Saturday, November 27, 2021

Power for the outdoor office

Bicycling through Haig Park in Canberra, I wondered what the people sitting at tables all spaced out under the trees were doing. It turns out this was Outside Offices, by local co-working space Good Work Canberra and the ACT Government. One element which might spoil the calm is a generator. 

Having been the Net Traveler, for more than two decades, I have telecommuted from hot air balloons, warships, and tents. Power problems are largely solved with lithium batters and solar panels. 

In 2019 I attended the Yaama Ngunna Baaka Corroboree Festival in far western NSW. There were several hundred people camping out. Being a tech person, I took along a collection of solar panels, and power banks, to charge people's gadgets. What proved most useful were power-banks with attached fold-out solar panels. Kmart have one with an 8 Watt solar panel and 15000mAh battery for $55. There are higher power panels and batteries available, but then there is more to carry, and more cables to connect.

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Getting a Company Director ID was Difficult Online But Not Impossible

As the director of an Australian company, I have until the end of the month to register for a new Director ID. This can be done online, by phone, or on paper. Given the deadline was approaching, I decided to attempt it online. This took about 20 minutes, and there were a few difficulties, but it was not too bad. 

The first step is to apply for a MyGovId. What I had not realized was that the MyGovId is not the MyGov service. MyGovId is an identity app on your Android or Apple smart phone, similar to the ones which supply codes for multi factor authentication. The app took a couple of minutes to download from the Android app store (from the Australian Taxation Office). 

The app asked for an email address, name and a few other details. Then comes the tricky part: you have to use the app to scan identity documents. You hold you phone over the document, the app takes a photo and turns the data into text. My passport scanned fine, but the anti-counterfeiting features on my driver's licence meant some details did not transcribe correctly. I had to try three times, holding the card at an angle to catch the light right. It is important to have the scanned details match on each document.

Another problem was the phone repeatedly asking for a fingerprint-scan. At some point I was asked if biometrics should be turned on. I said yes, as this is a security app. But then each time the app was about to scan a document it would close and I would have to reopen it, then scan my finger again.

The last step was to take a photo of myself, to be checked against records. The result was not flattering, but acceptable to the algorithm. The MyGovID was then instantly issued.

Now I had a MyGovId, applying for a director ID was quick and simple. The most difficult part was working out that this is not done with the app. Instead you fill in a form on the ABRS website. Also the two factor authentication worked in the reverse way to what I was expecting. To identify myself, I had to transcribe a number from the ABRS web form, to the App on my phone, rather than from the phone to the web. With that done, I entered my personal tax file number, and some other details (less than I was expecting). This did not require scanning any documents, just typing the details in.

A step not required was to say what company I am a director of. All the details I had entered were about me: none about the company.

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Balance Mats for Special Effects, Military and Martial Arts Training?

Ian Bergman, MD,
Balance Mat

Met up with Ian Bergman and some of the team from Balance Mat, over lunch at Madam Lu yesterday. This was the first time I had sat down to eat with anyone since Canberra's lock-down commenced. It was great to be able to sit outside in the sun. The value of this mode of interaction was shown when Craig Davis stopped by on his way to Canberra Innovation Network across the road.

Balance Mat is one of those companies with a self explanatory name which requires some explanation. They are developing a balance mat: you stand on it and it tells you how good your posture is. This has application in medicine, sport, and leisure.  The innovation comes from using fiber optic sensors, to provide a rugged, reliable and accurate unit, with no moving parts.

Balance Mat are exploring markets and applications. It occurred to me this would be of interest to elite military units, as well as elite athletes, for training. It may also be of use for the video special effects industry. Normally stick on sensors are used to show the position of an actor's body, so that thy can be fitted with a virtual space suit, or green scales. However, it would also be useful to know exactly how they are standing. As it happens, Balance Mat are located at the Canberra Technology Park, the home of the local gaming & video special effects industry.

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Indian Electric Scooter with Dual Removable Batteries

Indian scooter maker Hero, is offering an electric scooter with dual batteries. As shown in a video review, here are two compartments under the seat to hold two batteries. The scooter can be operated with both batteries installed for maximum range, or one, while the other is removed for charging. 

Battery held in
with velcro strap
This is a good setup, but batteries look very heavy, and likely make up a large part of the cost of the scooter. These are Li-ion 51.2 V, 30 Ah batteries. Perhaps Hero could offer the option of a half size battery, with a smaller charger. The smaller battery could be provided with a removable plastic storage box, to fill up the empty space, and stop the battery moving around. The customer could later add a second half size battery, or a larger one, with a larger charger. 

As the battery is a large investment, it would also be worth providing the option of using it to supply limited household power during a blackout.

ps: There are swap and go designs for interchangeable scooter batteries, such as Gogoro Network, but these all suffer from being proprietary systems.

Sunday, October 17, 2021

The Beijing Conspiracy by Adrian d'Hage

One way to keep entertained during Canberra's COVID-19 lock-downs has been to visit the street libraries. These are small weatherproof boxes which householders and businesses put out, filled with free books, as well as CDs and DVDs. Recently I found a copy of "The Beijing Conspiracy" by Adrian d'Hage in my local street library. This is an action adventure, with the bonus of being by a local author I have met. The title is misleading, as the conspiracy concerns international terrorists, and agents of the US government, with China just a setting for part of the conflict.

