Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Reviving the 36/40 Volt Battery for a Ryobi Leaf Vacuum

Roybi Leaf Mulcher
At a dinner party a few weeks ago we got into a conversation about gardening. This started an argument between a couple about their cordless Leaf Mulcher. One accused the other of letting the battery go flat, so it no longer worked. The other asked why didn't they buy a corded model in the first place, as they only had a small balcony garden. Being handy with electronics I offered to help by reviving their battery or finding a replacement.

I understood some of the heat in argument, when I found this was a relatively expensive Ryobi Leaf Vacuum, with a replacement 5 AH battery costing several hundred dollars in Australia. 

There are numerous web sites which explain these batteries can fall into a sleep mode if left uncharged, but can be revived. However, lithium batteries are made with very reactive materials and if mishandled can explode and burn vigorously, emitting toxic gas. So I was reluctant to try charging the battery with other than the supplied charger

Before I could start work on the cordless unit, I happened to find a second hand Ryobi Corded Leaf Blower & Vacuum, at Salvos Stores Leichhardt, for $50, which the couple were very happy with. But I thought I might as well get the cordless unit to work. 

To provide the 40 volts needed to charge the battery, I connected three computer power supplies in series. The Ryobi batteries are sold in Australia as being 36 Volt, but in North America as 40 Volt. The supplies could produce a maximum of 1 Amp, thus limiting the power to the battery.

The + and - terminals on the battery read 20 Volts with a voltmeter. I connected these to the 40 volt power supply, but read only a few microamps charge. There are two other terminals on the battery marked T1 and T2, which I assumed were for temperature monitoring. When I checked with the voltmeter between the + and one of the T  terminals, the current suddenly jumped to 700 mA for a few seconds, then dropped to zero, then jumped again, while the lowest of the charge indicator lights on the battery flashed. After a half an hour the battery had enough charge to work in the regular charger.

I dropped the unit off at the Bower Reuse and Repair Centre,. I noticed they had a few other blowers and leaf mulchers second hand as well.

Please note that this is not an repair recommended for the inexperienced. Do not leave the battery charging unattended.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Upgrading a Cordless Drill with Lithium Batteries

Battery technology has improved since 2015, when I replaced the NiCd cells with NiMH in a cordless drill. The cost of the NiCd has dropped and their capacity increased. But most cordless tools now use lithium batteries. Each brand of tool uses its own proprietary battery pack. But I was able to adapt a new lithium battery pack from a budget brand to fit my old drill.

While the battery packs from different brands look different, these mostly contain the same AA size lithium 3.7 volt cells (with more cells used for higher voltages). These cells are a higher voltage and energy capacity than the NiCd cells used in older tools. Whereas it took 10 NICd cells for a 12 Volt battery, it takes only three small Lithium ones. 

Lithium Battery Pack
I considered buying lithium cells and building my own battery into the old cordless drill case. As these lithium cells are much smaller, there is plenty of room. However, the lithium cells have an increased risk of fire if mishandled and need special charging to prevent damage. So instead I bought a 12 Volt Lithium battery designed for a budget range of tools with a matching charger (there is also an 18 Volt range).

DC Socket
The battery and changer cost less than three bare lithium cells would have. The cells are already wired and integrated with charging circuity in the battery pack. It was then a mater of fitting the battery to the drill. I removed the case from the new battery and it then fitted inside the old case. I soldered two wires from the new battery to the contacts of the old case. Two extra wires were needed from the battery to a new DC socket in the bottom of the drill to connect to the charger. The battery was then wrapped in self amalgamating tape to protect it and hold it in place.

DC Plug
To charge the battery I cut the leads off the supplied 15 volt plug-pack and soldered on a simple DC plug. The electronics for regulating charging of the lithium battery are in the circuit board on the battery, so there is no extra electronics required. 

Light Transporters
There are two lights on the battery: red for charging and green for charged. This presented a problem, as when assembled inside the old battery case these lights were not visible. So I drilled two holes in the top of the battery case and fitted Light Transporters. These have a clip which fits over the LEDs on the charger board, and a fiber optic cable to channel the light out.

To ensure that someone did not try to charge the new lithium battery with an old NiCd charger, I peeled the stickers off the discarded lithium case and stuck them over the NiCd ones on the drill. To further reduce the risk, I screwed the battery pack to the drill, so it could not be removed and placed in a NiCd charger by mistake. 

This amount of effort was not really worth it in strict money terms. A new 12 volt drill would have not cost much more than the battery and charger alone. However, there was nothing wrong with my old drill. 

