Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Canberra Start-up Overnight Success Decades in the Making

Ken Kroeger, Executive Chairman of Seeing Machines gave a virtuoso presentation on the origins, accomplishments and future of this Canberra startup at an Australian Computer Society meeting last night. Seeing machines makes head and eye tracking technology to check drivers of vehicles and pilots of aircraft are paying sufficient attention.

Seeing Machines was spun off ANU research in 1999, around the same time I join the Computer Science faculty. I saw vehicles with weird cameras attached around the university and this was part of research into driver aids. Occasionally I have been an experimental subject having my eye gaze tracked. But from then, until now, I did not know the depth and breadth of what Seeing Machines has attempted and accomplished.

Ken demonstrated Seeing Machines technology using a volunteer from the audience. He also described the ways the company attempted to commercialize the technology, with several "pivots" where they changed direction. Curiously, one large market for Seeing Machines is autonomous vehicles. There are now cars being offered which can drive themselves, but only in very limited conditions. The driver has to be paying attention to be able to take over when the automated system can't. The Seeing Machines system helps with this by making sure the driver is looking at the road and the vehicle instruments and is not reading a book, or asleep.

In retrospect a successful hi-tech product can sound very simple: put a couple of cameras in a box with a small computer and bolt it to the dashboard of a vehicle. But Ken took us through some of the complications of sun glinting off the driver's spectacles to mining companies which jump start start trucks with an electric welder and clean the cab with a high pressure hose, thus destroying the electronics.

One of the remarkable things about Seeing Machines is that after a decade they are still in business, another is that they are now an "overnight" success. Perhaps most remarkably, while their industrial partners are in the USA, manufacturing in Asia and financing in the UK, the research and development is still based in Canberra, a short distance from the Australian National University campus.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Autonomous Electric Bus in Canberra

EZ.10 driverless electric shuttle bus from company Easy Mile, on demonstration run in Canberra's city center. Marghanita da Cruz steps out of the bus. The wheelchair ramp has been deployed, as part of a demonstration. This would not normally be used for ambulatory passengers.
Easy Mile EZ.10 Shuttle
Yesterday I went for a short ride on an EZ.10 driver-less electric shuttle bus from company Easy Mile, on demonstration run in Canberra's city center.  The bus traveled a few hundred meters through Canberra' central mall.  While it has a maximum speed of 40 kph, this was done at walking pace, as it weaved in between the street furniture.

The vehicle hold six people sitting in two rows facing each other and with room for another six to stand (or a wheelchair). There are very wide doors making entry easy. The vehicle is higher than it is wide and looks more like a cross between a lift and a golf buggy than a bus.

The ability of the vehicle to find its way between the obstacles in the mall was impressive, with a smaller turning circle than even a mini-van. Also it was able to deal with pedestrians who strayed into its path. When the vehicle's sensors detected a person it would first ring a bell (like that of an old fashioned street car), then slow down and, if the person was not out of the way, stop. No one seemed perturbed or frightened by the vehicle slowing making its way along.

There is also a  wheelchair ramp which can be deployed by the press of a button (the vehicle also kneels to make entry easier).

This would appear a practical form of transport around a university campus (the Australian National Universality could do with a half dozen such vehicles),  or a city center. It would be a useful way to get people to and from light rail and other more conventional forms of public transport.

Tomcar Military Electric Vehicle
While the EZ.10 is imported, this is an industry which Australia could enter. There are already Australian companies making small electric vehicles for farms, factories and the military. Our universities and high-tech companies have the expertise to design the software for the sensors to operate the vehicle.

The EZ.10 shuttle is on an  Australian tour it will be in Canberra today (Sunday) until 12 Noon and 1pm to 3pm, then Cairns from 4 to 8 December and Mooloolaba from 14 to 16 December.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Cyber-enabled Information Warfare in Canberra

Dr Herb Lin, Senior Research Scholar, Stanford University, will speak on "Cyber-enabled information warfare and the end of the Enlightenment" at the Australian National University in Canberra, 12:30 pm 5 December 2017. His "On Cyber-Enabled Information/Influence Warfare and Manipulation" with Jackie Kerr is to be published in the Oxford Handbook of Cybersecurity (2018).
"The West has no peer competitors in conventional military power. But its adversaries are increasingly turning to asymmetric methods for engaging in conflict. In this public seminar, Dr Herb Lin will address cyber-enabled information warfare (CEIW) as a form of conflict or confrontation to which the Western democracies are particularly vulnerable. 

CEIW applies the features of modern information and communications technology to age-old techniques of propaganda, deception, and chaos production to confuse, mislead, and perhaps to influence the choices and decisions that the adversary makes. A recent example of CEIW can be seen in the Russian hacks on the US presidential election in 2016. CEIW is a hostile activity, or at least an activity that is conducted between two parties whose interests are not well-aligned, but it does not constitute warfare in the sense that international law or domestic institutions construe it. Some approaches to counter CEIW show some promise of having some modest but valuable defensive effect. If better solutions for countering CEIW waged against free and democratic societies are not forthcoming, societal discourse will no longer be grounded in reason and objective reality – an outcome that can fairly be called the end of the Enlightenment."

Friday, November 17, 2017

Australia Day by Johathan Biggins at New Theatre Sydney

The play Australia Day by Johathan Biggins opened at the New Theatre in Sydney last night. This is a loving, humorous and at times bighting look at local politics. Anyone who has been on a committee to organize a community event will recognize the characters and situations.

Set in the scout hall of a fictional Australian inland town, the play tracks the progress of the committee organizing Australia Day celebrations. Along the way issues of race and identity, politics and corruption and explored. This is leavened with humor and the playwright's obvious affection for the characters.

David Marshall-Martin's set evokes the austere, slightly tattered atmosphere of an old scout hall, complete with photo of a very young Queen Elisabeth and slightly tatty flags.

Alice Livingstone was clearly enjoying herself as "Maree Bucknell", one of the quirkier characters of the committee. Louise Fisher's costume design for Amelia Robertson-Cuninghame, as a greens politician was a little too glamorous to be believable. But the way Amelia says "its nothing personal" while blackmailing a fellow politician was chillingly real. She would make an excellent addition to the cast of "House of Cards", now they have a vacancy.

