Monday, June 30, 2014

Green Technology Strategies Course Advertised Online

Reading a car review website today, I was surprised to find an advertisement for the course Green Technology Strategies from Open Universities Australia (OUA). This is a course I designed for the Australian Computer Society ACS Virtual College, who also offer it to OUA's students. I assume that the advertisement was specifically aimed at me, due to my profile of green web page reading. But I am unlikely to enrol, as I am the tutor for the course. ;-)

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Help Re-invent Government at GovCamp and GovHack

GovCamp is being held in Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth on 19 July 2014. This is a week after GovHack. At GovHack, teams build new applications using open access government data. At GovCamp there is a discussion of how technology can help government. Both are free to attend, with venues across Australia (and the opportunity to set up new locations). See my reports from #GovCamp and #Govhack.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Bob Hawke on China's Foreign Policy

Greetings from the Great Hall of the Australian National University, where former Prime Minister, Bob Hawke is speaking at the launch of the book 'China's Foreign Policy' by Stuart Harris. Mr. Hawke commented he had just made his 98th visit to China and his first was just after the Gang of Four were arrested in 1978. He emphasised China's attachment to a peaceful international environment. This contrasts with the general view at the Alliance 21 conference yesterday, which assumed aggressive posture by China in the East and South China seas. Mr. Hawke nominated Deng Xiao Ping's reforms of the Chinese economy as the greatest single decision by a leader in the 20th Century (I am not sure that historians would agree with this). Mr. Hawke argued that China was not a threat to the Western world. Mr. Hawke then mentioned the South China Sea. He said that Chinese officials had said they were interested in joint development of resources. However, this seems at odds to the current confrontation taking place between Chinese warships around a oil exploration rig in waters claimed by Vietnam. Mr. Hawke claimed that China never had a warm relationship with the Soviet Union and this was just a matter of convenience. This seems at odds with history, where China and the Soviet Union provided personnel in support of North Korea.

Professor Stuart Harris has a less glowing view of China, pointing out that it will have more cohesive power, but at least in the short term this will be used to address issues close to China. Professor Harris cautioned that misunderstandings could lead to conflict, as they did in world war one.He pointed out that both the Chinese and US government contain differing views on how to resolve their conflicting interests.

At question time Mr. Hawke was asked about the current government's foreign policy. He expressed concern about the current prime minister's enthusiasm for describing Japan and Australia as close allies.  He also cautioned that future wars still run the risk of nuclear escalation.

Include Research and Education in Alliance 21 Conference

The "Australia US Alliance Conference in Canberra Australia-US: The Alliance in an Emerging Asia" ended last night with dinner in the Australian War Memorial (AWM). This was a slightly surreal experience, with a lone piper high up on the the AWM welcoming the delegates. Tables were set up underneath Lancaster Bomber "G" for George. My seat looked out on the bomb load, which was a little disconcerting (presumably these are inert). The harpist was next to a field gun. We all stood for the arrival of the Governor General and for the singing of the Australian and US national anthems by an opera singer.

The most useful part of the conference was a discussion at dinner with one of the students of the United State Studies Centre, who is on their way to study international relations in China. I suggest the organiser should reformat the next conference to allow for delegates to hear from researchers and students. This years conference had all the time devoted to politicians, senior academics and lobbyists. I suggest limiting speaking time for such "leaders" to one third of the event and devote a third to hearing about actual research and a third to hearing about educational initiatives and from the students.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Asymmetric Arms Race in Asia

The last session of the "Australia US Alliance Conference in Canberra Australia-US: The Alliance in an Emerging Asia" conference in Canberra today raised the issue of the current arms race under-way in East Asia  (streamed live online). One of the panellists suggested that when China has sufficient aircraft carriers it will use them to enforce its claims to territory in the East China Sea and this will cause difficulties for the USA's management of security in Asia. This assumes that China can learn to operate and protect the carriers, but if it can, there may be no role for the USA in managing security in Asia. It should be noted that Japan, South Korea and other countries in the region are building various small helicopter carriers and submarines, so China's role will not be undisputed. It may be in contrast that the USA's larger warships are not nimble enough to operate in this environment. While the US has a powerful military force, the loss of even one large carrier would be a significant military and political setback. In future conflicts it may not be clear who is attacking who, leaving the notionally stronger force unable to respond meaningfully. In this environment small carriers and conventional submarines may be more useful than large nuclear powered ones.