Fitting a new battery would make more sense for more expensive cordless tools, or where you have a range of tools. The most complex part of the upgrade was fitting the new cells inside the old battery case. A simpler approach would be to remove the old cells and fit a short lead with a DC plug on it. Then fit a short lead with a matching DC inline socket to a new lithium battery pack (perhaps with an inline fuse for protection). The battery could be attached to the bottom of the old pack, or just left loose on a short cable.

This approach of using an external battery would be particularly useful if you have multiple tools which are the same voltage, but different brands. The same size plug can be fitted to each tool and then all used with one battery pack and charger.

Digital Multimeter

Please note that fitting a battery requires a reasonable familiarity with electronics. While the voltages are low, there is a risk from batteries exploding, or catching fire, if not wired correctly. I have not described exactly which wire to connect to which contact on the battery. If you are not skilled enough to work this out with a multimeter, yourself, then you should not be attempting this upgrade.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Wireless Router for More Reliable Online Learning

To improve the performance of Zoom on my slow laptop, and low speed wireless broadband connection, I am trying a router with UDP shaping. That is I slow the data flow to Zoom, to make it work better.

Previously I noticed that with Zoom in full screen mode the sound would break up and image freeze. If I reduced the window size it worked better, but this was fiddly. Also when a presenter shares their screen, Zoom tends to force the display back to full screen, after which I have to shrink it again.

An approach I tried in the past was to slow my Internet connection, which Zoom responded to by using lower resolution video, making everything more stable. However, this also slowed down all my other network use. There are software utilities which will slow just one application, but I found these did not work with Zoom.

The Internet uses two sorts of data transmission: TCP for most applications including as email and web browsing, and UDP for audio, video and interactive games. The utilities I tried to slow an Internet connection only act on TCP, not UDP, so did not slow Zoom.

Not being able to find a software solution I turned to hardware. Many routers allow for slowing, or "shaping" of the speed of the connection. A few allow this to be targeted at UDP specifically. I first tried a TP-Link TL-MR3020 V3 router (around $50 AU). This worked well with Zoom, but the modem would need rebooting every few hours. 

TP-Link TL-MR3420

Some reports indicated that the pocket router could not provide enough power for the Huawei E8372 wireless mode, which has an unusually high power requirement. So I then tried the slightly more expensive TP-Link TL-MR3420 desktop router. This has worked fine so far. This unit is not as portable, but has the advantage of providing four Ethernet sockets for supplying data and one for a wired modem.  The unit can be configured so the wireless modem provides a backup for a wired connection.

Currently I have the data rates for UDP set to: 1024 kbps transmitting and receiving.

A bigger test will come this evening, when I am speaking on "The Virtual University" (6pm, all welcome).

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Remove the cylinder from a screen door lock

Locking Handle
for Screen Door
There are many videos showing how to remove the cylinder 
from a
European Profile Cylinder
Locking Handle for a Screen Door,  However, I found the the cam would not turn upwards on my European Profile Cylinder. There are suggestions to use a paperclip, blade or other thin implement.

self-retracting tape measure
But I did not have anything thin enough, so I cut a 100mm length off a small metal self-retracting tape measure and then cut that in half longitudinally. The result is a thin strip of metal 100mm x 5 mm, which has a curve matching the lock cylinder. I was able to slip between the cylinder and lock, then lever the cam up. Be careful as the metal strip was sharp where it was cut.

Having got the cylinder out, my next problem was that rather than being screwed to the door it was riveted. I used a Dremel type Rotary Tool with a miniature grinding disk to remove the heads of the rivets.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Optus Wireless Broadband

Huawei E5577
My Telstra wireless broadband has been working adequately during the months working from home due to COVID-19. But just in case this week I purchased an Optus branded 4G Wi-Fi Modem Huawei E5577. This was on special at Australia Post for $10, with a 4GB prepaid SIM (at Officeworks they are $99 with 50 GB). Similar units branded Telstra are also sold. The package had an expiry date which had passed, but the modem and SIM worked fine. 

Huawei E8372
The process of registering the SIM was straightforward and the device was working within a few minutes. The  Huawei E5577 includes a power button, small color screen and a battery, unlike the cheaper Huawei E8372. This makes the E5577 more suitable for use with a tablet computer you carry around. The modem could be left in a bag and communicate with the tablet by WiFi. However, it is less suitable for use with a laptop, as it can't be plugged directly into a USB socket (you need to use the short cable supplied), you have to turn it on and it does not work without a battery. The E8372 has a USB plug built in and simply starts up when power is applied.

