpet warehouse in the suburb of Annadale, in the inner west of Sydney. Leichhardt Council has acquired a small parcel of land on the corner of Taylor and Chester Streets, next to an existing small park. The idea is to extend the park along Johnston Creek. Two designs (Concept Plan 1 and Concept Plan 2) by architects Phillips Marler were presented (they designed the nearby Leichhardt Living Street). In attendcne are several Councillors, including Daniel Kogoy

One plan has a part along the creek, which could later be extended. It is proposed to demolish the old carpet warehouse, but retain the concrete slab to support the rubber surface for playground equipment. This will also seal in any contamination which may be under the concrete from previous industry activity.

Both designs look good. My suggestion would be to incorporate a small wetland which would treat water from Johnston Creek, use some on site and return the rest to the creek. Lessons learned from Whites Creek Wetland would allow this to be done at lower cost with less maintenance required.

Apart from parks, other community facilities will be needed for the baby boom and the council should start planning now. One way to provide better facilities at lower cost is ton combine functions and collocate services. The ACT Government provides public libraries collocated at several schools, with the school and public libraries combined in the one building. The latest of these at the Gungahlin satellite town centre, combines a library for the high school, the public, TAFE classrooms and community rooms. Some libraries have government shop-fronts. This is easier in the ACT, where there is no separation between state and local government, but is not impossible in NSW and would provide large savings and better service.

The consultation process itself was interesting, being held in the old carpet warehouse. Leichhardt Council seems to be able to choose interesting locations for their community meetings, the last I attended was in a meeting hall of a former mental asylum. Proposed plans were displayed on and a video projected on the wall. One improvement would have been to record a video presentation and make it available on the council web site, for those who could not attend in person (along with a document).

Such face-to-face consultations are a very expensive process and only a very small fraction of residents can and do attend. It may be much cheaper and more equitable to conduct the consultation purely on-line.

Currently a Park Survey Form is provided, but this is a PDF form which is not very user-friendly and the on-line experience misses out on much of the face-to-face involvement. The form is a 783kbyte download and it appears that it has to be printed out and then scanned in to send back.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Engaging India Through a MOOC to Disrupt the Hegemonic Discourse

Greetings from the University of Canberra, where presenters from Canberra are practicing their presentations for the HERDSA conference in a few weeks time. Dr Lyndsay Agans, Digital Learning Convenor at the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific is describing the background to the development of a new Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) "Engaging India", to be run by Dr McComas Taylor. One feature that sets this course apart is that it will be the first MOOC to be offered in both English and Hindi. This course will be ten weeks long and available free to anyone, anywhere.

Apart from the technical and pedagogical aspects of how to design a MOOC, the is the interesting question of why design a MOOC and why students would enroll in one.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Buying a Simple Usable MP3 Player

My MP3 player stopped working so I went out to buy a new one. I had assumed they would have become very cheap in the intervening years. But what seems to have happened is that the range of players available has diminished and the simple ones have largely disappeared from stores due to competition from on-line retailers such as Amazon and from smart phones.

What I wanted was a device about $20 which had a USB plug at one end, a small screen and a few buttons. I found one unit at Dick Smith (EM646) for $29.98. This seemed a little expensive, so I looked further.

Adelong Electronics had a "OEI" MP3 player for $19.95, which resembled an early model Apple iPod shuffle. This came with a 4GB microSD flash card. I purchased one of these but I found the battery lasts only about 30 minutes and the fast forward-rewind function doesn't work. There is no display and not synthetic voice to tell you what is playing, so all you can do is press the forward button to listen to the next track. The unit also seemed to simply stop in mid track every now and then and have to be switched off and on. In addition there seemed to be no way to load new tracks to the device via the USB cable (that seems to be just for recharging). As a result I had to buy a separate microSD adapter for my computer. This made the cute little player much more complex, as I had to have it, a USB adaptor cable for charging and a microSD adaptor for transferring files, all of which was alrger than the player. This was not satisfactory so I looked further.

JayCar had an AM/FM/SW Rechargeable Radio with MP3 for $29.95. This has a display which I thought would make searching for MP3 tracks easier. But on getting the unit home I found that the MP3 player did not work with the display. All I seem to be able to do is play a track or skip to the next, there is no display as to what the track is and the fast forward function does not work. In addition the radio functions of the unit are primitive. I can turn the dial to find a station, or skip through the frequencies to the next, but there seems to be no way to memorize favorite stations.

So I have now spent $49.90 and not got a usable MP3 player. I should have simply bought a more expensive, but more functional unit in the first place.

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Hand Cranked Torch with Supercapacitor

My Wind-up LED Flashlight stopped working so I replaced the battery with a supercapacitor. This works very well.

The torch was no longer showing any light, no matter how fast I cranked it. So I removed four screws and took the cover off the flashlight.
This revealed a
LR2032 Li-Ion Rechargeable Button Cell in a holder. The cell was reading zero volts with my multimeter.

The dynamo was generating around 4 volts, so it appeared the battery had expired. I did not have a replacement battery to hand, but I did have a 1 Farad 5.5 Volt supercapacitor. The capacitor is a bit smaller in diameter than the button cell and four times as thick, but there was plenty of room for it in the torch case. I soldered the capacitor to the battery holder's terminals and packed in some neoprene tape to hold it in place.

The light works for about three times as long with the super-capacitor as it did with the lithium ion battery when new.

ps: There are numerous  wind-up flashlights available, but I have seen nine which come with a super-capacitor.

Email Still Best for Event Promotion

Getting people to come to free seminars at a university can be difficult. So I am trying the web based ticket sales system "Eventbrite" for my talk "MOOCs with Books" on 8 July at ANU. It may seem unnecessary to issue tickets for a free event where there are usually plenty of seats. But the ticket system's website provides a useful way to promote an event. Also potential attendees may feel more commitment to the event if they have been issued with a "ticket", even though there is no financial penalty for not turning up.

It was relatively simple registering the event in the web based system. As the event is free, there is no charge for using the system (a commission is charged on credit card sales). After entering the event details I selected the option to have the event promoted in an email newsletter and on social media. So far 12 tickets have been issued. This may not sound a lot, but it is for a university talk.

According to the Eventbrite system, about 58% of the tickets were referrals from their email newsletter, 25% from a search on the website and 17% from LinkedIn. No tickets came from Twitter or Facebook promotion. This is not surprising as the event is a professional, rather than recreational, one. What is surprising is how important a relatively old fashioned email newsletter is, compared to social media.