Renewable Energy in China and The US-Australian Alliance

Tanya Plibersek, Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs is the first to mention renewable energy at the "Australia US Alliance Conference in Canberra Australia-US: The Alliance in an Emerging Asia" conference in Canberra today  (streamed live online). She pointed out that China has made renewable energy a priority. This made an interesting contrast to previous speakers at the conference who emphasised the effect of coal seam gas on energy exports from Australia and the USA. These speakers appeared to assume that China and other countries would be markets for Australian and US gas exports. However, it may be that Coal (particularly when used more efficiently with technology from CSIRO) will be sufficient while renewable energy production is expanded, supplemented by indigenous gas production.

Australian Higher Education as an Export

The "Australia US Alliance Conference in Canberra Australia-US: The Alliance in an Emerging Asia" conference in Canberra (streamed live online) has got onto the topic of education. One of the panel commented that while the USA has some excellent universities, the lower end of their institutions have problems. They also commented that Australia has quality education at the lower level and also high completion rates. There were concerns expressed about high Australian costs making our higher education sector less competitive and we have a lack of ICT and language students. This discussion was interesting but seemed to lack awareness of the e-learning revolution currently overtaking education. The discussion was a little like one about the cost of horse drawn wagons just as motor vehicles where about to render them obsolete.

There are some universities which have started making the change in the way education is provided. As an example, I have been teaching international masters students online at the Australian National University since 2009. More recently I have proposed teaching Chinese and Australian students online together.

Cloud Computing in Trans-Pacific Partnership Negotiations

After lunch I was starting to doze off at the "Australia US Alliance Conference in Canberra Australia-US: The Alliance in an Emerging Asia" conference in Canberra (streamed live online). However, there was mention of "Cloud Computing" in Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations. Cloud computing allows data and processing to be provided online from a remote data centre. This is technically relatively easy to do with today's reliable fibre optic telecommunications and standards. However, it creates considerable regulatory issues. As an example, many government agencies and companies are subject to privacy rules. It may be easy and cheap to store your client's data in another country, but if that country does not have compatible privacy laws, it may be illegal. This applies not just to governments, but to banks, other financial institutions, universities, schools and other organisations.

In addition to the law the actual practises in countries need to be considered. As an example, there have been concerns over security agencies accessing data in US systems. The US government's response has been to reassure their citizens that these measures are targeting foreigners. However, those foreigners include the Australian government and citizens. Another example that Hong Kong has its own data protection laws, but their laws are subject to Chinese government security concerns. It therefore has to be assumed that data stored in cloud services hosted in Hong King and the USA will be read by both the US and Chinese governments.

Part of the discussion I found bizarre at the conference was that the Uber Taxi Application was discussed as a point of contention in international trade negotiations. It seemed odd that this very small application would be worth discussing in such negotiations. A far more significant issue would be trade protection for the manufacture of ships. The USA uses safety and security regulations to limit access to its markets for foreign shipyards. In return Australia has generous subsidies for Australian shipyards (although the current Australian government has made moves to buy more warships overseas).

Shale Gas Priority for US Australian Alliance

Julie Bishop, Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs, spent much of her speech at the "Australia US Alliance Conference in Canberra" today detailing the USA's technological, industrial and economic prowess. However, some of the claims made do not stand up to close scrutiny.

The minister mentioned the remarkable devlopment of shale gas in the USA and its rapidly reducing the country's dependence on imported oil. However, the minister did not mention problems with shale gas, including its the greenhouse gas contribution. This may limit or even reverse the expansion of the gas use.

Also, the Minister pointed out that the USA was the only country to have landed people on the moon. However, she did not mention that the USA currently has no capability to put personnel in orbit. The USA is currently dependent on Russia for access the the International Space Station. The only other country with manned space capability is China (with Russian derived technology). The USA's commercial space developments have the potential to again overtake other nations space development in the next few years, but that is in the future.