The Google Internet speed test reported 18.4 Mbps download, 18.4 Mbps upload and Latency of 24 ms for Sydney which is more than I need. However, in Canberra it recorded only 0.53 Mbps download and 0.35 Mbps upload with 75 ms latency. This compared with 3.35 Mbps download, 0.78 Mbps upload and Latency of 45 ms for the Huawei E8372 using the Telstra mobile network. The Optus service was not enough for video conferencing in Canberra, even with the efficient Zoom product, whereas Telstra worked fine.

Overall I find the Huawei E5577 less suitable for my needs than the E8372, and the Optus service less useful than Telstra. The Optus service, as I experienced it, is not suitable for a student (or teacher) who needs Internet access.

Wednesday, July 01, 2020


Ikea Toy cash register
The Ikea DUKTIG Toy cash register has a green button for On and a red button for Off. Unfortunately, both buttons are labelled with the international power symbol for standby power:
IEC5009 Standby Symbol.svg (IEC 60417-5009). The green button should be labelled with a vertical bar, indicating ON (IEC 60417-5007) and the red button with a circle for OFF (IEC 60417-5008).

Thursday, April 23, 2020

NSW Allows Documents to be Witnessed by Video Conference

Video conferences are now being used routinely in place of face to face meetings during the COVID-19 emergency. However, some have been reluctant to do this due to the lack of explicit law allowing it (although given courts are using video conferences extensively, they are unlikely to rule them invalid).

To help clarify the issue the New South Wales Electronic Transactions Amendment(COVID-19 Witnessing of Documents) Regulation 2020, provides that witnessing of documents can be done by video link.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Auto visual content for video conference presentations

Many dull video conference presentations are now taking place around the world. Transmitting the video of the speaker is consuming bandwidth for no good purpose. Occasionally when chairing conferences I search for online content based on what the presenter is saying, as they are saying it, and put that on screen behind them for the audience to see. This could be added to video conference systems to enliven dull presentations. A text to speech system would provide content for searches. The Vidnami video editing system already searches out content based on a script, but not in real time.

Modified Street Furniture for Social Distancing from Recycled Plastic

Table Added to Seat
for Social Distancing
This is to suggest that street furniture be modified for Social Distancing to reduce the spread of COVID-19 now, and other diseases in the future. The equipment could be made from locally sourced recycled plastic, boosting jobs and the economy.

Most street and park seats allow for people to sit closely together. Current health restrictions prevent their use. However, as these restrictions are gradually reduced, it would still be useful to have people keep their distance. This could be done by using a design for street furniture similar to that in mall food halls.

Some food halls have individual seats spaced far enough apart for individuals to use them and not feel to close to a stranger, but close enough that a group can sit together. Street furniture could be designed similarly, with individual seats grouped together. Existing park seats could be modified by adding a table in the middle, reducing them to two separate seats.

A program for modified and new street furniture would be a useful job and economy boosting program. Additions for existing benches, and new furniture, could be made from locally sourced recycled plastic, further boosting jobs and the economy.

Friday, April 10, 2020

National Lock-down Ordered by Fictional US President in 1996 to Prevent Virus Spread

For those who claim that COVID-19 Novel Coronavirus is a Black Swan event, that is unexpected with unanticipated consequences, I suggest reading Tom Clancy's 1996 novel "Executive Orders". This has a virus spreading across the world, with the US President ordering emergency measures: 
"The only way to contain this epidemic is to shut down all places of assembly - theaters, shopping malls, sports stadia, business offices, everything, - and to shut off all interstate travel." From, Executive Orders, page 676,  Tom Clancy, 1996.
Of course this was a fictional account of what epidemiologists, and emergency planners around the world, had feared since the SARS outbreaks in the early 2000s. Countries which suffered SARS outbreaks put in place measures then and so have been able to respond better now. The citizens of countries with government which knew the risks, but failed to prepared, have suffered the consequences.

Sunday, April 05, 2020

Kmart Queuing for Website: A bad Idea Implemented Badly

News reports indicated Kmart Australia had implemented queuing for use of its website, to handle the volume of traffic due to the   At first I assumed I had misread this and it was online queuing for physical store entry, which would not be a bad idea. But this is online queuing for entry to the Kmart website. The customer is kept waiting at a screen which counts down where they are in the queue. The process worked as promised: after a two minute wait I was rededicated to the Kmat website. However, anyone with any training in human factors should know that you need to give people something to do in a queue. Kmart's designers seem to have gone out of their way to make the wait seem longer, and annoy customers. Also the Kmart website is inefficient in implementation, slowing the customer down further.