At last nights performance I was a little in awe happening to sit next to a New York theater critic making notes in a battered spiral notebook. I was explaining for my amateur how in my blog reviews I try to find a popular work to relate the play to. The obvious film to equate "Australia Day" to is "Rats in the Ranks", Robin Anderson and Bob Connolly's fly-on-the-wall documentary of the 1994 Leichhardt Council Mayoral elections. But while covering many of the same themes, Australia Day is a lot more fun.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Lockheed Martin Collaboration Center for Canberra

Greetings from the Canberra Innovation Network (CBRIN) where  there is a briefing local companies on possible collaboration on Lockheed Martin's bid for the Defence Department's AIR6500 project. This is a Battle Management, C4ISR, and Air/Missile defence system. Kate Lundy, ACT Defence Industry Advocate, opened the briefing. There will be further briefings: 14 November in Sydney, 15 November Newcastle, 16 November in Brisbane and possibly Darwin in December.

It was mentioned that Lockheed Martin will open a Collaboration Center in Canberra, for local companies to demonstrate their capabilities. One aspect I found worrying was that possible local contribution was described as "niche", suggesting local companies can only have a minor role.
While missiles and other hardware grab attention, it is increasingly the case that these are just peripherals to networked computer systems which are the key to defence. Australian companies have major, not niche, capabilities in the field of complex networked computer systems.
The role of cyber was mentioned in the briefing, however unlike Australia's potential adversaries, I suggest this is not being given the priority it needs by the Australian government or the Australian Defence Force (ADF). The conventional military will be just a peripheral of the cyber warfare system in future conflicts.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Reducing download traffic for mobile broadband

Virgin are discontinuing prepaid mobile broadband in Australia. Instead of Internet access being "shaped"  to a slower speed when the monthly allocation of data download is used up, there will be an additional charge imposed for each extra gigabyte of data (which happens to be identical to the extra charge imposed by Optus, Telstra and Vodafone). Virgin have offered twice the monthly data allowance for one one dollar extra under a new plan. But a quick calculation of my data use suggests that the new excess charge may double my bill.

To reduce downloads I looked at a few options. One was to reduce access speed at my end of the connection, using something such as "Throttle". But this was fiddly and an inconvenience.

Next I tried compression in the web browser, as that is where most of the downloads happen. Google Chrome Data Saver works well. The compresses the content of the web page. With  Arjun Suresh's Data saver proxy it can even be used with the Firefox browser. But the data saver doesn't work on secure websites and does not make image files significantly smaller. Overall it claims to be saving 30% on my browsing so far.

Most useful has been Bandwidth Hero by Anatoliy Yastreb. This compresses just the images on a web page. It works very large JPEG images. I had to stare at the screen closely to notice the images were slightly blurry, even when using the highest compression setting. Currently this is saving 71% on image downloads. I have only found two problems so far:
  1. "Convert to black and white" is on by default. I suggest changing this to "off", as few people will want their web pages in monochrome.
  2. The transparent background on some GIF and PNG images comes out as black, making many buttons hard to read. It would be better if the compression process was skipped for GIFs and PNGs (or at least for small ones, or those with transparent backgrounds).
ps:I hadn't noticed Belong have shaping for their two mobile data plans. In the fine print it says:
"You can purchase additional data if your allowance is low or has run out. We do not apply data top-ups automatically.
If you have no data remaining, your service will be slowed to a maximum of 64kbps for the rest of that monthly payment cycle, but we won’t charge you any extra. Your data at the slower speed will be unlimited."

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Woden Valley to Silicon Valley: Lessons for IT startups

Greetings from the Hyatt Hotel in Canberra, where Yohan Ramasundara, is speaking to the Australian Computer Society on "Woden Valley to Silicon Valley - lessons for IT startups". Yohan spent three and a half months seconded from IP Australia to Austrade in Silicon Valley. He started the talk by explaining he geography of Silicon Valley. He mentioned the work of the Aussie Founders Network

Yohan criticized the fragmented nature of the Australian government presence in Silicon Valley with federal and state organizations having separate initiatives, in contrast to the Swiss government. One successful Australian government initiative is the Australian Landing Pad @ WeWork, San Francisco. From the photos Yohan showed WeWork SF looks much the same as WeWork Sydney.

Yohan pointed out that people skills are needed as well as technical skills for a successful startup. He also pointed out that successful entrepreneurs are open about their business and willing to to talk to budding start-ups.

Yohan was positive about Standford University and its Product Realization Lab. This is available to students in any discipline and supports traditional fabrication (wood and metalwork) as well as hi-tech. There is now a modest ANU MakerSpace in Canberra. One of my teams of ANU Techlauncher students used the 3D printer to make a case for their project.

Yohan pointed to the Alchemist Accelerator as emphasizing the customs of business. But he pointed out that rules about punctuality differ between cultures. Yohan also pointed out that investors invest in the team of talent as much as they do the idea.

Gabe Sulkes then talked about his work as the Landing Pad Manager for Austrade. He was live on-line from the USA and, for once, the network  held up. ;-)

Lockheed Martin Looks for Battle Management Partners in Canberra

The Canberra Innovation Network (CBRIN) is hosting a meeting for Canberra businesses interested in working with Lockheed Martin on the Defence Department's AIR6500 project for Battle Management, C4ISR, and Air/Missile defence on 13 November 2017. Kate Lundy, ACT Defence Industry Advocate, will facilitate.

Lockheed Martin is looking for companies to help with:  Command & Control (C2), Cyber Security,  communications, Data fusion/analytics, Sensor Integration, Clean energy technology, Computing, Networking, Training , Engineering Services,  Logistics Support and Facilities.

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

ACS Accelerator Hub for Sydney

The Australian Computer Society (ACS) have announced that their new Sydney head office will include an accelerator for tech start-ups. The new office will be in International Tower 1 Barangaroo, Sydney. This is a very new, very modern, very tall tower-block, at odds with the traditional location for an innovation centers. Such centers are traditionally in old, re-purposed industrial and commercial buildings. Fishburners is in an old Sydney warehouse, Spacecubed is in a former bank in Perth, Canberra Innovation Network in an old medical building, River City Labs an old department store in Brisbane.

