Friday, April 12, 2019

Amazon Cheque for Fourteen Cents Cheque My first payment from Amazon was ten years ago. Unlike Google, which pays by bank transfer in Australian Dollars, Amazon still sends old fashioned paper cheques, in US dollars.  Banks charge a considerable amount to deposit a foreign cheque, so I have the system set to only send one when the balance is high enough to make it worthwhile. So I was surprised to receive a cheque this week for fourteen cents.

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

Blockchain 2030 Report

Greetings from the Australian Computer Society's (ACS) head office in Sydney, at the launch of the report "Blockchain 2030: A Look at the Future of Blockchain in Australia". Speaking at the launch, ACS President, Yohan Ramasundara, likened blockchain to a fifth generation fighter being launched from the deck of an aircraft carrier into a turbulent sky. Ed Husic, Shadow Minister for the Digital Economy, was not wearing a green jacket (as those who launch carrier aircraft do), but launched the report. His main message was that we should not have to play catch-up on tech, such as blockchain.

This is the second report on Blockchain, from ACS. The first report was by IP Australia, the second (today), is by  CSIRO.

There was much talk about "trust" at the launch. However, I suggest that  blockchain is about doing business in the face of a lack of trust. Either you don't trust the people you are doing business with, or you don't trust the government, and the blockchain provides a way to work with this lack of trust.

One interesting question for the panel was what would be the effect of quantum computing on blockchain. Australia is a leader in both technologies. Unfortunately the panel did not have a clear answer.

ps: I am on the ACS Blockchain Committee.
'Blockchain technology is a distributed ledger technology whereby a database is distributed across numerous users, and changes to the database are validated by consensus among the users. While it is best known as the platform
for Bitcoin, blockchain technology can be widely applied to improve business processes, increase transparency, and drive the creation of new jobs and industries.

Over the last decade, blockchain technology has grown in popularity and use, and has already begun to disrupt existing markets in Australia and around the world. The opportunities blockchain presents have been invested in, studied, explored, and considered, in almost all sectors of the economy. Blockchain has attracted significant public and private investment, and introduced previously non-existent products and services across multiple industries.
Despite its potential, there is significant uncertainty regarding future adoption of blockchain technology in Australia. For instance, there are unknowns around blockchain’s capacity to work at scale while remaining decentralised, and protect confidentiality whilst also being transparent. The extent to which the public will trust decentralised systems is also uncertain. These uncertainties raise the question: can blockchain progress beyond the hype to deliver tangible, high-value applications and a thriving industry for Australia, or will blockchain amount to little more than a market bubble?'

From: "Blockchain 2030: A Look at the Future of Blockchain in Australia" CSIRO/Data 61, for ACS, 2019

Sunday, April 07, 2019

Once in Royal David’s City, New Theater

Michael Gow’s autobiographical play "Once in Royal David’s City" deals with the death of his mother.

The surreal elements of the play reminded me of Dennis Potter's, The Singing Detective for the BBC. Characters suddenly spotlighted burst into song*, or mimed to the sound of other actors. Characters explain to the audience what the next scene is, and interact with cast members sitting in the audience.

I am wary of any playwright getting autobiographical, and Gow is more self indulgent than most. However, this can be forgiven, due to the excellent performances in the New Theater production, particularly Alice Livingstone, as the dying mother.

* At one point the play gets a bit Reds. But a crowd spontaneously bursting into a revolutionary song is something I have seen happen in an Sydney Inner West pub. ;-)

Tuesday, April 02, 2019

IT in the 2019/2020 Australian Federal Budget

Some IT items from the 2019/2020 Australian Federal Budget:
  1. Stronger Regional Connectivity Package: $220M for improved internet and mobile services  in regional Australia.
  2. Unique Student Identifier (USI): $18.3 million over four years for a centralised digital training record, for both VET and university students. The USI currently applies only to the VET sector. The Australian Government is likely to find universities less cooperative with the USI than the VET sector. Worryingly, when I just tried the USI website, it was not responding.
  3. Online Safety Grants Program:  $10.0M over four years for online safety education for children. This funding is only for non-government organisations.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Technology to Improve the Safety of Canberra's New Trams

Two recent incidents, a pedestrian was struck by a  tram, and a tram running a red light, highlight the need for safety upgrades to Canberra's light rail network, before it goes into regular service. Better markings and low level lights for pedestrian crossings, plus activation of Automatic Train Protection (ATP), would make the network safer. These have been suggested to Transport Canberra, and Meegan Fitzharris MLA, ACT Minister for Transport. These measures would save money, by avoiding accidents. Otherwise those who decided to not to install safety measures may need to explain their actions in the ACT Coroner's Court, if there is a fatality.

