Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Carbon Emissions from the Internet

Greetings from the Australian National University in Canberra, where Professor Rod Tucker from University of Melbourne, is speaking on "Managing the growing energy cost of the Internet". Rod estimates that by 2020 the Internet will use 10% of global electricity production, unless efficiency measures are taken.

Much of the increased energy use will come from data centers, fixed and mobile networks. The consumption for desktop equipment will reduce with the shift to mobile devices, but not be sufficient to offset the increase in mobile network energy consumption.

Rod had two measures for energy use: per bit and per useful bit (the latter excluding overheads). Historically there has been a 15% improvement in energy efficiency for telecommunications per year.

Rod pointed out that about half the energy consumed in a data centre is in cooling the equipment. Also 75% of the data traveling in the data center is internal, 8% to other data centres and only 17% to end users.

In my course "ICT Sustainability", run at ANU and on-line around the world, the students learn how to estimate and reduce the energy use of data centers and other equipment.

Professor Tucker pointed out that energy consumption of high density hard drives is expected to decrease markedly by 2020, less so for solid state devices. Rod pointed out that at some time in the future cloud service providers will need to transfer data to off-line storage, such as disk drives which are switched off or optical tape. Users will need to then wait a few tens of seconds, or minutes for their data. This was something I learned about as a IT professional in the 1980s and is something today's professionals will need to learn.
Professor Tucker  pointed out that wireless communications use much more energy than wire or fibre. Increasing the bandwidth of wireless greatly increases power consumption. One way to reduce the power use while increasing the bandwidth is to use more lower power base stations closer to the use. At the extreme there may be one base station in each home. This unshared equipment can also be switched to low power mode at night (whereas it is harder with shared equipment).

Today's fibre networks require one microjoule per bit. With higher use the energy per bit will decrease, as the fibre cable doesn't use much extra energy. However, Professor Tucker  estimates that today's real networks use about thousand times as much energy as they theoretically could. This shows scope for reductions.

I suggest it would also be interesting to look at efficiency at the application level. Recently I was evaluating an educational App for teaching English. I copied a small portion of text from the App and pased it to my web editor. I found a small amount of visible text came with a large amount of formatting, creating about a 400% overhead. Web pages compress well, but even so this is an overhead which could be reduced.The CSS standard allows for formatting to be defined once and then applied, but this tends not to happen in many applications.

Professor Tucker showed the diurnal Internet traffic load. Nort America shows a peak in the middle of the day. In Italy there are two peaks, one in the morning and a smaller one in the afternoon (and a dip for lunch). However, the network equipment can't power down to this extent (I suggest perhaps we need "off peak" computing charges).

Professor Tucker pointed out that Facebook stores multiple copies of new photos at data centers around the world to reduce response times. Rod estimated each photo uses 10 Watt Hours. Less used photos are stored at just one data centre, which would reduce energy use (at the cost of slower access). However, I suggest a better way to reduce consumption would be to reduce the resolution of the photos.  The original photo could be stored at high resolution at one center and the copies at a lower resolution suitable for the typical smart phone. The smaller photos will use one tenth to one hundredth the storage.

Rod pointed out that very large amounts of data will take more energy to send via the Internet, than if copied to a removable device and physically transported.

Rod also pointed out that there is the potential to use the Internet to reduce other energy use through measures such as telecommuting instead of air travel. However, this was made less credible as he traveled from Melbourne to Canberra to tell us to use teleconferencing. ;-)

Rod claimed that using a cloud application, specifically Google Docs, uses more energy than a local application.

I asked if the cost of energy was sufficiently large to influence user's behavior to reduce energy use.  He suggested having an energy star rating scheme for cloud services, as applies to white-goods (and computers) would have an effect. But he commented that this would be far more difficult than for a simple appliance. It seems to me that this could still be a useful area for research.


Vishwanath, A., Jalali, F., Hinton, K., Alpcan, T., Ayre, R. W., & Tucker, R. S. (2015). Energy Consumption Comparison of Interactive Cloud-Based and Local Applications. Selected Areas in Communications, IEEE Journal on, 33(4), 616-626. DOI: 10.1109/ICCW.2015.7247606

Monday, September 28, 2015

UNHCR Refugee Shelter at Canberra Floriade

The UNHCR is using flat-packed shelters for housing refugees. One of these is on display at Canberra Floriade spring flower festival.