Cambridge Judge Business SchoolFurther afield the Centre for Entrepreneurial Learning at
University of Cambridge is in an old hospital (over-refinished in post-modern style). This is not just a matter of fashion: innovation depends on people meeting and learning to work together. The trappings of corporate culture can disrupt innovation and not in a good way.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Digital Economy: More than cryptcurrency

The Australian government has released a discussion paper on "THE DIGITAL ECONOMY: OPENING UP THE CONVERSATION". Four emerging technologies are identified: 5g, AI, Blockchain and Quantum Computing. Input is invited by 30 November 2017.

Taking Blockchain as an example, described more generally as "distributed ledger technology" (p. 19).  A point to emphasize is that this is not just about Bitcoin, as the discussion paper says: "It can be applied wherever a verified and trusted transaction is required—health, government services, real estate, media, energy and more." One area of interest to me is for education.

The paper asks two questions about distributed ledger:
"7. What opportunities do we have in standards development and regulation to:
– – enable digital entrepreneurship, innovation and trade?
– – mitigate the risks associated with digital disruption?
8.     What digital standards do we need to enable Australian businesses to participate in global supply chains and maximise the opportunities of the digital economy? " (p. 19)

Monday, October 16, 2017

Jelly by Unihertz: Very Small Smartphone

A few months ago I took a leap of faith and pledged on Kickstarter US$79 for  Unihertz's Jelly smartphone. The goal was only US$30,000, but they achieved $1,251,380 from 10,964 backers. There was enough money, but would they build the phone and would it be any good? The answer is: yes and yes.

The phone arrived last week, along with the optional case. The Jelly phone has just one killer feature: it is small. Imagine a smartphone with a five-inch screen cut into quarters, and you have the Jelly (it has a 2.45-inch screen). The phone arrived well packaged, with a USB cable, European plug USB charger (which Unihertz sensibly has decided to leave out of regular sales, as there are so many USB chargers in the world) and a screen protector.

Apart from being small, the Jelly looks and works like any generic android smart phone (running Android 7.0 Nougat). Some reviewers have criticized the relatively low resolution 240 x 243 pixel screen, but I found it very clear and readable. The telephone sound quality is good, and the speaker-phone works very well. The battery, with moderate use and the WiFi and GPS, turned off, lasted just over two days, which is acceptable.

The phone's primary feature is also its only problem: size. The Jelly can be hard to hold up to an ear because there is not much to hold. I found the optional case makes it easier to hold, than the shiny, slippery plastic of the phone.

The screen is large enough to dial phone numbers and peck out a text message. But this is not the device for composing documents or reading ebooks. Think of it as a step up in power and functionality from a "feature" phone, in a package around the same size.

Ten years ago, when teaching web design for mobile devices at the Australian National University, I suggested the optimal screen size for a pocket-size device was about four inches (the size of a credit or business card). Such a screen is about the same width as a traditional newspaper column (so readable) and the device incorporating it is about the largest that can comfortably fit in the average pocket. Despite the fad for large phablets, around 4 inches is still a good size for smart phones.

At 2.45 inches the screen on the Jelly is just a bit too small for general use. The Samsung Galaxy J1 Mini, with its 4 inch screen, is a better general purpose smart-phone. But if you just want something to talk on, send text messages, and very occasionally, use an App, then the Jelly works very well.

What I would change

There are currently only two accessories for the Jelly: a case with a lanyard loop on top (which I have) and a case with an armband. The case works well but could be made of softer, more rubbery, material, to make it easier to hold. Also, there doesn't seem any good reason to have two different cases: why not just one with both a loop on top for a lanyard and a slot in the back for the armband?

Motorola A760
What would be an attention grabbing accessory is a StarTrek style case with a flip-up cover, like the Motorola A760. The flip would channel sound up to the ear (no additional electronics needed). Perhaps something for a Kickstarter campaign (make it a 3D printer design which can also be sized for 4 inch phones) ? Also, the Jelly would be easier to hold if a bit fatter, so a larger battery would not be a problem.

ps: Unihertz shipped the Jelly by the promised date. But when they said "shipped" they meant it literally: they put the phones on a ship heading for Australia. It then took the phones a long time to get to Australia. You can order the full price Jelly now, and hopefully, it will arrive a bit quicker.  ;-)

Monday, October 02, 2017

The imagination of Ada Lovelace in Canberra, 10 October

David De Roure, Professor of e-Research at University of Oxford will speak on The imagination of Ada Lovelace: an Experimental Humanities approach, at the Australian National University in Canberra, 10 October.
"In over 200 years since Ada Lovelace's birth, she has been celebrated, neglected, and taken up as a symbol for any number of causes and ideas. This talk traces some paths the idea of Lovelace and her imagination of Charles Babbage's Analytical Engine has taken. In particular, we focus on music and creativity, after Lovelace's idea that 'the engine might compose elaborate and scientific pieces of music of any degree of complexity or extent'. ..." 

I first came across Ada Lovelace in the 1980s, when the Ada programming language was named in her honor. I get a mention in the "IEEE Recommended Practice for Ada as a Program Design Language" (1987). In 1994 I attended the play "Arcadia" by Tom Stoppard, at the Sydney Opera House. The main character, Thomasina Coverty, is based on Ada. Also referenced in the play (by name) is the landscape architect CapabilityBrown. A week later I was a few kilometers outside Oxford looking at Blenheim Palace across the lake and grounds designed by Capability Brown. This reminded me of Canberra. Two years later I used "Building Arcadia" as the title for an innovation strategy for Canberra (now implemented).

Friday, September 29, 2017

Australian Signals-intelligence in the Pacific War

Dufty provides a boys (and girls) own adventure account of Australian signals intelligence in the WW2 Pacific War. The book makes the case for Australia's contribution to Macarthur's fight from Australia back to the Philippines, the role of academics and civilians in this effort and of women, against bureaucratic obstacles. The book is packed with anecdotes, as well as history.

With modern day concerts over cyber-security and its likely part in future wars in our region, it is useful to be reminded where the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) came from and their difficult relationship with government, the military establishment and Australia's allies.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Disrupting High Energy Prices

On ABC Radio Canberra Thursday morning there was a segment on high charges for communal hot water systems in Canberra.  In 2013 I asked for an ACT Assembly Inquiry into Energy Billing, as the charges were five to ten times what they should be. However, no action was taken by the ACT Assembly.