Adrian d'HagĂ© had a distinguished military career (our paths crossed at the Department of Defence), before writing six novels. This second one is a book for our times, featuring a COVID-19 like virus being used as a weapon. 

Very much in the style of Tom Clancy, this novel involves conspiracies at the very top of the US Government, with honest hardworking military and intelligence personnel hampered by duplicitous self-serving politicians. However, in this case the characters are not quite so black and white, with some of the terrorists acting out of a sincere wish to improve conditions for their people, and business people acting more like terrorists.

With this sort of action adventure set in the present day, details are important and I have a quibble over one detail. In the novel the hero visits the impressive headquarters of the Beijing Olympic Games Committee. I spent almost a week there as a guest of BOCOG to provide some advice on the 2008 Olympics web site.  As a recall it was an ordinary office building. The one unusual detail was a security guard in an immaculate uniform standing to ramrod attention in the foyer.

It is always a delight to found someone I know has written a book. In this case it is a relief to find it is a good book, and I will look out for others by Adrian d'Hage, just as soon as the official libraries open again.

Refurbished Dell Latitude E7270 for Learning with Linux

My Acer Aspire E11 was proving too slow for the demands of presenting webinars to students, so I purchased a second hand Dell Latitude E7270. This is a 12.5" laptop, which was a premium product in 2016 and still works well today. 

The E7270 is a sleek black rectangle, with plenty of ports (4 x USB, HDMI & Ethernet), an okay mat screen, back-lit keyboard and touch-pad. The case is apparently magnesium, but has a black rubber non-slip finish. This is the mid-to low end model, without the optional touchscreen, fingerprint scanner, or 4G modem (none of which I wanted anyway). The unit is supposed to be moderately rugged, with a spill proof keyboard (but not the track-pad buttons). This could be handy as I destroyed a previous laptop with a cup off coffee in the keyboard, and leaned on the case of one before that, cracking the screen.

I booted the machine and a fresh install of Microsoft Windows 10 came up, but all I used that for was to shrink the Windows partition, to make room for Linux. Dell sell laptops with Ubuntu installed, so I decided on that. One glitch was that with fractional scaling turned on Zoom became very, very, slow on Ubuntu.

However, I found Ubuntu's default desktop environment too different to the Mint Linux I had been using. So I first tried UKUI, to turn it into something more familiar (which looked familiar but did not work so well), before realizing I could simply install the same Mate desktop environment I had used to with Mint.

Buying a refurbished laptop worked out well. I could not browse in stores due to the COVID-19 lock-down, so had to rely on the reputation of the seller.My unit cost about one quarter the new price, refurbished by Australian Computer Traders, and purchased through Kogan. The package arrived on time, looked brand new (with a genuine Dell power supply) and worked straight out of the box. The laptop I got is about twice the speed of a new unit this price, but in a more premium case. Also it makes me feel good to be adding less e-waste to the world.

Friday, October 15, 2021

Digital COVID-19 Vaccination Certificate Online Proved Impossible

I thought booking a COVID-19 vaccination was difficult, but getting the digital vaccination certificate afterwards is proving more difficult. I had assumed I could simply go to Medicare online. However, that requires a My.Gov account with an exact name match. My medicare card has the name I am usually known by on it, and doesn't match what is on my birth certificate. So I called the Medicare number to have it changed. After 30 minutes on hold I was told that I needed to talk to Medicare (which is who I was calling), and was put on hold again. The automated system said I could change my details online, but I was calling so I can get online, making the messages very annoying.

The recorded message at the start was curious, warning that threats would not be tolerated. That seemed an odd way to treat customers, with a greeting threatening them. But after one hour on hold, I can see how a caller could be irate by the time they get to an operator. As it was, after an hour I gave up.

I would be happy to deal with this matter some other way, but no other option is offered: it is by phone, or nothing. I suggest the system needs to be fixed to overcome this obvious fault. 

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

New Generation of Underwater Drone Carrying Submarines Needed for Australia

Korean KSS-III Submarine (model)
Australia should invest in Underwater Uninhabited Vehicles (UUVs), commission conventionally powered submarines to carry the smaller ones, and submarine tenders to support them. The Australian Government plans to build nuclear powered submarines, with the help of the UK and the USA. That plan replaced one to to build an Attack-class submarine, as a diesel-electric variant of the French nuclear powered Barracuda-class. And the plan before that was to purchase Japanese submarines. All these plans have the problem that they are for submarines tasked to approach the enemy to carry out surveillance and attack. Small, low cost underwater drones will render such tactics a suicide mission. Instead submarines will need to stand off and launch their own surveillance and attack drones.

Larger UUVs (underwater drones) would be similar in concept to the Boeing Airpower Teaming System (Loyal Wingman). This is a pilot-less aircraft design to accompany aircraft with crews. It is being designed and built in partnership between US Boeing and the Australian Government. Boeing has the Orca Extra Large Unmanned Undersea Vehicle (XLUUV), based on the Echo Voyager. This is 16 m long with a range of 12,100 km. Smaller drones are more like very smart torpedoes and mines, with limited range. Small UUVs will have far smaller warheads than conventional torpedoes and mines, due to the need for more space for batteries or fuel. This necessity could be made a virtue, by providing a "less lethal" option in grey zone conflicts. UUVs could be programmed to disable a ship's propulsion, steering, or sensors, rather than sinking it. This would deny ports and shipping lanes to an enemy, with less risk of negative publicity from causalities, where the target was a warship disguised as a civilian vessel.

