Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Clear Future for Cloud

Greetings from the AWS Summit Canberra, where Pia Andrews is running the lunch discussion. Issues are around the Australian Public Service and technology. Interestingly the new government has not been mentioned. It is a very mixed audience for a Canberra event. On one side I have someone reforming the APS and on the other advising regional business in technology.

Covid-19 Has barely got a mention. Also cloud computing has not been mentioned, perhaps because it's assumed behind any government initiative.

However, while government can call on plenty of hardware can we get people to make it work? Also we may be able to secure systems from cyber-attack, but are staff ready for years of grey-zone conflict, between peace and war, where every agency is on the front line.

ps: Dr. Guido Governatori, will be speaking on "Digital Legislation", Thursday, 01 September 2022, 11am, ANU Building 145, room 1.33 and zoom.

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Mentoring Computer Professionals

 Greetings from the National Press Club in Canberra, where mentors & men

tees are talking about their experience in the ACS Mentoring Program. One lesson was "reality is harsh". I am one of the mentors.

Sunday, August 21, 2022

Hackerthon Format Has Potential for Education

This weekend teams across Australian and New Zealand have been participating in Govhack 2022, looking at how free open access data provided by government, might be used. Here are some of the videos submitted today. There will be judging and award of prizes from the sponsors. However, I suggest this form of rapid fire development process could be used as part of an educational program. ANU Techlauncher, and similar group programs, take six months or a year, whereas a hackerthon can take 72 hours. This provides a useful simulation of the type of high pressure graduates are likely to find themselves in. 

Delays in Live Streamed Video Can Cause Problems for Clicker Quizzes

Livia Lam, & Tom Worthington,
hosting the Govhack 2022 Trivia, 
still from livestream, 20 August 2022
For months I have been taking part in weekly video conferences, helping prepare Govhack 2022. During that time I managed to avoid taking on more roles that the one I volunteered for: Government & Education Liaison. But during the last meeting before the event my video link stopped, & when I reconnected I discovered I was the co-host, Livia Lam, for the streamed Trivia event. We did this from a classroom at Torrens University's Sydney CDB campus. The format was much as used for live classroom quizzes, as was the technology used. 

Myself and the co-host were on Zoom, which was relayed to a Facebook live stream. The participants used a QR code to get to the software asking the questions. One problem was the delay of several seconds between us speaking, and when we were heard. The application used for the questions did not have the delay, so the questions we were reading out were after the participants had already answered. The delay was longer than just with Zoom, as the video then had to go via Facebook's system. Perhaps the makers of the quiz system could build a delay into it. 

Friday, August 19, 2022

GovHack Launch at Torrens University Sydney

Victor Michael Dominello,
GovHack 2022 in Sydney 
Greetings from Torrens University's Sydney CBD campus, where Hon. Victor Michael Dominello MP, NSW Minister for Customer Service and Digital Government, opened GovHack 2022. The theme of his talk was that the startup community can help identify the problems, as well as find solutions. Floods, fires, climate change, and jobs were confirmed as challenges for the start, as well as GovHack, he said there were than more than 14,000 NSW datasets open for use. One issue he focused on was a portable skills wallet, which can hold job relevant micro-credentials, and other certificates. This is not easy to achieve, with Australian university making several attempts at it over the last few years. The hypothetical qualification he said would be in demand was "Metaverse Engineering" at Torrens University. ;-)

ps: My first govhack was 2009.

Timber Construction Seminar in Canberra 13 September

A Timber Construction Seminar will be held in ANU's six story timber framed Marie Reay Teaching Centre, on 13 September. I attended a previous seminar in 2018, while this, and an adjacent student building were under construction from engineered prefabricated timber panels. Most notable was that the panels had been tested for resistance to bombs, for a military customer. Building like the Marie Reay have proved popular with educational institutions, due to speed of construction, and green credentials.

Thursday, August 18, 2022

Expanding Defence Training via Mobile Devices

I will be speaking on "Designing for scale: How to use mobile devices to recruit, train, and equip the extra 18,500 defence personnel", at the Mobile Learning Special Interest Group meeting of the Australasian Society for Computers in Learning in Tertiary Education (ASCILITE), 10 am Canberra time, Friday, August 26, 2022. All are welcome, via Zoom (no need to register). In this post, I am collecting my thoughts for the presentation. Comments, corrections, and additions are welcome. Presentation slides are also available, along with a video preview (made with a synthetic voice*), and the video recording of the live event (Worthington, 2022).


Worthington, Tom (2022): Designing for scale: How to use mobile devices to recruit, train and equip the extra 18,500 defence personnel. University of Melbourne. Media. 