If the ACT Assembly will not stop incumbent energy retailers from imposing unconscionable charges, then perhaps new local businesses need to "disrupt" the business model. New providers could assist the body corporate of a block of units to purchase energy in bulk and meter it to each unit, using billing as a service in the cloud.

The ACT Government, along with Canberra's universities, have fostered a start-up community to help set up new businesses using new technology. This includes Canberra Innovation Network  and the Renewables Innovation Hub. I have been mentoring start-ups through the Innovation ACT competition and setting up an energy metering business is no more complex than some new businesses I have helped with.

ps: I teach "ICT Sustainability" at the ANU, on how to estimate and reduce carbon emissions using computers, through such measures as computerized metering.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Are we opening up Australian Government?

Greetings from a law-book lined library at the Australian National University, where Daniel Stewart, Senior Lecturer, ANU College of Law is asking "Are we opening up government?". This is in his role as part of the evaluation of the Australian Open Government National Action Plan 2016-18. This is a bit like being an extra in an episode of the ABC TV comedy "Utopia", with a "dashboard" showing cute green icons, which claims everything is on track.

Leaving the cynicism aside, and the difficulty of a credible plan for open government in the current political climate, the plan has some good intentions. As an example 2.3 "Digitally transform the delivery of government services" is a good idea. This is delegated to the Digital Transformation Agency (DTA), which makes sense. The DTA was to to deliver a roadmap, which they seem to have done. However, what is lacking are the trained staff needed to implement the roadmap.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Australian Joint Cyber Reserve Force

Tom Worthington aboard USS Blue Ridge
Tom Worthington
on USS Blue Ridge
Cyber commandos for defence reserve" 16 August 2017). The UK Joint Cyber Reserve Force. was stood up in May 2013 and I suggested Australia do some thing similar in August 2013.

These reservists would be similar to medical specialists who can apply their civilian skills in the military. This allows the military to use personnel who they could not afford to train and retain full time. It also provides a link between those running critical national infrastructure in the civilian sector and the government organizations tasked to protect it.

As I see it, members of the Cyber Reserve Force should be issued with secure communications equipment which they keep with them during their civilian job. The members would be in constant contact about threats and ready to act on them within minutes. This contrasts with a conventional reserve, where it takes days, weeks, or months for activation.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Canberra Welcomes Our Robot Overlords

James Kavanagh, CTO Microsoft Australia started his keynote at the 21st Australian Computer Society Annual Canberra Conference by mentioning that today Microsoft announced that Microsoft Azure will be provided from Canberra Data Centres (CDC) for Unclassified and Protected government data.

Conference chair, Tim Turner from UNSW Canberra,  opened the conference by welcoming our robot overlords (the theme is AI). From looking at the program, that will be the only humor today, on the topic of AI, until Anh Do does the closing plenary. I will be speaking on "Designing Professional e-Learning" at 2:20 pm.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

After the Dance at the New Theater in Sydney

Last night I attended "After the Dance" by Terence Rattigan at the New Theater, Newtown in Sydney.  Set on the eve of World War II, the play depicts the end of an age of peace and prosperity with bright young things world weary.

Callum Alexander in early scenes seems to be channeling the young Hugh Grant in Four Weddings and a Funeral. John Cervenka's set is a little sparse for the era. One jarring point was walls which appeared to be finished as polished concrete. The Chesterfield sofa was the centerpiece for the characters to lounge. Costume Designer Brodie Simpson captures the elegance of the age, before wartime austerity.

This pay in one way looks dated with young men in tweed and oxbridge accents discussing love affairs while drinking gin and tonic.  In another way it is of today, with Australia on the brink of a war in North Asia, awash with alcohol and having binged on the proceeds of a mining boom on colonized land.

"After the Dance" by Terence Rattigan at the New Theater Newtown. until Sat 9 Sep

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Future of Innovation in Canberra

Greetings from the Canberra Innovation Network's  First Wednesday Drinks. I have been here since 2:30pm, for a World Cafe on the future of innovation in Canberra. A room full of people moved from table to table discussing what needs to be done to foster innovation, how that can be done and how to get the message out about doing it. It can be very frustrating at such sessions where there is a lot of ideas floated but you wonder if anything will ever happen. In this case we had the satisfaction of then attending the first Wednesday pitches and heard of real things making a real difference.

I did try to get a bit more creative with ideas, beyond the obvious of teaching innovation, I suggested turning CBRIN into a reality TV show, with the real life drama of turning ideas into products and services.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Video for GovHack Entry

Greetings from  GovHack 2017. I
I have had some queries in the Canberra Coach Pit about what should be in the Video entry.

As it says in the GovHack Handbook:
"This a video pitch of your entry that tells a story of how you have reused data. The video should demonstrate your hack concept, the benefits or value the concept could achieve and where possible introduce your team. The most common method is to use a screencast, with a voice-over narration". (Emphasis added)
 To that I would add:
  1.  Get it in before the deadline (4pm AEST): It doesn't matter how good your video is, if it is not in on time it will not be considered. Making a video is a very time consuming process. Produce a rough cut well before the deadline and then polish, as it is going to take longer than you thought. Upload well before the deadline, as the handbook says: "must submit actual Video URL not link to another website". The preferred location to link to is YouTube.
  2. Explain what the problem is: The story you tell should say what the problem you are tying to solve is, as that may not be obvious to the viewer.
  3. Make the vision clear:  Don't have tiny text, or too much detail, as that will be hard to see. My tip is to view the video on a smart phone held at arm's length and see if it is watchable.
  4. Make the sound clear: Find a quiet spot to record audio. A headset microphone works well, as it gets the microphone close to your mouth.
  5. Don't worry about live video:  This is about the application, so live video of people is not essential. You can use screen capture software for a "live" demo and also still screen-shots, along with still images of the people and the problem.
  6. Say who you are at the beginning and end: Introduce your project at the start and remind the viewer again at the end.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Tom's Ten Tips for GovHack

Greetings from the Snow Centre for Education at Canberra Grammar School, where GovHack 2017 is in full swing. I am on duty n the "Coach Pit", at the top of the building, which is a little like being on the bridge of a ship. I am looking down on the old red brick buildings of the school, and a winter landscape of bare trees in the fog. Business is not brisk at present with only a few teams dropping in for advice.