The Minister also mentioned US/Australian cooperation on cyber-security, but without detailing what resources are devoted to this effort. In my view, not only the rhetoric, but money and people needed to be devoted to cyber-security, cyber-warfare and information warfare.

Australia US Alliance Conference in Canberra

Greetings from the conference "Australia US Alliance Conference in Canberra Australia-US: The Alliance in an Emerging Asia" being held in Canberra today (and streamed live online). The conference was opened by John Berry, United States Ambassador to Australia. Also speaking will be Julie Bishop, Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs, David Johnston, Minister for Defence, Tanya Plibersek, Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, as well as assorted generals and former generals.

I am not quite sure why I received an invitation to this event (it is unlikely to be due to my proposal for equipping the Australian LHD ships with F-35B aircraft). The conference covers Asia in relation to energy and advanced manufacturing and I have a little to do with that teaching engineering and computing students from Asia and North America as well as Australia. In August I will be presenting a proposal for Chinese and Australian students to be trained together online.
Ambassador Berry mentioned the upcoming G20 meeting in Australia.  John E. Ruthrauff, talked on the G20 Summit at ANU yesterday.  Ambassador Berry also mentioned the Gladstone LNG project, funded by the USA and China, which he described as an example of cooperation an leadership between their countries.However, that project has been controversial, due to environmental concerns over the port development and the questionable climate change effect of LNG.

Daniel R. Russel, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, US Department of State mentioned tensions between China and other nation several times in his presentation.

The organisers of the  conference have invited Tweeting with hashtag #Alliance21 and the event is being streamed and some speakers are by video-conference from the USA.  However, apart from that the event is relatively low-tech and very highly structured. This contrasts with the high-tech events I attend which have the technology more integrated and are more interactive and fluid. I suggest that event organisers need to incorporate some un-conference features to make the events more interesting and productive.

The same online working approach is also one which the US and Australian defence forces are yet to learn. The Internet is now a primary field for warfare, both in terms of direct cyber-warefare, attacking systems online and in terms of propaganda campaigns. Wars can now be lost by not defending online systems and by not being able to present a credible online threat to deter attack. Wars can also be lost by not being able to present the appropriate perceptions via social media. Worryingly other nations have shown more interest in cyber-warfare and even small terrorist organisations have shown greater ability to use the Internet to further their views online than have the USA and Australia. I helped put an Australian military exercise online in 1995 and a joint US Australian Exercise online in 1997. Australia's ability to use the Internet to further strategic interests does not appear to have expanded appreciably in the following decade. I asked
Major General Richard L. Simcock, II (Deputy Commander, US Marine Corps Forces, Pacific) about this and he responded that "cyber information warfare is the critical battle space of today".


0830 MC INTRODUCTION Mr John Barron
Professor Bates Gill, Chief Executive Officer, the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney
The Honourable John Berry, United States Ambassador to Australia

Mr Daniel R. Russel, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, US Department of State
Introduced by Professor Bates Gill
0915 Major General Richard L. Simcock, II, Deputy Commander, US Marine Corps Forces, Pacific
Introduced by The Honourable Robert Hill AC

Keynote address: Mr Roy Krzywosinski
Managing Director, Chevron Australia
Introduced by Mr Tony Wood
1005 Panel discussion
The Honourable Martin Ferguson AM, Director, BG Group/ Chair, Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association Advisory Board
Mr Ian Kemish AM, Strategic Advisor, Asia Pacific, ExxonMobil
Mr Roy Krzywosinski, Managing Director, Chevron Australia
Chair: Mr Tony Wood, Energy Program Director, Grattan Institute


The Honourable Julie Bishop MP, Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs
Introduced by Professor Bates Gill