Event canvas from NWIW 2020
by Paul Telling
Strategy and tactics for the use of UUVs, could be investigated in a series of hackerthons, with military, government, academic and industry people, modeled on the Navy Warfare Innovation Workshop 2020 (NWIW).

Just as battleships were rendered obsolete after WWII by progress with aircraft at sea, large submarines will become increasingly vulnerable to UUVs. Some battleships were converted to aircraft carriers, and similarly submarines will become UUV carriers. This will allow submarines to remain at greater distances, just as aircraft carriers can launch attacks from over the horizon.

However, converted battleships did not make ideal aircraft carriers. Their heavy guns were obsolete and so removed. They did not have optimal storage for aircraft. Similarly, the design of submarines will need to change, with the priority being UUV storage, not sensors or torpedoes. A good starting point would be a design like the Korean Dosan Ahn Changho-class KSS-III. This is the only conventionally powered submarine with a Vertical Launch System for cruise and ballistic missiles.

Austral Spearhead class
expeditionary fast transport
Australia could enhance the effective range of its submarines by building tender ships, to refuel, rearm, repair and exchange crews. The tenders could be derived on existing Australian designs of high speed warships from Austral, and Incat. The submarine tenders would rendezvous with the submarines near their area of operations, thus saving the long transit time from Australia. They could also launch and recover large UUVs, which cannot be carried on a submarine. A multi-hull tender would be able to launch UUVs from between the hulls, while underway, unobserved.

Deepsea Challenger

However, the key part of UUVs would be in-country manufacturing capability. This could use local flexible manufacturing, such as Core Electronics factory at Newcastle, for assembling the computer controls, and composite construction from Acheron Project Pty Ltd of Sydney (as used for James Cameron's Deepsea Challenger).

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Wollies Direct to Boot Worked Better Than Coles but there is Room for Innovation

Woolworths Direct to Boot Bay,
Tom Worthington CC-BY 12 September 2021
My second attempt to order groceries online from Coles failed, so I switched to Woolworths. The online ordering was much the same, but the collection process was much quicker, easier, and more pleasant. I received a text message telling me my order was ready for collection, to click when I departed, and click again when I arrived. As with Coles, I got lost in the car-park trying to find the collection bays. But this was in the open air, not an underground car park so much easier to see my way around, and it felt less oppressive (at the wonderfully named Spitfire Avenue, next to Canberra Airport). 

The bays were clearly marked, and the staff already on hand, so I was out in a couple of minutes (rather than 20 at Coles). They had a hand card with crates which fitted to it, rather than the wobbly trolley  Coles was using. All my order was there and the fresh items excellent quality. There seemed to be more plastic bags, but this may be because I had ordered frozen, and chilled food, with each category in a separate bag.

For me Woolworths wins hands down over Coles, assuming the ordering system keeps working. If not, is there a third alternative in Canberra? 

Perhaps the team at the Canberra Innovation Network, Innovation ACT and ANU TechLauncher could design an independent home shopping system. This might use a just in time picking system: when you told the system you were on your way, the picker would quickly go around the isles in a discount supermarket, picking the items, and be ready just as you pulled up outside. The picking service doesn't need to be owned by, or affiliated with, the supermarket.

Saturday, September 11, 2021

My Phone Survived a Trip Through a Washing Machine

In July 2020, I purchased a Unihertz Atom L Rugged Smartphone
Unihretz Atom L Smartphone
case worn by washing machine
. I did not realise how rugged it was until today. My washing machine was making some banging sounds, but I did not think much of it. When I opened the door after 45 minutes, one wash cycle, two rinses and a spin dry, I found my phone in among the clothes. The phone was covered with a black grease and there was a spot warn shiny on the brushed aluminum case. But it was still turned on and working. 

The sound was a bit muffled due to water in the speaker vent, but with that out it worked fine. The grease appears to be part of the rubber coating, which was worn off when the phone became wedged between the rotating drum of the machine and a rubber seal.

Phone in a plastic box, with a fan
and water absorbing sachets to dry out
I rinsed the phone in clean water and have left it in a plastic box with a low voltage fan and water absorbing sachets to dry out. I did not want to risk taking the phone apart, as being a rugged model has a lot of screws and gaskets.

Thursday, September 09, 2021

The Wheels Fell Off My Virtual Shopping Trolley in the Pandemic

The Coles error screen. 
It has taken me 18 months to get around to sign up for online grocery shopping. This is to avoid the Russian Roulette of stepping into a store. It is not so much fear of catching COVID-19 (I am fully vaccinated), as the inconvenience, if I have to isolate and be tested. I have been purchasing complex electronic devices online for a decade, but it has proved surprisingly difficult to buy basic groceries online.