Coaching a GovHack team is a skill none of the coaches is entirely comfortable with and so we had a discussion of the "Coaching Kata". 

But we are here for GovHack, so some tips for teams:
  1. Build a Team: You need people with a range of skills for your team: it is not just about technical computer skills (it is mostly not about technical computer skills).
  2. What is the Problem? You need to be able to clearly and briefly explain what problem you are solving. Practice by explaining it in a few words to people in the coffee queue (the coffee at GovHack is very good).
  3. What is the solution? With the problem identified, the solution is still not easy to explain. One way is by comparison to an existing product or service: "It is *** for ***.
  4. Who is this for?  Consider who will ultimately use the application and who might be interested in providing the service.
  5. Has it been done? A quick web search will help see if what you propose has been done before. If it has, that is not the end of the world, as you can do it differently, or better, or both. 
  6. Get Help:  There are Mentors with deep knowledge of the data provided and Coaches with knowledge of tools and techniques. Drop into the Pits or post a query via the forum, or both.
  7. Do we have a plan?  It helps to know what you are planning to do when, even if it almost never turns out that way. The GovHack has deliverables at fixed times and you need to work towards these.
  8. Do we have a clear presentation? GovHack is as much about explaining your solution s getting it to work. Keep it clear and simple.
  9. Get it in on time:  It doesn't matter how good your solution is, if it is not submitted on time, it does not count.
  10. Learn and enjoy: GovHack is not a job: you can't tell your team to do something, you can only encourage them. Remember to take breaks and have a walk around outside. This will also make you more productive and ideas will pop into your head when wandering around.

Friday, July 28, 2017

GovHack 2017 Opened at Snow Centre for Education

Greetings from the Snow Centre for Education at Canberra Grammar School, where GovHack 2017 just opened. Tonight is mainly for familiarization and team formation. The hacking proper starts tomorrow. I am a Strategy Coach for the event, which involves wandering around asking people how they are going and prompting them to think about it.

The venue is a new purpose built education facility, more advanced than most at Australian universities. The MC for the event is Matthew Purcell, Head of Digital Innovation at Canberra Grammar School. Matthew is a highly skilled IT professional, as well as a teacher. 

For the next two days the teams will think up something innovative to do with government data, try to implement it and, most importantly, explain what it is and why it is useful.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

GovHack 2017

GovHack 2017 is on this weekend. I will be going along as a Strategy Coach for Canberra GovHack. The idea is to help teams of volunteers to build useful applications using data provided by government agencies. This is also happening at venues across Australia and New Zealand.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Google Glass Enterprise Edition AR Headset

The Google Glass Augmented Reality (AR) headset, has been relaunched as "Glass Enterprise Edition". Glass never made much sense as a mainstream consumer product. It was too large and cumbersome. It makes more sense as a device for industries such as engineering and health-care. I suggest training could be integrated in the Glass headset, in the workplace. As well as looking at electronic manuals, your instructor could pop up to provide help in fixing an engine or diagnosing a patient.

MyVu from 2002
However, AR for industry and training is not a new idea. The MicroOptical_MyVu from 2002 uses a similar optical path to Glass. MyVu required a cable to a computer, whereas Glass is self-contained. For industry use, where a long battery life and additional features, such as specialized radio communications may be needed, the MyVu approach is better than Glass.

This seems to be a case where Google tried to produce a consumer product, then tried to adapt that to industry, resulting in something not suited to either. Perhaps a third party provider will adapt Glass, by adding a cable, to make it more suitable for industry.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Blockchain for Military Operations

Last week I had a call from the Australian Financial Review newspaper asking about blockchain for military operations. As noted in the article I could see some application, but was a little skeptical. Later I found a paper on it by Verma, Desai, Preece and Taylor (2017), but remain skeptical.


Abernethy, M. (2017, Jul 14) Blockchain becoming an integral part of some defence technology. AFR. URL

Verma, D., Desai, N., Preece, A., & Taylor, I. (2017, May). A blockchain based architecture for asset management in coalition operations. In SPIE Defense+ Security (pp. 101900Y-101900Y). International Society for Optics and Photonics. Retrieved from

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Fear in The Suburbs

You have only tonight left to catch the world premiere season of Phillip Kavanagh's play "Little Borders" tonight at Old 505 Theatre, Newtown, Sydney. This dark comedy has a main character "Steve" (BRANDON McCLELLAND) who looks disturbingly like a young Donald Trump. With his wife "Elle" ( LUCY GOLEBY) they feed off each other's middle class suburban fear of neighbors who don't look and talk like them.

The play won the 2011 Patrick White award and perhaps should get a political award as an allegory for the state of the western world. We have a world fearing the different, building walls, fearing those in our community and adopting violent solutions to what are social and economic problems. 

CHARLIE EDWARD DAVIS and JEREMY ALLEN's spare set helps set the brooding atmosphere. There are only two actors in this play, but the playwright paints such a vivid picture of other characters that at one point I was thinking how good their performances were (before realizing they were just word pictures).

505 Theatre is an intimate venue, but this play deserves a larger and longer outing.

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

FastMail Classic interface has now been retired

FastMail have discontinued the "Classic" web interface for their e-mail service. In place of the fast web pages, I have to wait for the slow "responsive" interface. This is most noticeable when using a slow wireless modem.

Sunday, July 02, 2017

SMPTE 2017 Sydney

SMPTE 2017 is a conference and exhibition for the video industry in Sydney 18 to 21 July 2017. 

I would like to attend, but when I tried to register for the trade show, I got a Microsoft .NET error:

Server Error in '/' Application.

The model item passed into the dictionary is of type 'Model.VisitorModel', but this dictionary requires a model item of type 'Model.PublicViewModel'.

Description: An unhandled exception occurred during the execution of the current web request. Please review the stack trace for more information about the error and where it originated in the code.

Exception Details: System.InvalidOperationException: The model item passed into the dictionary is of type 'Model.VisitorModel', but this dictionary requires a model item of type 'Model.PublicViewModel'.