The shelter comes in several large cardboard boxes, like flat-pack furniture (but looks easier to assemble than a bookcase). It has a tubular metal frame, stiffened by wires and covered with foam plastic insulated semi-rigid panels. There are small insect screened windows and a solid plastic door.

The shelter has the option of a solar panel with LED light and phone charging point. That may seem an extravagance, but otherwise lighting has to be provided using expensive and dangerous fuel lanterns. Also low cost devices can be charged for use in mobile learning for children.

The shelter is, effect, a semi-rigid tent and, as such is one step up from a tent. It would offer better protection from the elements than a tent and more of a sense of a home. However, it is not luxurious accommodation.

It should be possible to build much larger structures, for community use (for a school for example) from the same building components.

While the flat-packs are relatively small, perhaps they could have been made smaller by using open cell, rather than closed cell foam for the panels. The panels could then be squashed flat for transport, taking up about half the volume (and would expand when unpacked).

Transport for such units would be "bulked out": that is the human porter, pack animal, truck, ship or aircraft, would be limited by the volume it could carry, not the weight. Making the unit more compact, even if sightly heavier, would allow more to be carried. It should be possible to make the panels out of metal. This would make the shelters more durable (and fire resistant). The panels could be made to become corrugated for stiffness, when unpacked and the foam insulation core expands.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Wayward Brewery Opened in Sydney Inner West

Greetings from the opening of Wayward Brewery in  Sydney's inner west. While the brewery is new, beverage making is not new to the area. The brewery is housed in the old cellar of a wine merchants and the brick wine tanks have been turned into comfortable space for patrons (retaining the wax lined walls). The Leichhardt Fringe Fast Art Competition is being judged in the brewery. Jamie Parker MP for the area and Cr Darcy Byrne Mayor of Leichardt.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Adding Battery Storage to Rooftop Solar in Canberra

Last week I dropped in on Dr Lachlan Blackhall, founded Reposit Power in the industrial suburb of Fishwick in Canberra. Lachlan's company is providing technology for Tesla's residential battery storage unit and for other battery systems.
Fishwick is a light industrial area with a mix of car yards, bulk whitegoods stores, sex shops, and high tech startups. In my previous job I visited companies programming the fire-control systems for Australia's warships here. Most of these tech companies are in anonymous light industrial buildings. But prominent in the defense sector in Fishwick is CEA Technologies, which has one of their CEAFAR Active Phased Array Radar mounted on the roof, making it look like the deck of a warship.

Reposit Power's office is less prominent, but he plug-in hybrid car parked out the back is perhaps a hint to what is inside.  Reposit produce software and commission hardware to work between a solar panel, the grid and a local storage battery, to optimize renewable power.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Guns and Girls at New Theatre

The Sydney Fringe Festival 2005 continued its  deep deadly theme at New Theatre last night with Britannia Waves the Rules and Slut (both on until 26 September)

Britannia, by Gareth Farr, sees Carl, a young unemployed man, join the British army to escape boredom in Blackpool.  As the recruiter (who had a stock of orange hair and reminded me of a certain
warrior prince), promised Carl gets to see the world, but ends up driven mad by the war torn Afghanistan. Vincent Andriano (Carl) gives a muscular performance. All the cast managed their British regional accents well. The military costumes and props were frightening realistic (although the actors appeared to be wearing US OEFCP, not British Army PCS-CU uniforms and carrying US Colt M4 Carbines, not the UK SA80 assault rifles). The dark grim set was effective at being the Blackpool waterfront and an Afghan battlefield. There are some laughs but there is a harrowing, all too believable ending.

The interval between the two pays was enlivened by a large group from the "Theatre Time Sydney Meetup Group". I have only attended geeky IT events through Meetup and it had not occurred to me it was used for cultural events (and to get cheaper theater tickets). It looked like fun.

Slut by Patricia Cornelius, depicts a rat-pack of six school girls who grow up idolizing and then despising the most sexually adventurous of their class. The actors mange to play believable catty schoolgirls, increasing in age and maturity as the play progresses. The play itself is a little too conventional with the "Slut" of the title punished in the end for her behavior, as she would be in a morality play of centuries past.