My first thought was IGA, the small local supermarket, only 30 m from my door. Unfortunately, while it is part of a national chain, they don't offer online shopping. I did sign up for the IGA catalog, but they sent me so much spam I cancelled it. Unfortunately Aldi doesn't offer this service either (apart for buying Aldi gadgets). I am surprised no one has offered a third party delivery service, offering to buy items in Aldi then charging a premium but still "less than Coles & Woolworths" for similar items.


The next option was Coles, as recommended by a friend. It was reasonably easy to sign up and select items to purchase. I liked the option to list goods by unit price (so you get the cheapest apples per Kg first). However, when I went to select a delivery time I was shocked to find the first was not for a week and had to bid for a slot.

The popular times cost more, and like booking airlines seats. This created the anxiety that if I did not take one now, it would be gone. Going for the click and collect in store option was not much use, as the object of the exercise was not to enter a store. So I selected the option to have goods delivered to my car boot. But there are only a limited range of stores with this option. Curiously these were the larger ones. I would have thought any store with click and collect, would be able to do this.


The address given for pickup at my nearest Coles store was in a middle pedestrian mall. Detailed instructions to navigate to a special bay in the car-park were emailed to me, but only after I placed the order. In the interim I posted a query with the online, who replied they did not know. The instructions when they arrived were clear and detailed. 


Then there was the no bags dilemma. Coles ordering has an option for no disposable shopping bags. But this said I had to pack my own. If the shopping is being placed directly in the car boot: how is this done without bags? So I posted another query and was told to call. The help line said to pack your own was a "problem" and so I should select the bags option. That makes sense, but then why offer a no bags option (Woolworths doesn't)? 


Approaching Canberra's city center by car was a strange experience. I had not driven my car for weeks. I was now driving through almost deserted streets, to an almost deserted shopping center. There was a barrier across the street just in front of the entrance (like something used to keep out the Zombie Apocalypse). I went down, down, down into the car park. Then I had to take a ticket (giving 20 minutes free parking). 

I had envisaged waiting for my shopping in an outside carpark in the fresh air and sunshine. Instead it was now in a subbasement, with all my windows rolled up, looking around in fear in case someone approach, like an extra in a dawn of the dead movie. I parked in the designed spot. Then the vehicle nearby pulled out, and re-parked boot to curb. That made sense so I did the same.

There was a phone number on the wall, which I called, and got an answering service. So I left a message. Five minutes later the other car got its groceries, then another, so after ten minutes I called again. This time a person answered and I gave my name, then again, then spelled it. Five minutes later my groceries arrived. I had expected some sort of automated electric golf cart, but it was a person pushing an ordinary shopping trolley.

They asked my name, but could not hear me, as I had the window up, as per the instructions. So they held the bag with my name on it up and I nodded. I pulled the lever to open the boot, they put the shopping in and I was off. This had taken twenty minutes. I appreciate that there are workers doing this job under difficult conditions, but this took longer than if I had gone into the store and picked the items off the shelves myself. 


Getting home, I found I had everything ordered and the quality of the fresh produce was excellent. There was one substitute: I had ordered a bag of limes and instead received the same number loose (which I preferred anyway). One item was much more expensive than expected: I thought it was on special but it was not (I probably picked the wrong one by mistake from the very long list of similar items). But there were also two extra jars. Where I had ordered two jars I got four, and only paid for two. So I came out about even overall.


Having managed one successful online shop, I thought I would try next for frozen goods and fresh meat. But my second attempt to order from Coles resulted in an error message. I called the help line, as instructed, but was told it was a technical problem, and I would have to call back the next day after 9am. When I called the next day I was offered text chat help, so I tried that, but it did not fix the problem. Coles has a cute error screen, depicting shopping spilled from a trolley. This was amusing the first time I saw it, but I got tired seeing it over and over again. So I gave up on Coles, and tried Woolworths.


Woolworths was just as easy to sign up for and select goods as Coles. Despite Woolworths charging more for shopping bags than Coles, the same bundle of items from Coles cost less from Wollworths.

This time I did not even consider home delivery, and instead selected to-boot. Like Coles, there was a three day delay before I could collect. The time slots were one hour, rather than Coles' two. Also the deadline for changing my order before collection was a half hour shorter (five and a half hours, instead of Coles' six). This deadline is useful: you can add items to the order for days before collection, and keep your collection time booking. It is a few days to collection time and I will report how it goes then.

What Might Be Better?

The applications from Coles and Woolworths work much as I would expect my teams of computer students to built. There is nothing which standards out as particularly innovative, but these shopping application work much better than, for example, government COVID-129 vaccination booking applications.

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Fixed my Digital Camera With a Bicycle Pump

I sprayed air between the lens and body of the camera
Months ago, before Canberra's latest lock-down, I purchased a second hand Cannon Powershot S3 IS,  digital camera from Vinnies Dickson charity shop. It was a bargain at $30 (cost $799, new, 15 years ago). It just needed 4 AA batteries ($10 rechargeable) and a memory card ($5). 

At 6 megapixels, this camera is far lower resolution than my smart phone. But I normally have the phone set for 1 or 2 Megapixel photos anyway. 

It is much easier to take a photo with a camera, such as this, which has a viewfinder you can hold up to your eye, than with a smart phone, or a digital camera with a screen on the back. The camera also has a screen which swivels out and around, so you can take a close up at an odd angle.