Why Expand the Australian Defence Force?

On 10 March 2022, the then Prime Minister announced that the Australian Defence Force personnel will increase 30% by 2040, at for $38B. As the PM noted, “You can’t flick a switch to increase your army, navy and air force overnight, growing the type of people and skills we need to face the threats of the future takes time, so we must start now so critical skills can be taught and experience gained". While the government has changed since then, there is bipartisan support for a stronger military to meet increased challenges.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaking to ANU, 3 August 2022, 
(still image from ANU TV)

Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022. Volodymyr Zelenskyy, President of Ukraine, made an impassioned speech to staff and students of the Australian National University, on 3 August, via video. He acknowledged Australia's contribution as the largest non-NATO provider of military assistance to his country. That assistance included not only Australian-made armored vehicles, but training in cyber defence.   

On 4 August 2022 China commenced air and naval exercises involving live fire, around Taiwan, including ballistic missiles fired over the islandTaiwan responded with its live-fire exercises on 7 August. Fortunately, the situation has not escalated, but tension remains. 

On 3 August, the new Australian Prime Minister announced a review of Australia's Defence posture and structure, to report by March 2023, for mobilization needs in 2032-33. An interim report is to be provided, but no deadline for this has been made public. While the review documentation mentions infrastructure, estate, disposition, logistics, and nuclear-powered submarines, the skills required of the members of the ADF, and the people who support them, are not mentioned. 

What New Skills Will Defence Personnel Need?

Conduct Cyberwarfare

Eesmaa Public Lecture, ANU, 30 July 2021
In July 2021, Ms. Kersti Eesmaa, Estonian Ambassador to Australia, talked at the ANU about how her nation was developing a sophisticated digital economy. Part of this was protecting government and civil infrastructure from cyber attacks. In April 2007 cyber-attacks were launched against Estonia, suspected to be from Russia. In response, NATO created a Cooperative Cyber Defence Center of Excellence (CCDCOE) in Tallinn, Estonia. CCDCOE now offers a comprehensive set of courses related to defensive and offensive cyberwarfare.

Coordinate Information Warfare

Mr. Myroshnychenko,
speaking in the ANU Moot Court.
Photo by Tom Worthington, CC-BY 30 March 2022

In March 2022 Ukraine's new Ambassador to Australia made an unscheduled speech at ANU on 
"Russia's Invasion of Ukraine". He said Ukraine destroyed the myth of Russian invincibility. Mr. Myroshnychenko pointed out he doesn't have a background in diplomacy, but in strategic communications, and co-founded Ukraine Crisis MediaBefore coming to Australia he ran Information warfare for Ukraine. He pointed out US Starlink satellite communications system had been useful for both civilian and military communications in Ukraine. He also pointed out how Russia sought to manipulate public opinion using messages different for internal and external audiences. The Ambassador also suggested Australia could play a useful role in countering Russian propaganda in the Pacific. 

Information Warfare Division
Australian Department of Defence
Mr. Myroshnychenko referred to the use of talk shows by Russia, which manipulates emotions, modeled on those popularized in the USA. He then looked ahead to how difficult it will be to reeducate the people influenced by Russian messages. He pointed out how difficult this was, with people in Germany after WWII. But perhaps a better analogy today would be with those convinced by QAnon conspiracy theories.

The day after the Minister's speech, the  Australian Government announced a doubling of the staff of the Australian Signals Directorate, and an expansion of offensive cyber operations. However, there was no mention of increasing the staff of the ADF  Information Warfare Division.

The ADF will need personnel with very deep technical skills in how to protect our computer systems, and attack those of our enemies. They will also need a deep understanding of how to provide convincing information, directly online, and through the media.

Operate Large Armed Air, Sea & Land Drones

In the 2022 Australian election campaign, the Australian Liberal Party has proposed an "Autonomous undersea warfare capability for Australia's navy" as part of its electoral platform (5 May 2022). The new Labor government is reported to have accelerated this program, with the first drone submarine to be built in Sydney in 2023 (Robotic submarines fast-tracked for build at a site on Sydney harbor to plug capability gap, Tory Shepard, SMH, 18 August 2022). These drones, at 30 m long, are larger than the midget submarines which attacked Sydney harbor in WWII. ADF personnel will need to know how to operate and maintain the drones. 

Loyal Wingman supersonic fighter UAV

Work is also progressing on a high-performance pilot-less aircraft for the air force, the Loyal Wingman, to be built in Queensland. As well as operators, the ADF will need personnel to understand the complexities of the AI software used,  and how the aircraft will operate alongside crewed aircraft. The operators may use VR headsets to fly the aircraft, while on the ground personnel would use wrist-mounted controllers.  