After two hours of grim theater I am looking forward to New Theatre's "THE REAL THING" by Tom Stoppard (opening 6 October).

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

First Digital Australian PM

I agree with Al Blake that "Australia's new PM 'gets IT'" (Online Opinion, 16 September 2015). On Monday night I was at an event on digital copyright at Parliament House. Mr. Turnbull was not there (he was busy getting elected nearby), but would have been at home in this forum.

The Digital Transformation Office (DTO) is an interesting experiment, but it is a bit early to see how it goes. My preference would have been for DTO to be in the Department of Finance which has more experience working with other departments on practical implementation of IT.

The current government's mixed-mode NBN is a clever political approach, as the mix of technologies used for delivery can be changed depending on how well they work, what they cost and what other priorities there are.

Al Blake's call for the ICT industry to rise to the challenge is timely. But to deliver a "connected, technologically literate and effective Australia" we need other industries involved, key to this being the education industry and the creative industries. Otherwise all the NBN will doing is acting as a virtual mega-container ship: importing overseas content and services, then
sending ship-loads of cash overseas to pay for the imports.

Service industry jobs are now open to on-line competition from overseas, not only accountants and lawyers, but also university lecturers (and soon school teachers). The solution is not to lower a virtual trade barrier, but to skill up our workforce, so they can compete on-line.

Monday, September 14, 2015

John Birmingham's Chicken Theory of Copyright

Greetings from the Senate Alcove of Australian Parliament House in Canberra, where John Birmingham is speaking on copyright, using on an analogy to fast food chicken recipes. This is at an event organized by the Copyright Agency, for the launch of the book Copyfight, edited by Phillipa McGuinness. The last chapter is "This is How the Future Works" by John Birmingham. At the same time we are in the alcove a great political drama is unfolding a few dozen meters away, with a challenge to Prime Minister Tony Abbott by Malcolm Turnbull, former Minister for Communications. I notice that Mr. Turnbull gets two mentions in the book "Copyfight" and Mr. Abbot gets none.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

The Myth of the Service Economy and Individualism

Greetings from the ACS Canberra Branch 2015 Annual Conference where Chris Vein, CEO, Dome Advisory Services is giving the Plenary Keynote, on "Innovating Innovation – Creating the Next Generations of Empowerment". He asserts that there will be new companies in the service industry and they will provide technology for empowering the individual. I have no doubt that there will be such companies, but Mr. Vein seems to forget that mobile wireless services depend on having physical mobile devices. The world will still need engineers who work out how to make things and a manufacturing industry to make them. Mobile phones are an example of a very carefully engineered mass produced product.

Mr. Vein also suggested that on-line services will empower individuals to make their own choices. However, those choices will be constrained by the choices made by the service designer. We need trained ICT professionals, with a ethical framework, to make good choices. Otherwise there is the danger of a dystopiain future where citizens lives are controlled through their smart phones. Imagine a fixture where you want to go to meet someone to discuss concern over a corporation, or a government, and your phone will not make a transport booking for you because it is not interests of the corporation, or the government, controlling your phone service. This may sound like si-fi but already if you are an on-line punter and you win too much, the company will simply suspend your service, as it is not in their interests for you to win.

One suggestion from Mr. VeinI did agree with was about education. He suggested that companies would take in new staff direct from school and train them in-house, rather than recruiting college and university graduates. However, I suggest this is not a new concept, these are called "apprentices" or "cadets". This approach has been applied in large government and non-government organizations for decades. About the only change is that apprentices are now typically trained in partnership with Higher Education institutions. The apprentice obtains a formal educational qualification as well as work experience (some employers are registered to issue their own qualifications).

In Canberra, the Australian Public Service has ICT Apprenticeship and ICT Cadetship programs. The apprentices work full time and study part-time for a Certificate IV or Diploma in ICT (payed for by the employer). The cadets work part time and study at university (receiving a study allowance). The apprentices and cadets make excellent students, as what they are studying can be immediately applied in their day job.

There will be a place for advanced university degrees. A PHD is, in effect, a form of very high level apprenticeship for researchers. We will also see more professional doctorates, orientated to the needs of the workplace, to solve the world's most difficult problems.