The only problem was the camera would switch off every time I zoomed the lens out to the full extent. A web search sowed this was a very common problem. Suggestions ranged from the, not very useful "It appears a fault, you need to have it repaired", to the complicated "Here is how to disassemble the camera".  One tip was that there could be dust on the switch which detects when the zoom is fully extended. 

One video showed blasting the lens with an air-compressor. That seemed a little extreme, especially when the whole camera is shown sliding along from the air pressure. My own little air compressor, had no effect. But I found a bicycle pump, with the adapter for inflating an airbed worked fine. I extended the camera lens, and placed the nozzle between the lens and camera body, working all the way around, blowing in air. The zoom now works fine.

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Australia Needs Self-serve Quarantine Centers

Purpose built Quarantine Centers are being constructed in Australia. I suggest that these be, in the main, low tech, self serve facilities. This will increase the speed with which they can be built, lower the cost of construction and operation, provide lower risk of disease transmission, and be better for the welfare of the guests.

The Building 4.0 Cooperative Research Centre, has submitted an unsolicited high tech "Q_Smart" design for the Victorian quarantine center. This has some good ideas, but is more high tech than needed, The designers have shown a multi-story design, suited to limited land next to airports, as well as single story ones, where space allows. The designers criticize the current "conventional bricks and mortar, or mining camp, approach". However, I suggest this is misplaced. Rapid construction is a priority, and the prefabricated techniques used for mining camps are appropriate. Also mining camp accommodation must be robust, as it is intensively used, by a rapid turnover of guests, which also applies in a quarantine center. 

The use of high technology solutions is not a good approach for a quarantine center which is to be constructed rapidly and have only a limited lifetime. As an example, the airlocks, and UV light sterilization suggested for Q_Smart are not be needed, if there is sufficient space and natural ventilation. Touch-less entry to buildings will also not be needed, if guests each have their own door to their accommodation. The guest will be the only one to touch their door during their stay, and it will be cleaned by staff when vacated.

Containerised apartment module ready to be lifted into position at ANU
 Laurus Wing of ANU Ursula Hall
 under construction.
Photo by Tom Worthington CC BY 2009

The Q_Smart designers suggest stack-able building modules, built in a factory. This approach is already in use for buildings made in shipping container modules, such as ANU  Ursula Hall (2009). However, this approach requires more expensive construction techniques, than if buildings are single story, and where a flatpack approach can be taken. I a multistory building is needed, then pre-cut structural panels, as applied at ANU Fenner Hall, can be used.

Also while stairs can be quickly built, lifts require complex installation and maintenance by specialists. If a multi-story building is required, it can be built with an external open air stairway, and no lifts, but with ground floor accommodation reserved for those with limited mobility, as is the case for City Edge Canberra.

The designers suggest delivery of good direct to rooms, via dumb waiters. However, simple manual and electric dumb waiters, essentially smalls goods elevators, can only travel vertically. There would need to be one such waiter for each building. With a shaft connecting every apartment, this would pose a major cross-contamination risk. A far safer, simpler approach would be to provide guests with enough supplies of sheets, towels, personal hygiene products, and non-perishable food, for the duration of their stay, so there would be no need for regular deliveries. For occasional deliveries a simple, safe, low tech approach would be to place the delivery outside the guest's door, and then invite them to open the door a few minutes later, after any aerosols have dispersed in the open air.

While Q_Smart suggests the use of the Internet of Things, with smart devices deployed around the center for monitoring of systems and the guests, I suggest relying on the guests own smart phones. Just as QR codes have proved a success for checking people into venues, these can be used, with the gusts own phones, for monitoring movement in the center. This requires only low cost QR code signs, not a computerized network requiring installation and maintenance.

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Canberrans Queuing Around the Block for a COVID-19 Test

COVID-19 Testing Queue in Canberra,
by Tom Worthington CC BY 17 August 2021
Came back from my bicycle ride yesterday (allowed under Canberra's lock-down rules) to find a line of people standing in the street outside my front door. First I thought it might be a Le Mans start for a car rally: but during a lock-down? Then I thought it might be a socially distanced protest: but against what? Then everyone moved one place to the right and I saw it was a queue snaking around the corner to the pathology lab, for COVID-19 tests. 

COVID-19 Marshall at Testing Queue in Canberra, 
by Tom Worthington CC BY 17 August 2021 
There was a marshal in a yellow vest going along the line checking details. It was very orderly and gone in an hour. The line was back this morning on a very cold winter's day. I was proud to see my fellow citizens responding to an emergency with quiet determination. It was also to see one of the local cafes was offering to deliver food and drink to those in the queue.

Monday, August 09, 2021

Vaccinated at Clinic on the Edge for Many Possible Futures

Today I had my second AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccination at the
Tom Worthington after vaccination at the Casey Medical Center in Canberra, CC BY 9 August 2021.
Casey Medical Center in Canberra. I arrived five minutes early and was immediately ushered in for my shot, so that even with the 15 minute period after I was out the door by my original booking time. This was a fast and efficient process. 

To to get to this suburb on the north western edge of Canberra, I had to drive past a major public vaccination center which is much closer to home. Unfortunately when I went to book 12 weeks ago for my first jab the federal and ACT web systems were not working well. As a result I booked at a private clinic, as that was the only place I could get the booking system to work for. As it was sop difficult to get an appointment, I decide not to change my booking for the second dose, which as made 12 weeks ago at the same time as the first (to make it simple I booked both the same day of the week at the same time).

