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.