I suggest Kmart offer customers a catalog of specials to browse while waiting. Customers could be encouraged to make a note of what they would like to buy while flipping through the catalog. There could also be information about Kmart's efforts to deal with COVID-19, procedures for shoppers in store, and special coupons . This could be provided with efficiently encoded web pages, which place limited load on system, and keep customers engaged while they wait.

Also once I got to the Kmart site, after the predicted two minutes, I found I sub-optimal website implementation. The Google Page Speed Insights test rated this at 30 out of 100, for the mobile version. A few simple changes suggested by the test would improve the experience for customers:
Opportunity and Estimated Savings

 Eliminate render-blocking resources 1.06 s
Serve images in next-gen formats 0.15 s
Enable text compression 0.15 s


Ensure text remains visible during webfont load
Serve static assets with an efficient cache policy 18 resources found
Minimize main-thread work 3.3 s
Reduce JavaScript execution time 2.1 s
Avoid chaining critical requests 20 chains found
Keep request counts low and transfer sizes small 49 requests • 805 KB

Friday, April 03, 2020

DIY Document Camera

DIY Document Camera
My brother, Dr John Worthington, is an Educational Psychologist. Like many professionals, he is providing consultations remotely due to the . So I talked him through how to make a  document camera (visualiser).

Much can be done by telephone and video conference. However, occasionally it is necessary to show a client something. For this it is useful to have a document camera. This has a plate which sits on the desk, where you put a document (or small object). There is an arm to hold a camera above, and a light. Audio visual equipment is in short supply, but you can make a document camera out of a web camera and items around the home.

There are numerous articles online about how to make a document camera. I made a prototype from the surplus parts from a drawer unit. You need something for the base: I used the side off a modular basket drawer unit. You need an arm: I used a spare metal rod from the drawer unit (the rod is long enough to balance the weight of the camera on one end). You need a camera: I used a web camera which had a tilt and swivel mount which makes adjustments easier. The components are held togehter with zip ties, but rubber bands, or gaffer tape could be used. So far I haven't needed a light.

No specialized software is needed. If you have two web cameras, then use the one pointed at you first, so the client can see you. Then switch to the document camera, using the setting in your video conference software. When finished with the document, switch back to the other camera.

Remote Meetings for Running Australia

Previously I suggested Australian governments and organizations interpret existing laws and rules to allow electronic decision making. NSW councils have been told they can hold electronic meetings for the next sixth months, due to the . I suggest that this will be needed for more than six months, and should be made a permanent feature of the way local government, and other organizations, work. The technology exists to allow people to participate remotely, and there is no good reason to not do this.

It will be interesting to see how taking turns speaking is handled at council meetings, which, like state and federal parliament, can have robust debates. Most of the video conferences I have been to were relatively informal with a dozen people, who could speak at any time. A few large ones, with hundreds of people, required clicking the "raise your hand" button, before the host would switch on my microphone.

Videoconferencing usually also comes with other feedback features, such as a up and down thumb buttons, which might be used for a quick indication of support for a proposal at a meeting. Webinars (as distinct from Video Conferences) tend to have more feedback features, such as polls which might be used for formal votes. However, there would need to be a way to limit this to a subset of participants (that is the elected members). Given there are not many who can vote at a council meeting, a simple show of hands should be sufficient (with a virtual hand or by voice for those without a camera).

The NSW COVID-19 Local Government Resources page says "Requirements for members of the public to be permitted to attend meetings can now be satisfied by live-streaming the meeting using an audio-visual link.". Video conferecne systems, such as Zoom can typically have hundreds of participants, and webinars thousands. If a larger number of members of the public are expected (a council could have hundreds of thousands of residents), there is the option of streaming the video. This would also a way to have two levels of participation: those in the video conference who can interact, and those on the streaming service. Some streaming services (such as YouTube and Facebook) allow comments from participants. It should be noted that council meetings, also allow for the public to present their case to a meeting, so these people would need more than just streaming.

ps: In my 1997 final report as President of the Australian Computer Society I proposed all MPs and Senators of the Australian Parliament be provided with secure video conferencing to their offices, and half the sitting days replaced with electronic meetings.

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

Don't Network You Home Printer

With more people at home due to the COVID-19 Coronavirus it is tempting to network your printer, so everyone can use it. I suggest considering not doing thing this. Installing a networked printer is fiddly, especially with an assortment of work, school, and personal computers in the home. There may also be security risks from this. In addition you could end up using more paper, and ink, when someone prints the wrong document from one end of the house and doesn't see what is coming out at the other.