The suburb of Casey reminds me of the dystopian future depicted in the  "Nosedive" episode of the Black Mirror science fiction TV series: rows of neat houses, all built at the same time from the same materials, in the same muted colors. The Casey Medical Center is made of corrugated steel panels and looks like a temporary building quickly erected for a pandemic emergency (or something prefabricated for Antarctica, or Mars). But it is comfortable enough inside.

We have had it easy so far, so get vaccinated now, in case things get worse, a lot worse

For those hesitating about vaccination, please consult your doctor, and if they okay it, go ahead ASAP. Australia has been able to use measures to control the virus under relatively benign national and international conditions, but that may not continue. Natural disasters may require medical and emergency staff currently handling the pandemic to be instead saving lives in floods or fires. Rescue and recovery will then take priority, with hospital beds not available for COVID-19 patients.

It is also possible the Australian Defence Force may be needed in its primary role and so personnel would not be available to aid the civil infrastructure. Also some civilian medical personnel and other specialists are military reserve personnel who would be called to duty, so not available for for pandemic duties.

In addition, there could be cyber attacks on our infrastructure which directly limit medical and vaccination facilities. These could interrupt power supplies long enough for vaccine stocks to be destroyed and stop distribution and booking.

Also it is possible that information warfare could be used to undermine confidence in the authorities and ferment civil unrest. This could see fake information used to discredit officials and the community against each other. This would reduce vaccination rates, and may also case people to stop social distancing, spreading the virus and even attacking the infrastructure used to keep them safe. 

One of Australia's major international customers may decide to limit purchases of Australian goods and services, limiting the nations's ability to pay for imports of essential medical supplies. 

Any or all of these could happen without warning at any time. While these may sound far fetched, would you have believed a warning about a pandemic 19 months ago? In 2009 the assignment I set my web students at the Australian National University was to design a pandemic web site for Australia. Some of my colleagues thought this a little odd: when would those skills ever be needed?

Monday, July 26, 2021

The digital Estonian

Greetings from the ANU where Ms Kersti Eesmaa, the Estonian Ambassador is giving an entertaining talk on how her country became the most digital. This includes e-voting, e-tax, e-health and just about e-verything. They have backed up the country's records in Luxembourg and are considering Canberra. The ambassador complemented Australia's online services but suggested it was tie for one national ID  At qesttion time I asked about e-residency and the ambassador asked when I would drop in to get my card.

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Provide Online Informed Consent for COVID-19 Vaccination

The ABS reports that only 73% of Australians would get a COVID-19 vaccination. Of the others, 52% were worried about side-effects and 15% effectiveness. In response, I suggest that Australia's National Cabinet approve the use of online informed consent using multimedia in multiple languages, to streamline COVID-19 vaccination, using any of the vaccines approved for use in Australia for any adult of any age.

The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) has advised

"... AstraZeneca vaccine can be used in adults aged under 60 years where the benefits clearly outweigh the risk for that individual and the person has made an informed decision based on an understanding of the risks and benefits".


"Noting the current constrained supply of the Pfizer vaccine, ATAGI also recommends adults under the age of 60 who do not have immediate access to the Pfizer vaccine should consider the benefits and risks of earlier protection through the AstraZeneca vaccine. "

However, that advice has been implemented in a way which makes it very difficult for anyone who does not have a GP with supplies of AstraZeneca, from being vaccinated. 

The Australian Government provides a document "Weighing up the potential benefits against risk of harm from COVID-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca" to assist with informed consent. But, this is intended for doctors to help explain to patients. As a result those who don't have a GP to explain it to them cannot give informed consent and so cannot be vaccinated at mass vaccination center. 

I suggest National Cabinet decide that a standard audio-visual package in multiple languages be prepared. This would be added to online booking systems, allowing any adult to give informed consent to an AstraZeneca vaccination online. Any adult should be able to walk into any vaccination center at the booked time, show ID and be vaccinated immediately, without the need to speak to anyone, or fill in any paperwork.

Individuals would still have to option to visit their doctor to discuss vaccination. However, I suggest our leaders now need to ask every Australian to accept that the risk, in the interests of their family and the community to get vaccinated now.

Saturday, July 03, 2021

Make Getting a Vaccination Should be as Easy as Ordering a Pizza

It is more than a year since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic emergency in Australia. Federal and state governments have spent billions of dollars on health measures, but are still unable to field an easy to use online vaccination booking system. I suggest modelling this on the ease of use, and sophistication, of a pizza ordering system. Some years ago I ordered a pizza online for collection. The system took my details and presented pizza options. It then listed the nearest places I could collect it. What was impressive was the system then asked my means of transport and estimated when I should leave to get there just in time. I left at the time suggested, and as I walked through the door of the pizza parlor, my order popped on an electronic display indicating it was ready. I picked it up and was out the door in under a minute. It should be possible to do something similar for vaccinations.

A responsive online vaccination booking system would instill confidence in the public and increase the efficiency and safety of the vaccination process. Removing long queues at vaccination centers will decrease staffing to manage the crowd and also reduce the risk of spread of infection. All of the information the patient needs should be able to collected online and them arrive with a QR code ready to be scanned and jabbed.