Mark pedestrian crossings

In a recent incident, a pedestrian was struck by a test tram. When using the tram crossing near the station at the intersections of Northbound Avenue and  Macarthur Avenue, I noticed the crossing was difficult to see, as were the indicator lights. The crossing is the same gray concrete as the path leading up to it, with no contrasting color to mark where to stop, or where the crossing is. There are Hazard Tactile Indicators to warn those with low vision, but these are also in a low contrast color, and difficult to distinguish from the concrete. The pedestrian indicator lights are high up on poles. It is therefore very easy to step out into the path of a tram.

On the day I used the crossing there was a laminated paper sign attached to the poles near the indicator lights. This sign warned to look out for trams. However, the sign was flapping in the wind, hard to read, and was distracting from the indicator light, so increasing the risk of an accident.
The tram crossings should, I suggest, be marked in a contrasting color, as the adjacent road crossings are, and lower lights added. Low level lights are being trialed in Sydney and Melbourne.

Install Automatic Train Protection

In a recent incident reported in the media, a test tram ran through a red light. This indicates that Canberra's trams are either not equipped with Automatic Train Protection (ATP), or it is not functioning correctly. With ATP the tram would stop automatically at a red light, preventing accidents. ATP should be fitted and functioning before the system is put into service.

Update: 1 April 2019

Canberra is full of otherwise intelligent people, but they do not stop at tram crossings. I suggest fences are needed along the track, and at stops, as well as better marking, and signals, at crossings. 
Yesterday I waited fifteen minutes for a bus on
Northborne Avenue (while trams rattled past empty). In that time I saw several people use the crossing adjacent to the MacArthur Avenue tram stop. None of these people even paused as they approached the crossing, they did not look left or right, just walked strait across the tracks. The same people did stop, and look, at the road crossings. Several people also walked across the tracks not at the crossing. It would be easy to say these people deserve their fate, but we need to build infrastructure for people as they are, not as we would wish them to be.

Sunday, February 03, 2019

Making the Internet of Things Practical and Useful

Newcastle IoT Coverage.
Image from
City of Newcastle.
Recently I was in Newcastle, just north of Sydney, on holiday. I was surprised to find down the end of the street Core Electronics, not only selling devices for the Internet of Things (IoT), but also running hands on workshops for the public. The company founder, Graham Mitchell, was out, but the next day I bumped into him at the nearby Fernleigh Cafe,  frequented by cyclists on the Fernleigh Track.

Core sell hardware for, and give workshops on,
Long Range Wide Area Network (LoRaWAN). This is the technology  the City of Newcastle is rolling out to help motorists find parking spaces, integrating transport, manage parks, and detect full bins. With a low cost network many other applications are possible, such as local sense of environmental conditions and pollution.

While much is made of ultra high speed 5G wireless,  that will require billions of dollars to install hundreds of thousands of base stations, and most Internet of Things (IoT) applications don't need high speed data. The LoRaWAN adopts a low speed, low cost DiY approach.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Blue Mountains Hotel Run by Australian University Students

Last night I stayed at the Waldorf Leura Gardens Resort Hotel in the Blue Mountains near Sydney. I selected this as the closest to the Everglades Historic House and Gardens. This was to attend the Leura Shakespeare Festival adapted and directed by Damien Ryan. After arriving I noticed that the hotel is staffed by students of the Blue Mountains International Hotel Management School (BMIHMS) of Torrens University. The students are on holidays, so there were professionals staffing the hotel this weekend.

My last stay at a university hotel school was the Hotel Samudra, a training hotel of the Sri Lanka Institute of Tourism & Hotel Management (SLITHM). Like the former hotel school at the Hotel Kurragong in Canberra (where I ran some events in the 1990s), Samudra caters to a small number of guests and has classrooms in the building.

The Waldorf Leura is very different, being an existing hotel which caters to the general public, with academic facilities located across the road in a separate facility. Apart from the signs mentioning Torrens University, you would not know this was associated with a university.

The Waldorf Leura grounds include the gardens created by Lady Mabel Fairfax and her gardener Hector Hood worked on this garden from the 1920s. Perhaps these could be used for outdoor theatrical performances, like those n Cambridge.

ps: Thanks to the Leura Newsagency for a wire coat-hanger to temporarily fix a dangling car tail-pipe.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Online program to help Australian Businesses With China Market

The China Canvas Challenge is a free online training program to help Australian business enter the China market. It is being run over the next few weeks by the Sydney business incubator Haymarket HQ, with support from the Australian Government. The format is similar to startup competitions such as Innovation ACT, except it is entirely online. First prize is a business trip to China. Other prizes are an hour with Jason Yat-Sen Li, Vantage Group Australia CEO, Terry Hilsberg, Venture Partner Innohub Capital, and a $100 Book Set.