Shaping the Future Through ICT

Greetings from the National Convention Center in Canberra, where the Australian Computer Society Canberra Branch 2015 Annual Conference just opened. The theme of the conference is
"ICT Shaping our Future", but in his opening address Andrew Johnson, ACS CEO, suggested it should be "Shaping the Future Through ICT". An often forgotten aspect of this is that computers and telecommunications do not just happen somewhere else in the world and arrive in Australia, we help make this happen (WiFi being a good example). There are two hashtags for the conference: #ACSCanCon and#ICTShapingOurFuture

Monday, September 07, 2015

International Security and Cooperation

General Jim MattisGreetings from the Australian National University, where  General James "Jim" Mattis (USMC Retired) is speaking on "Dealing with Threats in Tumultuous Times: International Security and Cooperation". General Mattis pointed out that the ANZUS Treaty was envisaged as providing US military assistance to Australia during the cold war, but was first invoked by Australia's PM after the September 11 attacks, with Australian forces the first to assist the USA in Afghanistan.

The general discussed Russian destabilization of Ukraine and ISIS destabilization of Syria and Iraq (although not suggesting Russian involvement in the latter). General Mattis described ISIS as the most successful terrorist group in history, with a territory the size of the UK and a social media presence seductive to young people. He cautioned against assuming ISIS could not win and urged disruption of their recruiting, as they will inspire copy-cat attacks in western countries. He suggested that th western response has been ineffective, not because ISIS have such a good strategy but because the west has a bad strategy. He pointed to Turkey, which had been willing to let ISIS attack the Syrian regime, but it now threatens Turkey itself.

General Mattis described UAE as "little Spata" for its willingness to support US operations in Afghanistan, but a coherent strategy is needed. He criticized US policy of per-announcing withdraw of troops as this aids the enemy and advocating keeping them guessing. General Mattis said allies like Australia were needed by the USA, for more than military contribution. He pointed out that he had good intelligence on a strategic level, but future operations will be more uncertain.

General Mattis noted that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is written to avoid Iran cheating. He suggested that there will be international inspectors, backed up by national intelligence organizations. While the agreement covers nuclear weapons, General Mattis noted this does not cover ballistic missiles or cyber warfare. He suggested that countries of the region will need a coordinated ballistic defense. He suggested that the US 5th Fleet will be vital to keeping sea lanes open for oil.

However, General Mattis had so suggestions to offer to counter Iranian cyber-attack. He characterized Iran as a "crazy group" rather than a country. However, it occurs to me that the USA is the only country to have used nuclear weapons on civilian cities (Hiroshima and Nagasaki), to use a cyber-weapon against a nuclear facility (Natanz nuclear facilities) and shoot down an Iranian civilian airliner (Iran Air Flight 655). Later in answer to a question General Mattis touched on the USA's somewhat tainted image by suggesting that Australia has a role in the Middle East because it is seen to be doing good works.

General Mattis described an exercise by the 5th Fleet to counter mines in the Gulf. This was interesting in that he described how he formulated the exercise, with its military and political objectives, then expressed concern that Iranian commanders would be a destabilizing influence by acting on their own initiative.

In answer to a question about if ISIS was more than a terrorist organization (re "Blood Year:Terror and the Islamic State" by David Kilcullen) General Mattis comments was like Al-Qaeda combined with Hamas on steroids. He suggests that ISIS effect will get worse and cannot be addressed until the new US administration is in place which could form a strong enough international collation. 

Normally in the ANU strategic seminar series I would ask about cyber-warfare, but General Mattis had already addressed that so I asked about the US  pivot to Asia. The General was not positive about this, pointing out that the USA already had significant military forces in Asia and that European and Middle Eastern allies were unsettled by the implication that the USA's attention would be elsewhere. He suggested that the USA should be able to "walk and chew gum" (that is address issues in multiple regions simultaneously) but also does not have to take the military lead everywhere in the world.

On a positive note General Mattis suggested the USA should look to inspiration, rather than intimidation. He gave the example of offering educational scholarships as a way to exercise soft power. He told an anecdote of talking to a captured Iraqi insurgent who wanted to stop fighting and emigrate to the USA. The general suggested that the USA was not fighting the war of ideas in a way they would win. It occurs to me that perhaps the USA needs to dust off some lessons of WW2 and realize that the Disney Corporation is a more effective weapon than anything Boeing has.