1200 LUNCH

Lunch Keynote address: The Honourable Andrew Robb MP, Australian Minister for Trade
Introduced by Professor Geoffrey Garrett
1310 Video address: Ambassador Michael Froman, United States Trade Representative, Executive Office of the President
1315 Panel discussion
Mr Grant Aldonas, Principal Managing Director, Split Rock International, Former US Undersecretary for International Trade
Mr Andrew L. Stoler, Consultant, international trade issues and negotiations, Former Deputy Director WTO, Former Executive Director, Institute for International Trade, University of Adelaide
Chair: Professor Geoffrey Garrett, Co-Director Alliance 21, Dean, Australian School of Business, University of NSW, Dean (Designate), The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania

Video interview:
Mr Jason Miller, Deputy Director, National Economic Council, The White House
Mr Kevin Kolevar, Vice President, Government Affairs and Public Policy, The Dow Chemical Company
Chair: The Honourable Robert Hill AC, Co-Director Alliance 21, Adjunct Professor in Sustainability, US Studies Centre, Former Australian Minister for Defence, Minister for the Environment, Ambassador to the UN
1415 Panel discussion
Mr Innes Willox, Group Chief Executive, Australian Industry Group
Mr John Pollaers, Chief Executive Officer, Pacific Brands, Chair, Advanced Manufacturing Council, Australia
Dr John Daley, Chief Executive Officer, Grattan Institute
Chair: The Honourable Robert Hill AC, Co-Director Alliance 21, Adjunct Professor in Sustainability, US Studies Centre, Former Australian Minister for Defence, Minister for the Environment, Ambassador to the UN


Keynote address: The Honourable Tanya Plibersek MP, Deputy Leader of the Opposition, Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Development
Introduced by Professor Russell Trood
1615 Panel discussion
Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, William J. Perry Fellow in International Security at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University, former US Ambassador to Afghanistan, retired US Army Lt. General
Mr Douglas H. Paal Vice President for Studies, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Former Director of the American Institute in Taiwan, former Senior Director for Asian Affairs and Special Assistant to the President, US National Security Council
Mr Allan Gyngell AO, Former Director-General, Office of National Assessments, Australia
Lieutenant General Peter Leahy, National Security Institute, University of Canberra, Former Chief of the Australian Army
Chair: Professor Russell Trood, School of Government and International Relations, Griffith University, Adjunct Professor, Defence and Security Program, US Studies Centre, Former Liberal Senator for Queensland

1715 CLOSE
Professor Bates Gill, Chief Executive Officer, the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney


Australian War Memorial

1910 PROFESSOR BATES GILL, Chief Executive Officer, the United States Studies Centre
Entrees served
1930 THE HONOURABLE DR BRENDAN NELSON, Director, Australian War Memorial
Mains served
Minister for Defence and Senator for Western Australia, also officially representing the Honourable Tony Abbott MP, Prime Minister of Australia
2010 THE HONOURABLE ROBERT HILL AC, Co-Director Alliance 21, Adjunct Professor in Sustainability, US Studies Centre, Former Australian Minister for Defence, Minister for the Environment, Ambassador to the UN
Dessert served

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

G20 Summit Overview and Critique

Greetings from the Australian National University in Canberra, where John E. Ruthrauff, Director, International Advocacy at InterAction, is speaking on "G20 Summit Overview and Critique: Tales from a G20 Veteran". The G-20 started as a meeting of the Group of Twenty Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors. but is now a more general series of summits  of major governments. Mr. Ruthrauff pointed out that the summit is a venue for announcing previously agreed decisions and advocacy groups needed to be lobbying long beforehand. He described the series of meetings and activities carried out by advocacy groups in advance. The process described involved action though the nation where the advocacy organisation is based and through then to the other nations. There are also informal opportunities after the G20 meetings. Mr. Ruthrauff also described other ancillary meetings around the G20.

The G20 process as described sounds like a waste of time and effort for any organisation with limited means. It would seem to make more sense to contact the government staff in the agencies which feed into the G20 process online and and influence the process that way. As an example, I post policy proposals to my blog, so that government people can copy and paste whatever might be useful into their documents. This works well.

