This blog is moving

Array of radiotelescopes in front of a mountain

I've decided to stop blogging here and move to a new blog allrite rites at blog.allrite.net. I'll leave the content here, there's a lot of history on this site. I've decided to go with Blogger for now because:

  1. I don't have to spend much time maintaining and administering the site.
  2. I'm familiar with it, having used Blogger to write my travel blogs allrite in asia and travelling allrite

Hopefully moving to the new blog will mean that it is updated more often and uses more photos. See you there!

Expecting

Array of radiotelescopes in front of a mountain

Finally I can reveal that we are expecting a baby! Very exciting. Life will change.

Another day at CeBIT

Array of radiotelescopes in front of a mountain

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.

Parents fear not, because I highly doubt if any Double Helix club events these days would ever involve such activities. It may sound bad, but much of the research is done to decrease the suffering of cattle due to disease and other problems. It should also be remembered that many people suffer similar medical indignities on a daily basis (eg colostomy bags).

Thankfully, it looks like the CSIRO divisions that I have been involved with have come out okay in the budget and science investment process, but I do feel very sad for those who face redundancy and site closures. It is unfortunate that we should be decreasing science capability when we need it more than ever before. 

CeBIT Australia 2008

Array of radiotelescopes in front of a mountain

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.

Other displays included the Braccetto collaborative technology, autonomous helicopters and hot metal carriers, sensors for monitoring rivers, farms and prawn feeding, techniques for tracking people (I suggested dogs!) when GPS doesn't work, and even the first (to my knowledge) Mac fridge – using smart agents in electricity networks. I was very amused when a couple of promotions girls came up to chat with the guy manning our W3C display (the ICT Centre hosts the Australian W3C office). I had been asked if I could think of a way to make web standards sexy. Looks like they didn't need my help!

I also spent time wandering around CeBIT. Our competitors and collaborators NICTA had an interesting demonstration of their Universal Storage Scheme which enabled them to compress 18GB of Wikipedia data into a fully searchable 3GBs. They demonstrated accessing this compressed data through Internet Explorer on a Windows mobile phone and it was very fast.

I stopped by at the Open Source area and talked to the folk associated with the Drupal content management system, which is what this site runs on. Much of what we chatted about was unrelated to Drupal.

Despite our function as a research organisation there is what I see is an unhealthy fixation on reputations built through business over research at CSIRO and the ICT Centre in particular. This was brought home to me by the discussion I had at the Drupal booth. They had a lot of respect for one of our former employees through her papers and presentations at conferences, describing her as a heavy hitter in a field where there are many big names. Yet there is a feeling that she was encouraged to leave because her focus was on open standards rather than commercialising technologies, especially with the big corporations. If you want to be a player in the ICT industry you need to be respected and respect doesn't just come through selling off your knowledge to big-name multinationals.

Other open source content management systems were represented at CeBIT. I listened and participated in a Q&A session with representatives from Drupal, Joomla and Zope/Plone. It was good to hear how far they have come, especially as it is time to evaluate content management systems again. I'm especially looking forward to investigating new developments in Zope/Plone. 

By the end of the day my feet were sore from standing so long, but it really was a worthwhile experience. So much so that I'm going back to help again tomorrow!