Instead you could just connect the printer to the nearest computer, and print from that. Or if your printer is equipped with a USB socket for printing, use that. It will be less convenient to have to copy the document to a USB drive, and sneaker-net down the hall, but think of the paper savings.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Wireless Home Office

As I am working from home more, I wanted to ensure I have enough network access. In 2002 my apartment building had fibre installed to the basement. But I did not make much use of this and so switched to wireless a few years later. Now I have two ways to access wireless, through a smart phone, and a wireless modem. Both these operate via the same cellular network, which may become congested with many people working from home during the 

Before I make any changes I wanted to ensure I don't break anything. So I thought I would record the settings for the "Client Mode". I use on a TP-LINK TL-WR802N Mini Router. This is a handy little gadget, which connects my wireless modem to wired Ethernet. But it took a lot of trial and error to set up.

Operation Mode: Client
LAN Type: Smart IP
Host network: 
  •  SSID (to be bridged): [id of the modem] 
  • MAC Address(to be bridged): [address of the modem]
DCHP Server: Disable

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Go Electronic for Meetings and Consultations

This is to suggest that Australian governments, organizations, and the community, interpret current laws, regulations, and procedures, as allowing for electronic decision making, meetings and documents. In the current we should not wait for changes to written rules, and laws, to allow for this. Instead governments, and the heads of associations can endorse the practice. This approach has worked in the past for making the Internet part of daily life.

Organizations across Australia are continuing to have meetings in person, as their rules and legislation does not specifically authorize electronic meetings. I suggest that these bodies meet electronically, where logistics allow. We should not waste time, and risk lives, waiting for a change to black letter law.

Similarly, I suggest Governments announce that restrictions on tele-medicine are lifted. All health professionals should be able to help patients though any communication channel, where it is practical for them to do so.

As an IT professional, I have assisted in the conversion of manual government and non-government processes online. This was done for reasons of efficiency. It is time, I suggest, to make this chnage across Australia, to save lives. In many cases when my colleagues and I proposed changes we were told that this was contrary to the law. In all cases I found that there were no law specifically banning electronic work. In same cases there was already law which allowed older forms of electronic working, such as with telegrams and telex, going back decades. In other cases it was just that no one had thought to use electronic means. As an example, the Australian Government got web sites, not because a law was changed to allow it, but because a group of people, referred to as the Internet Cabal, did it.

Monday, March 23, 2020

NSW Government COVID-19 Updates Page Could be Sped Up.

The content on the NSW Government COVID-19 Updates page is well set out, but the page could be implemented better technically. It scores only 57/100 on the Google Page Speed Insights tests. could be sped up. Here are the changes Google suggests. Detailed advice is provided on the website for each:
  • Reduce the impact of third-party code Third-party code blocked the main thread for 330 ms 
  • Serve static assets with an efficient cache policy 9 resources found 
  • Minimize main-thread work 2.4 s 
  • Avoid chaining critical requests 24 chains found 
  • Keep request counts low and transfer sizes small 48 requests • 548 KB

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Video Conference on COVID-19 and the Rebewable Energy Business

Greetings from the Australian National University in Canberra, where I am taking part in a webinar (video conference) on "COVID-19 and the Household/Commercial Solar and Battery Storage Market", hosted by the Smart Energy Council. Interestingly there is a demand for batteries and solar in regional areas, perhaps due to a wish to be independent from the grid. However, demand is expected to reduce. The supply from China, the effects of the reduction in the value of the Australia dollar, and the government incentives were discussed. There was a reminder to look after staff health, and our own. This was an excellent example of how an industry association can keep their members informed. I suggest other industry bodies and professional societies follow this example.

There were only a few brief dropouts in the audio (fewer than on ABC Radio National this-morning). The talking heads video worked well and the presenters slides were very clear. One improvement would be to give a web link in the text chat with notes. As it was, the presenter suggested photographing the web address on a slide, which is cumbersome.

The video conferencing product being used was Zoom. This is not my favorite, as there is no way for participants to set the audio or video quality to reduce bandwidth. However, it is possible to reduce data use with a smaller video window.

During the presentation, with live video full screen, this was using about 1,000 kbps. If I reduced the size of the video window to 512 by 240 pixels, the data reduced to 300 kbps. Minimizing the video to a "thumbnail" (200 by 112 pixels) reduced data to 220 kbps. Hiding the video reduced data to 120 kbps. This is consistent with Zoom's documentation: 1.2 Mbps for HD video, screen sharing with  video thumbnail at 50-150kbps, and screen sharing only with no video thumbnail 50-75kbps.