Source Error:

An unhandled exception was generated during the execution of the current web request. Information regarding the origin and location of the exception can be identified using the exception stack trace below.

Stack Trace:

[InvalidOperationException: The model item ...

Version Information: Microsoft .NET Framework Version:4.0.30319; ASP.NET Version:4.7.2053.0

Saturday, July 01, 2017

Australian Defence Force Information Warfare Division

Head Military Strategic Commitments Division Major General PW 'GUS' GilmoreAn Information Warfare Division (IWD), has just been formed in Australian Defence Force Headquarters (July 2017). There are four branches: Information Warfare Capability, C4 and Battle Management Capability, Capability Support Directorate and the Joint Cyber Unit. The division is headed by MAJGEN Marcus Thompson as Deputy Chief Information Warfare. MAJGEN Thompson has a PhD in Cyber Security from the University of New South Wales. He is the author of "The cyber threat to Australia" . (Australian Defence Force Journal, 2012) and other papers on cyber security.

RAAF P-3 Orion Aircraft, photo by 'Timothy' CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia CommonsThe ABC has speculated that one target for the new unit will be the Chinese South Sea Fleet, in the South China Sea.

It happens I have been teaching Australian National University IT students using a scenario about cyber-warfare over the South China Sea. In this hypothetical, students are asked to consider the use of information warfare as an alternative to conventional military action.

 As the ABC report notes, one of the problems with a cyber-warfare unit will be attracting, retaining and paying highly skilled personnel in competition with the private sector. An option I proposed in 2013 was the use of civilian computer professionals who are military reserve officers. After brief military training these personnel would return to their day jobs, but be ready to be instantly mobilized.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Keeping TiVos Working in Australia After October

Darren King suggests, is to register for the TiVo swap-out, but not hand over your TiVo until late October, to see if the grass roots project is a success.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Poor Get Poorest NBN Service

Various/The Conversation, CC BY-ND
In "Three charts on: the NBN and Australia’s digital divide" (The Conversation, June 21, 2017), Schram, Baum, Fisher, Harris, Friel and Frereman show that socio-economic disadvantaged areas of Australia have been missing out on the faster fiber National Broadband Network (NBN). These areas get the slower wireless, hybrid fibre or satellite service. Even when location was taken into account (as wireless and satellite are primarily intended for low population densities) the same effect was found. However, why this may be the case: due to deliberate discrimination by NBN Co., an effect of the technology, or the way the existing infrastructure was built, the authors do not mention. Perhaps this will be in the peer reviewed publications of the research to come.

This is not quite the broadband for social good which  Roger Clarke and I envisioned in 1994.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Venture Capital Effect

The Venture Capital Effec by Australian Private Equity and Venture Capital AssociationGreetings from the Mural Hall of Parliament House Canberra, where The Venture Capital Effect is being launched. This report  is from the Australian Private Equity and Venture Capital Association, so is very pro-VC.

This is of interest to me as I help students undertaking start-ups at the Australian National University. Some of these are extra-curricular activities such as the Innovation ACT competition, while others are part of their degree program through ANU Techlauncher.

Unfortunately all the MPs had to go to a division, just they were getting up to speak at the event. Perhaps one new venture could be an electronic voting system for Parliament, so MPs need not be in the chamber. ;-)

NBN Pork-barreling Worked

Research by Alizadeh and Farid (2017) found that pork-barreling by Australian politicians over the National Broadband Network (NBN) worked. Voters who received early access to high speed broadband rewarded the party which provided this with their votes:
    "An analysis of the voting behaviour in the 2007 and the 2010 Federal elections shows a pattern in which the ALP held seats were the key beneficiaries of the early NBN rollout. Moreover, the results suggests that the Coalition held safe seats were the least likely to receive the infrastructure. Diverse sub-patterns across the three states of New South Wales, Queensland, and Victoria have been discussed in details. However, the overall findings remain that the selection process for the early NBN rollout was skewed up for potential political gains.

    The paper then moves to the second question on whether the targeted infrastructure provision worked and swung votes for the ALP in the following 2013 Federal election. The analysis of the voting in the NBN early rollout areas versus the rest of the country shows a clear difference. While the ALP experienced an overall heavy negative swing across the nation and lost the election, the negative shift was highly mitigated in the NBN early release sites."

    From Alizadeh and Farid, 2017.
I suggest the lesson from this is: when proposing tech policy, find some aspect which offers short term political gain. Making appeals to the national interest and long term benefit is of little relevance to politicians aiming to win the next election. So how do we make changes we think need to be made to Internet policy appealing to voters in the short term and so therefore appealing to politicians?


Alizadeh, T., & Farid, R. (2017). Political economy of telecommunication infrastructure: An investigation of the National Broadband Network early rollout and pork barrel politics in Australia. Telecommunications Policy, 41(4), 242-252.

The Clean House, Sarah Ruhl, New Theatre, Newtown, Sydney

On Sunday I attended the play The Clean House by Sarah Ruhl at the New Theatre in Newtown, Sydney. The play begins with someone telling a joke in Portuguese, a long joke. The person telling the joke is clearly enjoying it, but I don't speak Portuguese and so did not get it. The rest of the play was in English, mostly, which I do speak, but I still didn't get what this play was about.

Set mostly in a comfortable apartment of a professional American couple, the play's central character is a Portuguese speaking Brazilian maid, who like telling jokes more than cleaning. She becomes tied up the breakdown of the relationship of the couple. It all becomes a bit silly when one party goes off to Alaska to chop down a tree.

The mix of the surreal and the buttoned-up professionals did not work for me. The cast is clearly having fun, and Alice Livingstone in particular as a frumpy sister with an urge to break out and get a job. However, I don't find comedies about rich people with fantasies of having to work for a living that funny.

The Clean House by Sarah Ruhl is on at the New Theatre in Newtown, Sydney until 8 July 2017.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Finkel Report on Australian Electricity Market No Solution

The "Blueprint for the Future: Independent Review into the Future Security of the National Electricity Market" by
Alan Finkel, Karen Moses, Chloe Munro, Terry Effeney and Mary O’Kane has been released by the Australian Government. The 212 page report includes eight pages of recommendations. The report proposes short term regulation requiring energy suppliers and distributors to provide a reserve of generating capacity (dispatchable power). However, the report doesn't address how to do this in a cost effective way. The likely result is that supplying companies will take the opportunity to use this as a reason to further increase prices.