Pub in Music School Recreating the Oxbridge Tradition in Canberra

A media report suggests the ANU School of Music is planning a pub in the foyer ("Culture war brews over Wig and Pen's move to ANU's Llewellyn Hall, Emma Macdonald, SMH, June 16, 2014). The Wing and Pen is near the ANU campus and popular with staff and students, providing an atmosphere similar to the legendary academic pubs of Oxford and Cambridge (I once held an IT meeting in the Royal Oak, Woodstock Road, Oxford). The Wing and Pen has to move out due to redevelopment of their premises.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Climax at Gallipoli

Greetings from the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, where Commodore Richard Powell OBE RN, Defence Attaché, British High Commission is speaking at the launch of the book "Climax at Gallipoli" by Dr Rhys Crawley. Commodore Powell has a distinguished career in amphibious operations, making it relieve to the book being launched and to current concerns in the Australian Defence Force. Most recently media reports indicate that the Australian Government is investigating the already ordered Landing Helicopter Dock ships to carry aircraft ("Tony Abbott aims for aircraft carriers", by BRENDAN NICHOLSON, The Australian, May 23, 2014 12:00AM). It should be noted that Gallipoli was one of the earliest amphibious military operations where aircraft were used.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Chinese renewables sector

Greetings from the Australian National University in Canberra, where Professor Loren Brandt from University of Toronto is speaking on The Chinese renewables sectors: A case of wilting greens?". He pointed out that manufacturing makes up 85 to 90% of Chinese exports.As ell as economists, he argues that engineers are needed in the analysis of China's industry. An overriding issue for the Chinese government is to maintain economic growth. This is an issue, I suggest the current Australian government sees as an overriding issue, placing climate change as a lower order issue. Professor Brandt showed a photo of Beijing smog as an example of the environmental problems. The issue for the Chinese government is to address serious environmental problems without harming economic development. This I suggest becomes a priority for the government when the environmental problem become so severe it causes dissent by the citizens.

Professor Brandt pointed out that Chinese policy promoted solar and wind power and this has been well received by commentators. As well as providing power, China has established significant international renewable energy industries. China provides about two thirds of the world's photovoltaic panels.

However, Professor Bandt cautioned that the rapid growth of the renewable sector caused inefficiencies, with a lack of coordination within the power system and levels of government. Also the incentives for firms cause distortion. Similar problems occur throughout the Chinese economy.

Professor Bandt expressed concern that half of GDP goes to investment. Half of the investment goes to high return investment and half to very low return investments

While renewables have been expanding rapidly in China, but they are still a small proportion of generating capacity. Professor Bandt showed a graph showing that thermal energy (mostly coal) dominates Chinese energy use.This is of relevance to Australia, which no only can continue to sell coal to China, but also technology for increasing the efficiency of coal use, such as CSIRO's Direct Injection Carbon Engine (DICE) and Direct Carbon Fuel Cell (DCFC).

 Professor Band pointed out that within six years China was able to go from foreign firms in China to Chinese firms supplying their own market. This did not seem surprising to me as the Chinese government has policies requiring foreign firms to partner with local firms to encourage technology transfer. A similar transfer has taken place with high speed railway and automotive industries. Other countries, such as Korea, take a similar approach. In some areas foreign firms have been reluctant to supply advanced products for fear of being copied by Chinese firms (particularly in the defence and aerospace industry with Russian military aircraft).

Professor Bandt  pointed out that the wind turbines are installed in the sparsely populated remote north west and north of China, whereas the demand is in the coastal south east. The result is that perhaps 15% of the potential wind generating capacity is not being used. The generated power can't be transmitted to where it is required. This is where, as Professor Bandt pointed out, some engineering knowledge is needed. Apart from increased grid capacity and installing capacity nearer the users, it may be possible to utilize storage to better use renewable capacity. If wind power can be stored it can then be provided when needed

Professor Bandt argued that China's industry success has been based on incremental improvements on existing western technology. I am not sure that such an analysis make much sense. In particular, major improvements can be made with a product with what appear to be small improvements, by improving the manufacturing process. The end product may not look much different, but it will be much cheaper and more reliable. Cost and reliability are very important in the energy industry and in others (such as transport).