During a presentation such as this, video is really only needed at the start to introduction the speaker, and at the end during questions, if at all. In between there are usually slides to look at, so the video can be minimized, or hidden. I suggest participant adopt that way of viewing, and if possible, event organizers set this up as the default.

Zoom, and other video products, adjust to the bandwidth available, but then tries to use all that bandwidth. This makes them poor online citizens, like someone who fills their trolley with toilet paper, if you let them. wink

As there is likely to be a high demand for Internet access over the next few months, I suggest that providers of video conference products set defaults to use less bandwidth. At the very least they could be set so only a small video window appears by default. Also they could provide a low speed option which uses no more than 256 kbps, and this could be made the default setting. As an example, Zoom has a maximum bandwidth setting, but this is disabled by default. This should be enabled and set to no more than 256 kbps.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

NSW Health Coronavirus Web Page Slow and Unreliable Due to Flawed Design

NSW Health Coronavirus Page
(mobile version)
The NSW Health Coronavirus Page has been running slowly for some users, and failing completely for others with the error message: "Microsoft SharePoint Foundation cannot deserialize the Web Part. Check the format of the properties and try again". This page will be in high demand, and there are well established ways to code electronic documents for efficient delivery of emergency information.

A Google Page Speed check on the mobile version page rated it 18/100, which is a very poor result. The tool pointed out the page could be improved with some simple changes, such as using a more efficient format for images and changing the way style sheets (CSS) are used.

In 2005 I supervised a student project at ANU on how to design credible emergency websites. From this a set of Emergency Management Website Assessment Criteria was produced. There is also a detailed report.

If you are providing emergency information online, please make your web pages small, simple, and clear.=

Sunday, March 15, 2020

How Tech Can Help with the COVID19 Pandemic

The most useful things we can do to help with the COVID19 pandemic are not very high tech, or glamorous. The things which are high tech take years to design and implement, so I suggest helping implement those which have already been developed, and not building new ones. This advice is based on twenty years helping out with tech for emergencies.

Some things we can do:


We can help educate the community on what to do, and counter misinformation.

In 2005 I supervised a student project at ANU on how to design credible emergency websites. From this a set of Emergency Management Website Assessment Criteria was produced. There is also a detailed report.


Also we can assist with tools, services, and support, to help people work, study, and be entertained on-line. Networks and servers may be more heavily loaded than usual. We can implement ways to reduce the load, by configuring systems to use less data and processing, and giving users tips on using them efficiently. As an example, the bandwidth used by video conferencing can be reduced by avoiding using high resolution video (or by avoiding the use of video at all). Web pages can have images with reduced resolution, and optimized code.


There are more specialized tech tools for supporting large scale emergencies, such as the Sahana Open Source Disaster Management Software. In 2013 I talked at a Meetup in Colombo to discuss using Sahana for mapping a pandemic.

Sahana was developed by the Sri Lanka tech industry in response to the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. The software was then used around the world for other emergencies. But it takes time to have such software accepted. One thing done with Sahana was to set up a US registered foundation, not only to get funding, but more importantly, credibility.

Sunday, March 08, 2020

Telehealth for dealing with the COVID-19 Coronavirus

Yesterday, Professor Paul Kelly, the Australian Deputy Chief Medical Officer, discussed the advantages of Telehealth for medical practitioners dealing with the COVID-19 Coronavirus. But if you are going to talk to patients by phone or video conference, I suggest spending $100 setting up for it. I have been helping my university colleagues set up for their online student consultations. Audio is most important: get a Bluetooth or wired headset, to put the microphone near your mouth (about $50). If using the your smart phone, put it in a cradle for a stable image. If using your laptop, get a USB web camera (1,280x720 pixels will do for $50). You might want a second camera for showing diagrams. Ensure your face is lit, and dress the set behind you: tidy your bookcase, straighten your certificates, and remove your half eaten lunch.
"So I think Telehealth has a number of advantages. One is the one you mentioned but the others side that particularly for those who have chronic disease and therefore- or the elderly - and are therefore at that highest risk of getting the more serious end of the spectrum of this disease. And just remembering that 80 per cent of cases will be mild and probably don't need to see a doctor at all, once we have a large number of cases if that occurs. And then there's the protection of the health staff themselves but it will also importantly minimise the use of personal protective equipment. You cannot catch this virus over a Telehealth consultation. And so that certainly from a public health point of view and decreasing the numbers of cases that may be found in the community. That's an important consideration as well."
From  Deputy Chief Medical Officer's press conference about COVID-19, National Incident Room, 7 March 2020

Saturday, March 07, 2020

Making Sense of Tragedy Through Art

Sydney Art Exchange Have a Mask 23 January 2020
Arriving at Articulate project space, in Leichhardt Sydney yesterday for ELECTIVE AFFINITIES was more than a little confronting. We were offered respirators to wear in the art gallery, by very serious people in while overalls. While this brought Coronavirus to mind, it was part of an performance piece about the recent bush-fires. We were asked to wear the respirators for as long as we felt comfortable, then hang them on one of the hooks in the gallery. This was a thought provoking, and unsettling experience, like all good art.