This report is very much focused on the short term  issues of reliable electricity supply which are only an inconvenience to the community, but a major political threat to governments. The report fails to adequately address the long term issue of carbon pollution from coal and gas fired power stations which places the prosperity of the nation and the safety of its citizens at risk.

The authors of the report have met their brief, in providing a way for the Australian Government to avoid having to deal with difficult issues of human caused climate change and reliable electricity supply.  Instead the industry regulator will be required to introduce short term regulations which will increase the cost of electricity in the short and long term, as well as greatly adding to the cost decades from now, when Australia is forced to take effective action on climate change.

If the aim is to increase the reliability of the electricity supply, then there are some simple low cost ways through modern technology. Modern air-conditioners use electronically controlled motors (so called "inverters"). It would require only a small enhancement to the program controlling the inverters to have them help stabilize the power grid. Australian law could be changed to require all new domestic and industrial air-conditioners permanently connected to the grid to be programmed to help maintain it. This would cost a few dollars per unit and the user would be unlikely to notice the difference. A few times a year the air-conditioner would  switch to low power mode for a few minutes to help maintain the grid.

Dr Evan Franklin, Senior Lecturer, Research School of Engineering, ANU, presented an excellent seminar "Electrical power systems with high penetration of renewables: the physics behind the political bluster". Dr  Franklin provided a clear and credible analysis of what caused the South Australian blackout (which precipitated the Finkel Report) and options to improve the reliability of supply while also increasing the use of renewable energy and phasing out coal.

 Unfortunately it seems unlikely the Australian Government would feel able to accept Dr Franklin's advice. One hope for the future is that technology will come to the rescue. The continually dropping cost of solar and wind energy, along with options for battery and pumped hydro storage will likely have more influence on energy options than Australian Government policy. Australia will likely achieve a reliable renewable energy system despite, not because of, government policy.

On Thursday I attended a community energy session at EnergyLab hosted by University of Technology Sydney. Speakers from ClearSky, Pingala,  and Community Power Agency put the case for a different energy future for Australia,  where the community is involved in planning and implementation.

Monday, May 22, 2017

World's Smallest 4G Smartphone?

Jelly 4G Smartphone
My smartphone will stop working at the end of September, when Vodafone decommissions its 2G network in Australia. So I have signed up with the Kickstarter campaign for the "Jelly Smartphone", claimed to be the smallest 4G smartphone.

Posh Micro X Smartphone
The Jelly appears similar in size to the Posh Micro X, claimed as the "Smallest Smartphone in the World". This has been on sale for some time and gets reasonable reviews on, typically commenting it is adequate given the size. The Jelly appears to offer upgraded electronics and software compared to the Posh and better compatibility with global phone networks.

The Jelly will have a 2.4 inch screen, about the size of my old pre-smart "feature phone". What I really wanted was a flip-phone, but I could not find a reasonably priced one which would work on Australian networks. Perhaps someone will make an after-market Star Trek flip cover for the Jelly, like the cover on the
Motorola A760. This protects the screen when closed (but with the display visible through a transparent window). You could then answer a call by opening the flip and end it by closing. The cover has channels to take the sound from the speaker in the body of the phone up to your ear, making it more comfortable to hold.

Friday, April 28, 2017

A Perilous World

New Theatre's production of "The Chapel Perilous" by Dorothy Hewett requires stamina from the audience but is rewarding. This autobiographical work looks at a brilliant but rebellious youth growing up in a world at war, at war with herself and the society which tries to constrain her.

Julia Christensen as Sally Banner is center stage for almost two hours, raging against the system. Brett Heath transforms from the hellfire spitting lascivious Cannon to Sally's father very convincingly (although I kept thinking he looked like Clive James, an Australian poet and atheist who fitted more comfortably in the system). 

Costume designer Courtney Westbrook has brought an understated wartime feel to the production.

The set is dominated by a large luminous chevron, which acts as the "Chapel" and at times apparently the entry to hell.

All the actors give an energetic performance, perhaps at times a little over energetic. At times is is disturbing, as the playwright intended. However, some parts have dated. A fantasy scene where the authority figures burst into song is a bit too "Singing Detective". The references to Le Morte d'Arthur
and The Iliad show the playwright showing off their classical education. Also Parry's Jerusalem seems to crop up in New Theatre productions.

The New Theatre is celebrating its 85th anniversary this year. But perhaps it need to look to the future and contemporary issues, not just the last century. With the world perhaps on the brink of a third world war, starting in East Asia, there is scope for New Theatre to draw lessons from 85 years ago for today.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Power Bank as a USB Data Blocker?

USB Power Bank
The May edition of TechLife Australia in their security and privacy guide laments the lack of available "USB Data Blockers". Perhaps a USB Power Bank can be used as a data blocker.

The problem is that a USB cable can transmit data as well as power. LifeHacker suggests the use of a USB Data Blocker when using USB devices you are not sure of. The Data blocker plugs in between your device and the untrusted device, to let the power through, but no data. However, they can't find any commercial source of such devices.

PortaPow Data Block + Fast Charge 21AWG Lightning USB Cable (Adapter)
There are some USB Data Blockers offered by, such as the PortaPow Data Block,
but these are not commonly available in retail stores.

In contrast USB Power Banks are readily available at low price. These have two USB sockets: one to charge the power back and one to charge your device from the power bank. A discussion in Whirlpool suggests some power banks can be plugged in to a power source and device to charge simultaneously. If this "pass-though" mode stops data, the power-bank can be used as a data block.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Driving Canberra's Innovation Ecosystem

At the First Wednesday Connect hosted by the Canberra Innovation Network (CBRIN), I gave a sixty second pitch about my book "Digital Education". The people who pitched were then asked "What do you think Canberra needs to do to drive its innovation ecosystem?" and this ended up on a short video. Caught on the spot I ended up saying "The danger with any project with government support is it will get forgotten about before it has a chance to succeed". I am last on the video, so ended up with my image on the video thumbnail. CBRIN and how it uses the Cambridge Silicon Fen approach to industry development, features in my book.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Smart-phone Screencast to Airline Seat-back Screens?

