Thursday, April 08, 2010

OLPC deployment in Australia

Sridhar Dhanapalan will talk about the recent deployment of OLPCs in Yirrkala in East Arnhem Land, at the Sydney Linux User Group Slug meeting, at Google Sydney on 30 April 2010. I have been skeptical of the value of the One Laptop Per Child project, but OLPC Australia appear to be doing good work on providing computers for education in remote aboriginal communities.

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Fast netbook with Linux

With Kogan discontinuing its AGORA an alternative low cost performance Linux netbook is the DreamBook Lite M81. DreamBook has the Intel Atom N450 1.66G processor and they offer Ubuntu Linux OS Pre-loaded as a free option. Unfortunately you still pay for a Microsoft Windows licence, even if you don't want it, but at least you can Linux installed. The DreamBook is otherwise a fairly ordinary 10.1 inch screen netbook.

Another interesting "option" for the DreamBook is the DreamVision Portable Pocket Projector (PD-S690). This is a LED video projector. It is only 121 X 99 X 47 mm, but is not cheap and the light output from the Aiptek Pocket Cinema V10 LED projector I tried was disappointing. The new unit uses the OSRAM OSTAR LED Module.

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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Epub eBook Tutorial and Tool

The ".epub eBooks Tutorial" provides a good overview. A sligly more polished presentation is ion "EPUB Resources and Guides" By Keith Fahlgren. Of the tools avialable, calibre looks promising as a free open source HTML or ODT (Open Office Word Processing format) to Epub ebook converter. However, I have not been able to get it to run on Linux so far.

Feedbooks provides a useful online tool for creating and publishing free ebooks. It uses a familar looking web based editor to create the book. It would be interesting to see if this could be added to online commercial book publishing systems like Currently these assume you prepare the book offline and then upload the typeset result, usually as PDF. But for books which are mostly text it might be easier to provide a web based editor.

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Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Australian Whole of Government Computer Tender

The Department of Finance and Deregulation has issued a Request for Tender for a "Whole of Government Desktop Hardware (Computing Equipment) Panel". This includes desktop and mobile computing equipment, monitors, installation and disposal. All agencies will be required to buy through the panel.

There is an extensive 235 page "Statement of Requirements" available to tenderers. This not only includes the usual desktop PCs and laptops, but also Thin Clients, Ultra Mobile PCs, Netbooks, Ruggedised Notebooks and Mobile Thin Clients.

Tenderers are required to describe environmental aspects of their Tender, but no minimum requirement is specified for EPEAT:
Environmental Assessment: [State whether this Deliverable is registered in the Electronic Product Environment Assessment Tool (EPEAT) or equivalent environmental assessment tool in Australia or overseas and the level attained by the Deliverable (eg Energy Star 4, EPEAT Silver)] [Provide environmental specifications stating the normal range of operation for the device (including but not limited to, temperature, altitude, humidity, dust, noise output, and heat output ...

From: Request for Tender to establish a WHOLE OF GOVERNMENT DESKTOP HARDWARE PANEL, RFT FIN10/AGI001, Department of Finance and Deregulation, 1-Feb-2010
This contrasts with the Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts (DEWHA) Request for Tender for Provision of Desktop, LAN, Helpdesk and Midrange Services (RFT 0708-705, 7 August 2008), which required at least an EPEAT silver rating. This was possibly too much to ask of suppliers, but not asking for at least the minimum Bronze rating may be too little.

Green features required include: US ENERGY STAR 4.0, BIOS Support for Green and Plug and Play features and Support for Wake-on-LAN. There is no specific requirement for
recycling or environmentally sensitive disposal of surplus hardware.

Support for Linux is mentioned, along with Microsoft Windows XP, Microsoft Vista and Microsoft Windows 7.

Table of Contents
1.1Structure of Statement of Requirements4
1.2Criteria Definitions6
1.3Structure of Requirements Statements6
1.4Integration of Deliverables7
1.5Occupational Health and Safety7
3.1Standard Desktop PC17
3.2Power Desktop PC31
3.4Thin Client59
4.1Ultra Mobile PC72
4.3Lightweight Notebook96
4.4Standard Notebook109
4.5Lightweight Ruggedised Notebook122
4.6Standard Ruggedised Notebook136
4.7Mobile Thin Client151
5.119 Inch Monitor164
5.220 Inch Monitor170
5.322 Inch Monitor176
5.423 Inch Monitor (If Available)182
5.524 Inch Monitor188
5.630 Inch Monitor193
5.736 Inch Monitor198
6.2Centralised Services213

From: Part F - Statement of Requirements, Whole of Government Desktop Hardware Panel, Request for Tender FIN10/AGI001, Department of Finance and Deregulation, 1-Feb-2010

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Friday, January 22, 2010

Kogan Netbook Failure

The AC Adaptor of my Kogan Agora Netbook Pro failed yesterday. I tested it with a multimeter and the power supply reads zero volts. The computer is still working fine.

The adaptor is rated at 20 Volts, 2 amps DC (model: 20K70LF-C201). It happens I have a compatible unit from another computer to tide me over. That unit is a few years old and is twice as large and three times as heavy as the Kogan unit. I suspect it has a large old fashioned, inefficient transformer in it (it gets warm), unlike the electronic modern power sup-plies. But the old transformer still works.

The Kogan was purchased six months ago and so is still under warranty. The adaptors are not repairable so there does not seem much point sending the old one back. So I have written to Kogan asking them to simply send me a new adaptor.