Wednesday, March 04, 2020

Computer Professionals Need to be Ready with Teleworking for Coronavirus

Computer professionals need to be ready to support remote working on a large scale if the COVID-19 Coronavirus closes offices, I suggest. This is mentioned in "Will coronavirus make you work from home? Remote working takes off as the virus spreads." (Casey Tonkin, Information Age, Australian Computer Society, 3 March 2020, 12:26 PM).

Computer professionals have an important role in ensuring services are provided to the community. They need to become familiar with the precautions to take to protect their health, and that of their staff, so they are then able to help their clients. Computer professionals also need to be ready to help deliver government, industry and education services online, on a scale not yet seen. Professionals need to ensure they are equipped to work from home securely, in the event workplaces are closed.

The Australian Department of Health has activated its Health Sector Emergency Response Plan, indicating the seriousness of the situation. The US CDC has identified teleworking as a measure that may be used to maintain business while limiting infection. Australian universities have had a head start with this, due to the need to support international students unable to attend campus due to travel bans. Government agencies, schools, and companies will be hard-pressed to support their staff, and clients, working remotely, on a much larger scale.

Computer professionals need to discuss measures with their clients across all sectors of government and industry, now. There will be a need for leadership. At a meeting a few weeks ago the question was asked who we turned to for advice and decisions. I had the sobering realization that we were it: there was no one to turn to, and others would be looking to us for advice. Computer professionals need to be ready to dispense calm, authoritative advice.

On 14 July 1997, as the President of the Australian Computer Society, I advised professionals that they must assess and report the extent of the Y2K problem in systems they were responsible for. They were not obliged to take remedial action, just report to their clients on the extent of the problem. With this advice, we were too cautious, and did not provide enough guidance. Governments and large corporations overacted to Y2K and spent more money than it warranted. There is less scope for throwing money at the COVID-19 problem, and much more potential for panic.

Previously I have had some involvement in planning IT for emergencies at the Department of Defence, and pandemic response. In my book "Digital Teaching In Higher Education" (2017), I warned that the flow of international students to Australia could be disrupted very quickly and set out the steps for e-learning. I have been teaching this way at ANU since 2009, and have provided some advice for educators for the current situation.

The video contains images that were used under a Creative Commons License.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Unblocking Blockchain

Dr Ryan
Greetings from the Australian National University in Canberra, where Dr Philippa "Pip" Ryan has been speaking on standards work to develop smart contracts at the Blockchain Technology, Data Management and Smart Contracts conference. Appropriately, but somewhat confusingly, Pip was not here, but in Chicago, on the end of a video link. She mentioned how the standards committee have tried to include developing nations by undertaking some of their work online.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Super-charabanc Peoplemover

Greetings from the Australian National University where Dr Antonia Terzi is speaking on the engineering of the Superbus. This is a prototype high speed people mover. It looks like a stretched super-car, to carry 23 passengers. This is not a practical transport system, but an interesting marketing exercise. Dr Terzi detailed the engineering of a vehicle which could travel at high speed, but also through city streets. However, the aerodynamics would be irrelevant in reality, as a bus (or as this would be more accurately called a "Charabanc"), would not operate at high speed for a significant amount of time.

Artist''s impression of Brisbane Metro Vehicle.
From Brisbane City Council
There have been similar examples of making public transport look attractive to the public. An example are the vehicles for the Brisbane Metro. The articulated buses for this service are being fitted with streamlined noses, and wheel covers, to make them look like light rail. The streamlining and wheel covers have no practical function: they are purely decorative, but are very important to making the service acceptable to the public.

Bishop Austrans Pod
An example of good engineering with poor marketing input was the Bishop Austrans rapid transit system. Australian company Bishop Austrans rapid transit system. This used people-mover sized vehicle pods,  on a light track. Bishop engaged CSIRO to model how many pods would be needed for a given number of customers. Bishop's pods are very similar to the superbus, both being based on automotive technology adapted to on demand public transport. However, Bishop's pods were very unexciting, looking like something from an old science fiction movie, whereas the superbus looks like something from a new movie.