An efficient online vaccination system could prevent tens of thousands of deaths, by speeding up vaccination and preventing mass breakouts of COVID-19. This could also decrease the risk of mental illness and death, due to the suffering brought about by lock-downs and unemployment, particularly of younger people. This places such systems in the category of "safety critical", requiring a higher level of care in design, testing and deployment by computer professionals.

Improved ACT Health COVID-19 Vaccination Booking System

To make an online booking at ACT Government COVID-19 vaccination clinics, clients are required to use the MyDHR system. Previously when I tried to register I found the process confusing and was not able to register. When I tried today, I found the process had improved and I was able to register, but it appears it is still not possible to use this system to book a vaccination online. This differs from private vaccinations clinics, where the patient is shown dates and times they can select from, online, as soon as they are registered in the system. 

Medicare Number Format

A problem still exists with the way the patient has to enter the Medicare number on the ACT Government system. This differs from the format used by Federal Government and private providers. It will only be a problem the first time the patient registers with the system. For someone who will regularly attend a clinic for medical treatments, that is not a major problem. But for an emergency vaccination campaign, where each patient will attend only two or three times, difficulties in initially registering are more significant. 


The ACT Government page on vaccinations has a link for patients to register. However, that link doesn't take the patient to the registration screen, but to the login screen. The patient is then asked for their user ID and password they have not yet been issued with, which is confusing. There is a link for registering, but patients are may be confused at this point and never see the link.

MyDHR One Time Security Code,
ACT Health, 3 July 2021
Once the link is found, registering is not too complex. The patient is asked to enter a code sent by email or SMS. This is described as a "one time security code". If this process only applies during signup it is not clear how this authenticates the person, as neither the email address or telephone number have been separately authenticated (unless perhaps this information is obtained from Medicare). 

Secure Username?

MyDHR Choose User name,
ACT Health, 3 July 2021
After entering the security code (which arrived promptly by SMS), I was asked to create a user name. Confusingly, the instructions were to "think of one that is secure and easy to remember". It is not clear why the user name has to be "secure", as there is a separate password to be entered. The instruction to make the user name secure contradicts the one to have it easy to remember. Also the indication that this username
can never be changed would add to the stress for the patient. Also it is a flaw in the security of the system to have a code which must be secure and cannot be regularly changed.

MyDHR Main Screen

MyDHR Main Screen,
ACT Health, 3 July 2021

After choosing a username and password, I was presented with a reasonably easy to read main screen. However, the first item listed was not booking a COVID-19 Vaccination, but checking eligibility. I suggest this be changed, s the purpose of the exercise is to book a vaccination

MyDHR Vaccine Eligibility,
ACT Health, 3 July 2021
After answering a short list of questions about eligibility, I expected to be told I was eligible. However, instead the message was that if I was eligible, I would be contacted withing 24 hours to let me know when an appointment was available.  This is not a good systems design, as first of all the patient has to wait 24 hours, for no good reason. Secondly, a patient who hears nothing doesn't know if they have been placed in a lower priority category, or missed the message. Thirdly, it is not clear to the patient how they actually book a vaccination.

No Medical Records on System

The ACT Government system is intended to provide a comprehensive system for patients of ACT Health, not just vaccinations. So I looked to see what records were recorded. There was not record of my ever being a patient, although I had spent a night in the ICU and received numerous tests. It may be my treatment was too long ago to be worth loading into the new system, but patients will not feel reassured about receiving further treatment, if there is no record of their previous treatment.

Confusing Email

After registering, I received an email with the subject line "Please check your MyDHR account". However, the body of the message said "... you have new information in MyChart.". But what is MyChart? There was no signature block to indicate this message was from the ACT Government, and no contact details to reassure the patient this was a genuine message and help the patient seek further information (the message had a "no reply" address). 

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Help Provide Australian Oxygen Concentrators to COVID-19 Patients in India

Ambarish Natu, a senior and respected member of the computing profession in Australia, is raising funds to provide Australian oxygen concentrators to COVID-19 patients in India. You can contribute to the campaign now. 

Sunday, May 23, 2021

What your boss really knows about your internet usage

West Live Podcast
I was interviewed by Ben O'Shea for PerthNow's The West Live Podcast, on "What your boss really knows about your internet usage and why incognito mode won’t protect you" (West Australian Newspapers, May 21, 2021 2:35PM):

"It turns out your boss can see much more than you think when it comes to your internet usage at work, no matter how incognito you get.

Australian National University honorary lecturer and technology consultant Tom Worthington knows a thing or two about what you can and can’t get away with at work when it comes using the web."

Monday, May 17, 2021

Why Are the Federal & ACT COVID-19 Vaccination Booking Websites So Difficult to Use?

WHO Digital Vaccination Certificate
This is to suggest improvements in the COVID-19 vaccination websites of the Federal and ACT Governments. In contrast to those of a private medial provider, the government sites do not appear to have been designed to prioritize vaccination of the general public. It is suggested a booking link be added to the top of the federal and ACT pages, and the ACT use the same Medicare number format as other providers, and not limit online booking at its clinics to existing patients. This is based on my experience helping design emergency websites and teaching how to do this. 