If the ban on electronic devices larger than a cellphone in aircraft cabins continues, it may be worth airlines adding smart-phone interfaces to their seat-back screens. Many airlines already provide a USB socket which can be used to charge a phone, or access data on a flash drive. However the interface offered by the in-flight entertainment system for accessing the flash drive data tends to be slow and cumbersome. An alternative would be to screen-cast from the smart-phone to the seat-back display, via the USB cable (which would power the phone at the same time). The passenger would use their phone touch screen as the interface, and have access to the phone's data and applications, but see the results on the much bigger aircraft screen.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Limit Electronic Devices on Airlines to 300 mm and 200 g?

The US and UK have banned electronic devices larger than a cellphone from aircraft cabins on flights from some countries. But what is “larger than a cellphone”?

Perhaps airline check-in counters need a gauge, like the one for carry-on luggage, or weight alone would be sufficient.

It is not clear what the threat from laptops and tablets is. There could be good reasons for authorities are not wanting to make this clear, but I don't know what they are.

The Guardian article mentions the risk of bombs and of lithium batteries. The bigger and heavier the device is, the bigger the bomb or battery it can hold. So it would make sense to limit the size of devices, but to do that an actual size needs to be specified, not just “larger than a cellphone”.

Large phones ("phablets"):
  • iPhone 7 Plus, with a 5.5 in screen is 158.2 mm x 77.9 mm x 7.3 mm and weighs 188 g.
  • Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge with a 5.5 in screen is 150.9 mm x 72.6 mm x 7.7 mm and weighs 177 g.
Are not that much smaller than a small tablet:
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0 with a 7.0 in display is 190.09 mm x 120.45 mm x 11.98 mm and weighs 380 g.
A reasonable limit for devices might be: height, width and depth added (the way baggage sizes are set), must be no more than 300 mm and the weight no more than 200 g. That would allow the phablets, but not tablets.

Just to check, my chunky old Lenovo A588T Android Flip Phone is 120.6 mm + 62.5mm + 16.8mm = 199.9 mm at 178.4 g,. That would pass, provided I don't open the flip, which makes the phone 115 mm longer. ;-)

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Virtual Power Station Cheaper Than Snowy Hydro 2.0?

Tomorrow I am giving a guest lecture to Systems Engineering students (COMP3530) at the Australian National University on "Environmental Concerns". As usual I will run them through "How Green is My Computer?", an exercise in estimating the carbon emissions from a computer. However, to make it topical, I thought I would see if computers can provide a cheaper alternative to the PM's Snowy Hydro 2.0 Proposal.

Smoothing the peaks ...
Blakers and Fulton,
The Conversation,
In February 2017, a team of ANU researcher, lead by Professor Andrew Blakers released a report proposing that "100% renewable electricity in Australia" was feasible. This would use pumped hydro energy storage: excess power from wind turbines and solar panels would be used to pump water into a high reservoir. At times when there was insufficient wind and sun, the water would run down to a lower reservoir and drive a turbine. Blakers and Fulton described how this could be implemented at the existing Snowy Hydro Scheme, in 2014.

Murray 1 Snowy Hydro Station,
by Martin Kraft/Wikimedia
Malcolm Turnbull, Prime Minister of Australia then announced the "Snowy Mountains Scheme 2.0." (16 March 2017), to add 2000 megawatts of pumped hydro storage, at a cost of AU$2B ("Malcolm Turnbull plans to upgrade Snowy Hydro to version 2.0" (Video), ABC TV, 16 March 2917).

Dr Lachlan Blackhall
However, are there cheaper, quicker alternatives for low pollution energy, using computer and telecommunications? Companies including Canberra's Reposit Power (Founded by ANU graduate Dr Lachlan Blackhall) aggregate the power from home solar systems (and batteries) and sell this back to the grid.

However, there is another underused source of on-demand power available in people's homes: the air-conditioner. The air-conditioner is a large part of the energy supply problem but could be part of the solution. A home ducted home air-conditioner uses about 5KW of power. A medium room air-conditioner uses  2.3KW. What if we could pay householders to halve their air-conditioning energy use at times of high energy demand?

Smart meters and some air conditioners have a Demand Response Enabling Device (DRED) option. This allows the electricity supplier to remotely switch the air-conditioner to a lower power mode at times of peak demand. The supplier offers a cash payment up front and a lower electricity charge to householders who take up the option. However, this is not very popular.

If we could use smart-phones, and sharing economy techniques to provide more of an incentive to consumers, would this be cost effective?

A quick back-of the-envelope calculation:
Cost of Snowy #2 power: $2B for 2000 MW = $1,000 per KW.

Assuming a consumer would halve their air-conditioner consumption on demand, 5KW to 2.3KW = 2.7 KW saved. This would have to cost less than $2,700 to be cheaper than Snowy #2. Retrofitting DRED may well cost more than this. However, smart air-conditioners may require no extra hardware. The difficulty would be making it feasible for the consumer to enable the function, without requiring a technician to visit.

Raspberry Pi Computer,
photo by By Ayaita
(Own work) [CC BY 3.0],
via Wikimedia Commons
The computing power needed to provide the DRED function, could be provided by a computer equivalent to a $50 Raspberry PI. The computer needs no touch screen as it can instead use the consumer's smart-phone for the interface. The connection to the energy supplier can be via WiFi to the household hub. The system could be made fail-safe (and prevent the consumer cheating it) by having the unit programmed to operate on low power, until it receives an encrypted signal from the power company to switch to high power.

However, how many households would need to have DRED? The Snowy Hydro 2 scheme is proposed to produce 2000 MW. At 2.7 KW saved per household, that requires almost three quarters of a million households: 8% of the 9m in Australia. Also it is unlikely that these householders would be willing to give up half their air-conditioning for long periods. But such a system might be used during the annual peaks and when there is a problem with regular supply, rather than have fossil fuel stations on standby. So I propose the Snowy 2 Scheme include a 2000 MW virtual power station to be operational by the end of 2021 at a cost of $200M.