Dressing up a public service in an unnecessary streamlined shell may seem a waste of engineering talent. However, engineering is of no value if the public doesn't want the products produced. One way I suggest this can be does is by providing entrepreneurial training.

Wednesday, February 05, 2020

Innovation in Difficult Times

Greetings from the Canberra Innovation Network, where Andrew Barr, Chief Minister of the ACT,  just opened their new co-working space. He pointed out "we are going to have to be innovative". One challenge was that due to fires the ACT can' t recycle materials: so how to we keep this out of landfill. Also the ACT has to respond to changing climate, and further reduce carbon emissions. While Canberra doesn't have net emissions from electricity, the Chief Minister admitted there was much more to do. Another challenge was the Wuhan coronavirus and its effect on Canberra's education sector.

Tuesday, February 04, 2020

Less Wobbly Toilet Seat With a Cake Pan and a Piece of Car Trim

Toilet seat with top fixings,
and take off fixing.
Over Christmas I stayed with friends who had a wobbly toilet seat. This is the type with "top fixing", a concealed hinge and "take off" seat, all of which makes it less secure.

seat fixing kit
The fixings were loose, and no amount of tightening made a difference. So I bought a seat fixing kit. The nylon plugs were more secure, and the Allen keyed bolts were easier to tighten than the Phillips-head originals.

cake pan
However, the fitting on the replacement kits was smaller than the original, and the seat would not clip on. So I used the replacement bolt and plug, with the original fitting, which worked fine. Refitting the seat, I found it more secure, but it still wobbled. So next I added silicone gaskets (cut from a cake pan).

PVC Pinchweld
The gaskets made the mounting more secure, but it still slipped. So the final step was to add 340 mm of PVC Pinchweld to the front lip of the seat. This fits around the outside of the front quarter of the toilet bowl, and locks the seat in place, stopping it moving sideways.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Free Raspberry Pi Beginners Workshop in Newcastle

This evening I attended the Raspberry Pi Beginners Workshop at Core Electronics in Newcastle. A Pi computer all all the bits need were provided for each participant (you don't need to buy anything and the workshop is free). This is in their well equipped Makerspace at the back of the shop. The workshop covered the first couple of exercises from the video course. It was fun to be able to handle a computer, plug in the connections, wire some components to a breadboard, and program a light to flash. This was enough to give me the confidence I could at least assemble a Pi based project from a set of instructions (such as an air quality monitor to add to vehicles, ships and aircraft, in bushfire zones). There are also Arduino Beginners Workshops.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Gambling industry seeking to promote sports betting via websites

I received this disturbing email, offering payment for including promotions for betting on my website:
"... I am a freelancer working with several big agencies together and came during my research onto your website. It would be a pleasure to publish an article on your site that perfectly matches the subject of your site. In this/our article that is related to the subject of your site we would like to integrate a dofollow link to our customers site and a small picture. Our customer is engaged in the gambling industry/society. The correct article however can be discussed at a later stage. As mentioned the article should provide an additional value to the core audience of your site. On the brink of that article we would just write a few words about our customer from the gambling industry (sports bets / casino). We are also happy either to have the article written by you or if you wish we can send you a complete version. May I please point strongly out that it is NOT meant the article to be marked as an advertisement, promotion, advertorial etc.
Is that something you offer or can accomodate me with and if the answer would be positive what would the cost be annually? In case you operate more sites than the one I enquire about and that serve my requirements please do not hesitate to offer me those.
I am looking forward to hearing from you.
Kind regards ..."

Tuesday, January 07, 2020

Personal Ultrasonic Air Cooler for the Smart Apartment

With the hot weather and smoke in South Eastern Australia, I needed a little personal cooling in the Smart Apartment, so I put a small low voltage ultrasonic humidifier up in front of a low voltage electric fan.  The humidifier produces a cloud of water droplets (looks like fog), and the fan blows it to me, making a cooling breeze. This is much more effective, and safer, than hanging a wet cloth in front of a mains powered fan.

I have a Beurer LB12 Mini Air Humidifier, from Appliances Online. This is similar to the Elechomes Ultrasonic Mini Cool Mist Humidifier, available on Amazon.These units run on low voltage, from a mains plug-pack. You use a plastic bottle as a water tank: fill the bottle, screw on a one-way valve and upend the bottle on the unit. A small bottle of water lasts a couple of hours. When the water runs out, the humidifier turns off.

Mini USB Personal Fan
I use a 12 volt fan from a computer, connected to a mains plug-pack. But if you don't want to worry about connecting wires, you could use a Mini USB Personal Fan.