Below I detail some changes, and why they are needed. Australia's vaccination rate is currently far below that needed to have everyone eligible offered at least one dose buy the end of the year. There are obvious flaws in the federal and ACT vaccination websites, including incorrect, and misleading formation. By making it harder for the public to get vaccinated, are placing lives, and the economy, at risk. It is suggested changing the government sites to make it easier for the bulk of the population to book a vaccination. It would also be useful to offer something tangible, such as a vaccination certificate, with a QR code.

Suggested Changes

1. Booking Link at Top of Page: Both federal and ACT governments should have a line at the top of their main COVID-19 web pages for booking:

  • Fifty or over? Book your COVID-19 vaccination now:  50+ Book! 

2. Show online booking sites first: The federal government page should display vaccination centers which have online booking first. Public high capacity clinics should be displayed first, followed by GP clinics, and GPs last.

3. Allow ACT residents to register online with ACT Health: The ACT Government should delete the map from their page until there are more ACT centers for the public to choose from. The Medicare number entry field on the MyDHR registration page should be changed to use the same format as federal government and private medical sites. The restriction that only existing patients can register should be lifted. 

Finding Where to Get Vaccinated

A web search using Google for "covid19 vaccine booking", has as the first four responses:

  1. COVID-19 Vaccine Booking - Book An Appointment (Ad)
  2. COVID-19 vaccinations - Available now in Canberra (Ad)
  3. How will I get my COVID-19 vaccine? | Australian Government 
  4. Booking your COVID-19 vaccination - COVID-19 - ACT Health

The first two of these are paid advertisements and the next two native responses. The first is to the federal health website, the next a private clinic in Canberra, then a different Federal Government page and lastly the ACT Government. That there are two different federal government pages resulting from the one search is confusing. 

Federal Health Website

The first Federal Government page says "... book an appointment if you are eligible ...", but this is below the fold, below the first screen of information, in the middle of a sentence and thus very difficult to see. 

From: COVID-19 vaccines, Australian Government Department of Health, 17 May 2021 (detail).

The priority in the design of this page appears to be to educate the public as to who is eligible, so as not to overload the system. With the decision to permit all over 50s to book, I suggest this is misplaced. The priority should be on getting people vaccinated and saying "book vaccination".

After three screens the federal system displays the nearest vaccination centers. Here they are for O'Connor, ACT:

Vaccination centers suggested for O'Connor ACT.

The screen is headed with "Please use online appointments where available to reduce call volumes to clinics. If you can’t find an appointment or a clinic in your location, please check back in a week.". However, four of the five entries displays are for phone bookings only. Following the instructions given, the user would select the one and only clinic which takes online bookings.

The only entry which has a link for online booking is to the ACT Government clinic. However, this only accepts online booking from previous patents of ACT Heath (and I was unable to make a booking even though I had been a patient). 

National Health Co-op

National Health Co-op is a non-government, not-for-profit health service. The web link leads to a vaccinations page, with two buttons, for "Covid 19" and "Flu Shot". This then shows the six locations where a shot can be booked. The details of how to registered and book are left until later.

National Health Co-op COVID-19 Booking details

This is a good design, the user gets to see where they could go, without having to enter a lot of personal details first. However, the information presented contradicts that on the Federal Health web site. The Federal site lists the Co-op's ANU clinic as available for phone bookings only. That clinic is not listed by the Co-op's website and all of those listed can be booked online. It appears the Federal government site is incorrect, listing a clinic which is not available and also not listing those which are. 

Second Federal Government Web Page

The second federal government page to appear in the web search results is "How will I get my COVID-19 vaccine?". This has a link for "Book or register for COVID-19 vaccination", but below the fold, so the user has to scroll down to find it. This then links to the COVID-19 Vaccine Eligibility Checker, discussed above. Again the booking link is not prominent, and the page does not appear to be designed to have vaccination booking as a priority.

Federal how will I get my vaccine page.

This is not a good design, as the link for booking a vaccination is not prominent. 

ACT Health

The ACT Health Booking your COVID-19 vaccination page, has the link "How to book your COVID-19 vaccination" above the fold. 

ACT Health Booking your COVID-19 vaccination page

This then displays a map showing the clinics:

ACT clinics map

However, only one of three of the clinics shown are for the general public. As a result showing a map is misleading, not useful. The one clinic shown requires online booking via the ACT Government booking system "MyDHR". This system requires entry of the Medicare number in a format different to that used by the federal government and private providers, and the number is not displayed as it is entered. Also online registration is only available to those who are already patients in the ACT health system (and in some chases even not then). 

MyDHR Registration screen obscuring Medicare number.

Previously I provided some "Suggested Improvements to ACT Health COVID-19 Vaccination Booking System". Unfortunately so far the ACT Government has not made the suggested improvements. The only response received is a Tweet (3:01 PM · May 14, 2021) from ACT Health: 

"Hi, if you have any technical issues when using MyDHR, please call 02 5124 5000 (24 hours a day, 7 days a week). Please refer to our FAQ 'I'm having issues signing up to MyDHR' for other reasons you may be having issues"

While this doesn't address any of the issues, it at least indicates the suggestions have been received by the ACT Government.