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.