Work with Industry

Event canvas from NWIW 2020
by Paul Telling
In December 2020 I coached a team in the Navy Warfare Innovation Workshop 2020 (NWIW), at the Australian Defence Force Academy. Mixed teams of defence personnel from the Army, Navy, and Air Force, worked with civilian government personnel, and staff from defence companies, on ways to combat threats with new technology. My team came up with TIDE: Treat Identification Detection and Effects for dealing with swarms of RAS (Robotic Autonomous Systems). An important part of this exercise was having ADF personnel get used to working in diverse teams to come up with quick solutions.

How Can Mobile Devices Help With Skills?

VT to Learn to Drive the Drones

ANU  Defence Industry Workshop on XR,
5 November. 2019
VR headsets, AR glasses, and handheld devices are increasingly used as the interface for modern weapons and equipment. This allows for integrated training, using the same equipment and interface as for operation. Increasingly this is using ruggedized consumer-derived equipment, rather than bespoke hardware. This also allows for lower-cost consumer devices to be used in training, even by the personnel at home.

The ANU College of Engineering and Computer Science hosted a Defence Industry Workshop on XR, 5 November. 2019 as part of a national Extended Reality Cooperative Research Center (XR-CRC) bid.

Learn to Work Together Using a Smartphone

Robert Lester sending a report from K95

An important military skill is working with others. This is where mobile devices can be as important as operating drones. Personnel will need to be able to distribute
Tom Worthington at TT97
information and make decisions, with military personnel from other services, and civilians. It will not be possible to bring everyone to a central location, instead decisions have to be made on the fly (literally). Working at the Department of Defence in the 1990s, I observed military conferences in offices, in the field, and at sea. These initially required a satellite dish several meters wide, & a room full of equipment. Later this was reduced to umbrella, and briefcase size. The same capability is available in a hand held-unit. 

Promote Reserve Defence Careers via Mobile Devices

Detail from"Here to guide you there" (video), 
Open Universities Australia, 11 April 2022

Australia can't afford to pay for all of the personnel needed with advanced technical skills to be employed full-time in the ADF. This requires expansion of reserve part-time personnel. This provides the opportunity to use mobile devices to train, and coordinate part-time recruits. Traditional war planning assumes that reserve personnel will be mobilized when required. However, the fast tempo of modern warfare may not permit reserves to be called up in time to be of use. Also, there are likely to be months, or years, of "grey-zone" operations, which do not meet the criteria for all out-war. In these situations, it would be useful to be able to call on reserves, for a few minutes or hours of work, much like the gig economy. These people need not leave their usual workplace but instead, work via a secure mobile device.

The ADF tends to use advertising promoting an outdoors active dynamic lifestyle to attract recruits. However, something more like Open Universities Australia's  marketing of online university courses may be more appropriate for STEM reserve recruits. In the TV ad, the student is shown leaping from place to place but then ends with them sitting studying on a smartphone. The message is that this is something that can fit into everyday life.

Hackathons for Recruitment and Training

In addition to 
the Navy Warfare Innovation Workshop  (NWIW), there were two defence sponsored hackerthons run by the Australian Computer Society ran in 2020. These used Slack, Zoom, and the usual collaboration tools. These had hundreds of participants and about 80 mentors. The Shockproof hackerthon on Secure Supply Chains for the Australian and NZ Defence Forces was unusual as it was aimed at defence force personnel, but open to anyone. 

A Role for Universities in Research & Teaching ADF via Mobile Devices

The need to recruit and train an expanded Australian Defence Force in new technical areas will challenge the capacity of current trainers and techniques. This provides an opportunity for Australian university academics to assist, particularly using the skills and knowledge gained over the last two years of the COVID-19 pandemic. Australian universities have been forced to rapidly evolve from places that offered classroom teaching, to ones where most learning is now done online. In particular, the use of VR for training rescue (Pedram, 2018), and emergency medical personnel (Aiello, Sevigny, & Cochrane, 2021), can be directly applied to the ADF. 

Some Ways to Scale

Mobile Recruiting

Recruiting, training, and managing more than ten thousand extra defence personnel is a daunting task. The technology can be used to help manage this. One way is to use mobile devices to provide potential recruits with information and guide them through the application process. Ideally, an applicant should be able to do this online with their phone in a couple of sessions, without needing to speak to anyone, unless they need to clarify something.