Professor Bandt argued  that the Chinese government policy is distorting company's R&D policy by setting priorities which may not match the customer's requirements. He gave the example of incentives for Chinese wind turbine developers to make larger units. However, there are economies of scale with wind turbines, so it makes sense to aim for size. Professor Bandt argued that China's wind turbine companies were not competitive outside China.

In contrast with wind turbines Professor Bandt argued that the photovoltaic panel industry had been successful with exports, perhaps due to less government policy. I suspect this partly because economies of scale and incremental production processes have favoured solar cells.

One aspect which Professor Bandt did not mention was the need for highly trained and experienced staff to design and build products. Also it would be interesting to consider how much of this analysis would apply to the service sector. As an example, how efficient is China's university sector and can it compete with western universities.

Canberra Busway with Bays Instead of Light Rail

A report from Bob Nairn for the Liberal Party is reported to estimate the cost of a light rail project for Canberra at $915 million, 50% more than previous estimates.

bus transit lanes between Civic and Gungahlin in CanberraInfrastructure Australia also did not support light rail in its "National Infrastructure Plan". The alternative I suggest is bus transit lanes on existing streets. The existing bicycle lanes can be moved to parkland and the road space freed up used for bus bays. This will allow express buses to overtake local stopping ones, which would not be possible with a light rail system.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Payment from Amazon France

I was surprised to receive a paper cheque in the mail from Amazon France. Years ago I set up a website which generated a small of advertising fees. So I then set up ones for Amazon's online store in some of the other countries Amazon sells in. My Amazon France l'Australie Store, lists books in French about Australia. Most popular have been travel guides and stories, such as DVD Guides : Australie, La traversée de l'Australie en traction and Résider et Travailler en Australie. Also aboriginal culture and art is popular, such as Dreamtime, le temps du rêve : Rencontres avec les Aborigènes d'Australie and Le Temps du rêve : La Mémoire du peuple aborigène australien.

Federal Court of Australia Working Electronically

The Federal Court of Australia is expanding its e-Lodgement system and offering sessions on it during June 2014. The Federal Court also has an eCourtroom, allowing some matters to be dealt with using text messages. Unfortunately the court is only providing this training face-to-face for these systems. As they are likely to be of most use for those without ready access to the physical court it would make sense to have on-line training in their use.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Second Sunday Coffee Concert at Belconnen Arts Centre

Today's free Second Sunday Coffee Concert at Belconnen Arts Centre in Canberra was by The Bison Embassy. This featured indie-folk pop with three vocalists, electric piano, flute, ukelele and percussion (unusual combination but it worked). The arts centre provides a pleasant place to sit, listen to music, look out on the lake and have a coffee (but you have to get espresso before the concert, due to the noise).

Poems to Music Concert

The performers seemed be having as much fun as the audience at the Andrew Rumsey and friends ‘Poems to Music’ Concert in Canberra last night. Pianist, Andrew Rumsey, with Matt Withers (guitar), Ciaran Edwards-McKeown (guitar), James Larsen (cello) and Christopher Bottomley (piano) and others recited poems and performed short music works. The highlight was three at the keyboard for the encore.

The Wesley Music Centre had a family atmosphere, with free cake and coffee at interval. One problem with the venue is that the intimate performance room is a little too "live" (despite the report from KDVL Acoustic Consultants), with the sound of the audience turning pages to keep up with the many works annoyingly audible throughout the evening. Perhaps printed programs should be done away with and the program (and in this case the words of the poems) projected on the wall above the performers.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Nano-Antennas for Military Solar Power and Sensors

Greetings from the Australian National University in Canberra, where Arnold McKinley is speaking on how nano-scale antennas can be used for collecting solar energy. He started with a reminiscence of communicating with ham radio as a child, using a ring antenna. He has been researching how to use a similar antenna but at nano scale for collecting solar energy. The mathematics of how this works is beyond me, but it has some interesting possible uses beyond solar power.The technique might be used to absorb energy to form a stealth coating for an aircraft, which could also act as a sensor. The result would be that the entire skin of the aircraft could act as an antenna.