Friday, September 04, 2015

First Australian CKAN Meetup in Sydney

Greetings from the NICTA Building in Sydney, where a Australian CKAN Meetup is happening. This is believed to be the first such event in Sydney. Steven De Costa, Co-Organizer, has been giving us an overview of what the CKAN open source data portal software
can do and what people around the world are doing with it. He is proposing an Asia-Pacific-CKAN-Meetup on-line every second Thursday, starting 17 September

Steven suggested this suitable as a project for university students to work on as there are only about twenty people working on the code at present.

CKAN is implemented using Python, Javascript, PostgresSQL and Solr. It is primarily used by governments to provide details of their data, including such data.gov.uk, the USA's Data.gov and the Australian data.gov.au/.

Managing the growing energy cost of the Internet

Professor Rod Tucker, University of Melbourne will speak on "Managing the growing energy cost of the Internet" at the Australian National University in Canberra, 12.30pm 29 September 2015.
"The size and capacity of the global telecommunications infrastructure is growing as the demand for on-line data and new Internet services continuously expand.  The Internet and its associated data centres presently consume only a few percent of the global electricity supply, but this consumption is growing. In this talk, I will discuss the key contributors to energy consumption in the Internet and describe some approaches to the design of a more energy-efficient network."
Also, ANU's award winning course ICT Sustainability (COMP7310) is being offered on-line to students worldwide, commencing February 2016. The course notes are published as "ICT Sustainability: Assessment and Strategies for a Low Carbon Future" (Worthington, 2012).

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

The Luck of Politics by Andrew Leigh MP

Greetings from the Australian National University in Canberra, where Andrew Leigh MP (and former ANU lecturer) is speaking on his new book "The Luck of Politics". Andrew was introduced by Senator Katy Gallagher. Andrew used an anecdote about how the Spanish Armada intending to invade England was blow off course. Perhaps an unfortunate story as the Australian Navy's largest ever warships were made in Spain to a design for the Spanish navy (still called the Armada).

Andrew presented amusing statistics about politics: politicians with shorter popular names are more likely to be elected. He had a serious point to the humor, pointing out that luck largely determines someones chance in life and the message was that we need social policies to redress the "bad" luck of birth. As an example, Andrew pointed out that the Australian nominations for OAs was "overly bureaucratic" and as a result favors males.

Andrew mentioned that entrepreneurs accept they will have failed ventures and have been known to put the name of one such venture on their number plate to remind them (like a Roman Slave whispering "Memento homo"). It happens today I was discussing the use of Star Trek in teaching, including using the  "Kobayashi Maru" test. in this Star-fleet Academy students are put in a no-win situation, so they can learn from failure.I might write this into my innovation course.

Andrew mentioned that the "Recession we had to have". It happens that one of my colleagues found the error at the ABS, which when corrected caused an economic boom.

The speech (and book) shows that Andrew Leigh MP has a sense of humor as well as deep insights. But only history will tell if these help, or hinders, his political career.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Japanese Politics and China

Greetings from the Australian National University, where Dr Sheila A. Smith is speaking on "Japanese Domestic Politics and a Rising China". Dr Smith is the author of "Intimate Rivals: Japanese Domestic Politics and a Rising China". She argues that the Japanese PM is not the most significant player in determining Japanese foreign policy and inherited the current Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands dispute. Dr Smith argued that the islands dispute is separate from the East China Sea dispute. She also pointed out that China and Japan were able to cooperate on investigation of tainted Chinese dumplings in Japan. Dr. Smith' conclusion was that while there were individual points of dispute between Japan and China, but this did not reflect a general rise in anti-Chinese nationalism in Japan.

This is of relevance to Australia, due to its increasing military ties to Japan and economic ties to China. However, there is only one mention of Australia in Dr. Smith's book and only to do with China's exporting of food (page 163).

Dr. Smith pointed out that until recently the USA and Japan had no plans for managing military conflict with China. I assume this is a reference to diplomatic plans, as it seems unlikely that the USA would not have detailed military plans in place and their Japanese counterparts would not be familiar with these, even if this could not be publicly acknowledged.

Dr Smith asserted that US representatives have made clear they will not provide direct military force to defend the Senkaku Islands, but they are helping Japan train its soldiers as marines (something Australia is also developing an amphibious capability and might usefully work with Japan)