The first time I was a graduate university student, I had to fill in a paper form and hand it in at an office. The next time I filled in an online form, the university called me a few seconds later, to check something. The third time it was all done online: I never spoke to anyone from admin, before, or during, three years of study.

Mobile Trainers

The military traditionally provides quality training for personnel. However, this can be at a high cost to the organisation, and also in terms of time for reservists. Mobile and online learning can allow personnel to train and be trained with the minimum of standing around waiting.

Industry Standard Training

A major incentive for personnel to join and remain in the military is free training. For this to be an effective inducement, the training needs to be well delivered,  relevant, and recognized outside the Australian Defence Force. The military should adopt Australian civilian standards for qualifications of their trainers, and courses. Personnel should be formally trained in how to teach, particularly online, as part of leadership training. The students can also be trained in how to provide feedback online and assess fellow students, to reduce the need for specialist instructors. Students can be shown how to prepare an e-portfolio to showcase their skills. All of this will need to be done mindful of security requirements, as individual skills are a valuable source of information for potential enemies. 

Uber War 

Preparing reports from K95, 1995 
Members of a militia traditionally keep their rifles at hand to be ready to fight at any time. Members of Australia's reserve should treat their government security-approved smartphones the same way. Rather than having to muster at a military base, they should be able to train and fight, from wherever they are. This may be for only a few minutes at a time, in between a regular civilian job, over days, months, or years, of a conflict.

Earlier I showed a photo of someone from the Australian Defence media unit, sending reports from Exercise Kangaroo 95. There is a companion photo, of me receiving the reports. But I was not at my desk in Headquarters Australian Defence Force. I happened to be on holiday, so I was receiving the reports via a pocket modem (this was last century), and adding them to the Department of Defence website, using a laptop computer. That could now all be done on a pocket-size smart device. Some personnel would require devices with higher levels of security, and which do not depend on public data networks.


Aiello, S., Sevigny, C., & Cochrane, T. (2021). The Affordances of Immersive Virtual Reality Clinical Simulation Within Healthcare Education: A Scoping Review Protocol.

Pedram, Shiva, Evaluating Virtual Reality-based Training Programs for Mine Rescue Brigades in New South Wales (Australia), Doctor of Philosophy thesis, School of Computing and Information Technology, University of Wollongong, 2018.

Worthington, Tom (2022): Designing for scale: How to use mobile devices to recruit, train and equip the extra 18,500 defence personnel. University of Melbourne. Media. 

Monday, August 15, 2022

GovHack this weekend in Canberra, Sydney and Elsewhere

GovHack Logo

GovHack is an annual open government data competition held all over Australia and New Zealand. Teams are eligible for some great prizes, in addition to honour and fame at our Red Carpet Awards.

GovHack is about getting our best and brightest, working with government data to innovate and create. It is about encouraging and celebrating our technical and creative capacity, connecting citizens with government for great outcomes, and building upon the social and economic value of open data published by government.

In 46 hours teams create a proof of concept and a video that tells the story of how the data can be reused.

The venue for Govhack Canberra, this weekend is YWCA House Level 3, 71 Northbourne Avenue.  Doors open at 5PM this Friday, 19 August.

Visit the event page on the hackerpace to register.. and add your dietary requirements, as PIZZA is back by popular demand!

ps: I am helping put on the GovHack committee. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Prepare for Regional Conflict to Keep Students Offshore

Dirk Mulder reports that 19% of international students enrolled in Australian universities are offshore (Dirk Mulder on where international students are (and aren't, Campus Morning Mail, 9 August 2022). This may be an underestimate, as it is based on government figures for the number  of students with visas (students studying purely online don't need a visa). The figure is higher for Chinese students (38%), and lower for Indian (10%). The students in China may be unable to travel due to COVID-19 restrictions. However, it may be that some of these students do not see value in travelling to Australia, and would prefer to study offshore. That option has only been available from a few universities and programs, with most requiring on campus participation. Also students may be taking advantage of Australian university not indicating on transcripts that students studied online. In investigating the possibility of Chinese and Indian students studying at Australian universities online before the pandemic, I noticed that particularly in the case of China online study had a poor reputation. 

Also, in 2016 I warned that international tensions may stop students studying on campus in Australia. The type of tension I had in mind is currently taking place around Taiwan. As I wrote in 2016, Australian universities should be prepared if tension deters, or prevents, students travelling to Australia. This could effect not only Chinese students, but also Indian students, and nationals of other countries in the region. The best way to prepare is to offer quality online learning with a campus option.

