.: General computing
Another day at CeBIT and more sore feet. Still, it's been a lot of fun helping out at the CSIRO stand. The best thing was talking to my colleagues about the interesting research that they are doing. These are some of the nicest (and smartest) people that you could meet and it is a real privilege to support them.
CSIRO's Smart Fridge using intelligent agent energy management technology won the CeBIT Early Innovator Award and was also featured in today's Sydney Morning Herald.
Unfortunately, the good news was overshadowed by the announcement that the recent federal budget has lead to CSIRO deciding to cut 100 jobs and close some sites. One of those sites is the JM Rendel Laboratory in Rockhampton, which specialises in cattle research. Many years ago, back when I was in high school, I arranged a fun, but somewhat gruesome CSIRO Double Helix club visit to the Laboratory. We started off by taking blood from a cow. Another animal had a hole in its side so that the contents of one of its stomachs could be easily tested. A rubber plug blocked the hole. Finally we were given some organs to inspect, including the uterus of a cow complete with a fetus (the cow had died of natural causes prior to childbirth). A scientist used the uterus and the appropriate equipment to demonstrate to artificial insemination techniques.
Every year the CSIRO has a stand at CeBIT Australia. I was there to help, along with my colleagues at the CSIRO ICT Centre. This year we had some really funky technology, like the Colonoscopy Simulator. The goal of the simulator is to combine a photo-realistic visual simulation of a colon with a haptic (physical feedback) colonoscope simulator. At the moment you can thread the snake-like colonoscope through a box and watch the probe on the screen. Touch the colon wall and blood appears. The team is still working on modelling the physical properties so the haptic feedback is not realistic at this stage, but it's still exciting.
The Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) display featured a program that allows the users to walk or drive their way around a simulation of the proposed Square Kilometre Array site in outback Western Australia. You can download this program for yourself.
The latest version of SharePoint has been a support nightmare for me. On paper Microsoft SharePoint looks great. Integration with Microsoft Office, document sharing, discussion forums, task manager, blogs and even wikis. I really like the ability to drag and drop files using the Explorer View for document libraries. The problem is that the interface is unwieldy and the behaviour, especially with permissions, seems often to be inconsistent. For the basic tasks that we are doing in SharePoint I would expect an intuitive interface familiar to Office users.
I have been on the phone constantly with users confused by SharePoint and I am no expert. SharePoint also requires Office 2003 or above and doesn't support Firefox for many administrative and file-related tasks. Unfortunately, I can't use Internet Explorer 7, which at least has tabs, because of organisational software that does not function with it.
Why does Microsoft have to make life so difficult?
Broadband is big in the Australian news at the moment. Larry Smarr, from the California Institute of Communications garnered a lot of publicity as the latest international expert to criticise Australia's public internet infrastructure as too slow. Today the government responded to the opposition's broadband plans with one of their own. Also in today's Sydney Morning Herald was an article on the top tech capitals of the world which featured quotes from one of my managers and an ex-colleague.
The definition of reasonable broadband speeds seems to have changed to anywhere from ten megabits per second to one gigabit per second. At home I have a 512 kilobit per second download ADSL link. Do I find it too slow? Do I feel an urgent need to upgrade my internet speed? My answer is generally no. I download few files, most of my access is web browsing, emails, uploading scripts and remote desktop into work. It would be nice to try out Second Life with a faster connection, but my PC's are fairly slow.
There is a caveat. My work internet access is very fast. I'm on a research/academic network. If I need to download that Linux distribution ISO I can do that at work and copy it for installation on any other machine (and let's face it, in my case it genuinely is used for work). And I don't download large files often enough that it really makes a difference.
I was unable to connect to Telstra ADSL for a couple of days this week. I tried everything on m own systems without luck. So I dialedthe support number and went through the various prompts. Sometime after I confirmed that I was dialing from the same line as the ADSL connection but before I had a chance to talk to a technician I was suddenly able to authenticate again. This is not the first time either. Weird.
.: Second Life
I tried out Second Life the week. Second Life is a virtual 3D networked world featuring customisable avatars, objects, locations and even its own convertible currency ("Linden Dollars"). A number of real world organisations, including the ABC and Telstra, have established presences in Second Life and my employer has shown some interest as well and prompted by a colleague I thought it worth my while to investigate.
Unfortunately, the software requires a decent 3D chipset, meaning that only my home desktop with the Nvidia FX5200 was up to the task. Everything else I use has old or integrated graphics.
Australia's first website was life.anu.edu.au, later moved to life.csu.edu.au when the maintainer David Green shifted from the Australian National University to Charles Sturt University (he is now at Monash University). A notice on the Life site states that the server is about to be decommissioned.