Saturday, August 6, 2022

The Future of Online Universities

Athabasca University (AU), my alma mater, is in dispute with government. This is not a new dispute, and not one confined to Canada. It is about the nature, and future, of universities. AU wants to be virtual, with staff working online from wherever they are, but the Government of Alberta wants staff to live in the town of Athabasca, where the campus is. AU is an online university, so it makes sense to give the staff, as well as the students, the flexibility to work from wherever they want. On the other hand, the Government is funding the university for the benifit of its citizens, particularly those outside cities, in regional areas. Both sides have reasonable points, and this is a dispute not unique to AU, nor new.

Australia has a similar university to AU, which has also had difficulties with government. The University of New England (UNE), is located in the inland Australian city of Armidale. UNE was a pioneer of distance education, providing some of the model for the UK Open University. UNE made the transition to online learning, and has attempted several innovations to suit this environment. However, UNE keeps running up against federal government regulations designed for conventional campus based institutions, and the norms this sets.

Speculation over the future of AU is not new, and there was press speculation of a merger with a conventional Alberta university back in 2013, when I was a student. There was also speculation about moving to a larger city. I asked my tutor at the time, as any student worries that there will not be a university for them to graduate from. The tutor wisely said that this is a perennial issue and not to worry. But the current dispute, seems more heated, and political.

As Robert Pirsig wrote:
 "...the real university exists not as the physical campus, but as a body of reason within the minds of students and teachers ..."

From Chapter 13, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert M. Pirsig, 2006
My studies at AU were to explore this idea. By 2016 there were millions of graduates from online universities. However, this was still seen as not the mainstream. This was despite decades of research showing online universities produced good graduates, and the techniques for teaching them being refined. In 2020, with the COVID-19 pandemic, all universities suddenly became online universities. Unfortunately, there was not time to train all university academics in how to teach online. Also some academics were unwilling to accept that teaching online was a well developed field they could learn from. 

The Government of Alberta appears to be acting like academics of the pre-Internet age. The backed a university in a small regional town, to help that town, so they want the university to make its staff live in the town. However, university education doesn't work like that any more. The Government can choose to impose that restriction, and cripple the university, or choose to compromise.

There are dangers both for government and university in this dispute. Students will be reluctant to enroll in an institution which might be sent broke by the government which accredits it. Staff may also simply not apply for jobs at AU, if they may be later required to move to Athabasca. The Government of Alberta needs to be seen to be applying a clear policy on regional development, or face allegations of political pork barreling. Perhaps it is time for the parties to reach a compromise: AU will retain a campus and some academic staff, but will be free to have most academic and teaching staff based elsewhere.

With campus closures due to COVID-19 all universities were suddenly forced to face the implications of the Internet. For years it has been possible to run a university, with most students, and staff, not on a campus. What has held up wider use of this model has been the perception that online education, and work, is inferior. Universities have been able to take the lazy option, promoting their education and research via images of the campus, be it ivy covered stone, or mirrored glass. Now that it has been proven the campus is not important, except for marketing, universities are scrambling to formulate new ways of working. Those institutions were built on a model of distance education, such as Athabasca, have an advantage, as they are set up, with trained staff, to prosper in this new world. I suggest the Government of Alberta allow the university to flourish. It is ironic that I selected AU to study the topic of the virtual university, to help Canberra's institutions

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Ukraine President Address to the Australian National University

Audience in ANU Hall 
(still image from ANU TV)
This afternoon, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, President of Ukraine, addressed staff and students of the Australian National University, via video. He acknowledged Australia's contribution as the largest non-NATO provider of military assistance.

Ukraine have run an impressive Information Warfare campaign, with subtility, and occasional humor. This is a capability Australia needs to build as part of its defence rethink.. I will be speaking on "Designing for scale: How to use mobile devices to recruit, train and equip the extra 18,500 defence personnel", at the Mobile Learning Special Interest Group meeting of the Australasian Society for Computers in Learning in Tertiary Education (ASCILITE), 10 am, Friday, August 26, 2022.
President Zelenskyy speaking to ANU 
(still image from ANU TV)

Cybernetic Leadership.

Professor Genevieve Bell,
Director of the School of Cybernetics 
at the Leadership Launch.
Greetings from the Australian National University where the new School of Cybernetics is launching a program in Cybernetic Leadership, funded by the Menzies Foundation. There is a whitepaper available: "Redefining Leadership in the 21st Century: the View from Cybernetics". Cybernetics started as a engineering concept, where feedback lops are used to control the operation of s system. But this has been broadened to investigate complex systems, and the human aspects of them. As a computer professional interested in the human aspects, I often bump up against these issues.