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Monday, September 14, 2009

Software Freedom Day in Canberra

The Computer Fair at the Old Bus Depot Markets in Kingston, Canberra will feature a stand for Software Freedom Day, 10am to 2pm, 19 September 2009. There will be free Linux CDs, demonstrations of open source games and MythTV (for turning your PC into an intelligent Digital TV recorder). There will be a later "Installfest" with CLUG members helping to install Linux and Open Source Software, in room N101 of the CSIT Building, ANU from 10am to 3pm, on 26 September. Volunteers are needed for both events.

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Thursday, August 13, 2009

Kogan Agora Netbook now under $500

A few weeks ago purchased a Kogan Agora Netbook Pro, for $569 delivered. The machine has worked well (see my blog posts) and I have adapted to using Linux in place of Windows XP. But perhaps I am one of the few, as Kogan have reduced the price by $100.

About my only complaints with the Agora were:
  1. No printed installation guide and no electronic user manual on the disk (I had to download the manual from the web),
  2. WiFi is difficult to set up and seems slow,
  3. Have not been able to get a USB 3G mobile broadband device to work,
  4. Shiny black top.
What works well:
  1. More than fast enough for email, web browsing and office applications,
  2. Open source office, email and web applications work well,
  3. Updating of software online works better than on Windows XP,
  4. Works well with USB flash devices, printer, DVD drive and external hard disk,
  5. Looks at home at the cyber cafe amongst much more expensive netbooks,
  6. It is is an understated black, not white, or pink.
The Agora works well as my main computer. In the office I plug it into a large screen, keyboard, mouse and Ethernet. The unit fits comfortably on the desk between the external keyboard and LCD screen. When out of the office it is adequate to use with the 10 inch screen and undersize keyboard.

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Friday, August 07, 2009

Kogan Agora Netbook Pro Updating Software

There not being FTP software apparent on my new Kogan Agora Pro netbook I started the "add/remove applications" utility to get some. It at this point I started to realise what my Linux using colleagues had been talking about with the ease of Linux maintenance for all these years. I simply selected the gFTP client and it was downloaded and installed in a few seconds.

Emboldened by this, I started the "Synaptic Package Manager" and instructed it to update all of the software installed on the system with any needed updates. This resulted in several hundred files totaling several hundred megabytes being downloaded and installed, taking about 20 minutes. The download and install proceeded with no problems, but afterwards the system did not respond and I had to turn the power off and on, at which point everything seemed to be fine. This was comparable to the process for the Microsoft Windows computer I borrowed recently which had not had any updates installed for about a year.

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Kogan Agora Netbook Pro Video

My Kogan Agora Pro netbook was not playing video: it didn't work and locked the system. But after a few days, without having done anything to fix it, the video is now working. I can use Skype video conferencing (well I could if Virgin Mobile Boradband could supply broadband) and can play Youtube videos. The system now also passes the Ubuntu hardware test utility.

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Thursday, August 06, 2009

Kogan Agora Netbook Pro WiFi

With the aid of the manual and a few minutes thinking, I was able to get the wireless Internet access working on the Kogan Agora Pro netbook. For the last few days I have been trying to get it to work from the system administration network utility. After reading the Manual, it turns out that all I had to do was click on the network icon on the top of the screen and select a WiFi network from the list, to connect to. This still took some deductive work, as the manual shows the icon as a radio antenna (pointed), whereas the screen shows it as a computer terminal (a square box). Only after I connected to a wireless network did the square box change to the pointed antenna shape, as shown in the manual.

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Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Kogan Agora Netbook Pro manual

The Kogan Agora Netbook User Manual gOS Edition is on the web. I came across it while looking on the web for how to connect an external monitor. The manual is a 44 page 1.7 Mbyte PDF file. It is a good manual, but a shame it is not provided on the netbook (at least I couldn't find it on the Netbook). The manual told me what I needed to know: to have an external monitor recognised, I had to first log out and log in again to Linux. With this done my 24" Dell 2405FPW displayed what looked like an enormous desktop, after having looked at the 10 inch screen.

My next problem is to work out how to get the WiFi to work, which the manual has a good section about.

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Kogan Agora Netbook Pro with external DVD Drive

After six days with the unit my impressions of the Kogan Agora Netbook Pro are still mostly good. The unit doesn't include DVD drive, so I purchased a $99 external unit. This comes with two USB plugs: one for data and a second one for addiditional power. I found the Agora supplies enough power thwough the first USB plug not to need the second cable.

When I plugged the DVD drive in, it appeared as a device in the file manager and I could make a data DVD simply by dragging and dropping a file to it and pressing "Burn". There was no need to install any software. The Agora includes Braseo Disk Burning software, but it is not really needed for simple functions. Also I found I could create a Zip archive with a few mouse clicks.

There were some frustrations with the DVD, a faulty old disk caused the drive to continually attempt to read and I could find no way to stop this apart from unplugging the drive and ejecting the disk with a paper-clip.

The problems I have had with the DVD need to be seen in proportion, being no worse than a laptop running Microsoft Windows with a bult in DVD and supplied software.

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Sunday, August 02, 2009

Kogan Agora Netbook Pro mostly good

After four days with the unit my first impressions of the Kogan Agora Netbook Pro are borne out: it is mostly good. The unit with 2 Gbytes of memory appears faster than many desktop computers. In terms of styling it stood up to all but the HP and Dell units on display at the Slug meeting at Google Sydney on Friday.

The unit did not come with a carry case and really needs some sort of rubberised slip cover for protection and to make it easier to carry.

The 10 inch screen is very bright and readable and I am able to sit in the library in full sunlight at a window and still read comfortably. With the fonts adjusted to a larger size, the screen is still adequate for typing text into email and blogs. It is not big enough for desktop publishing, but I can comfortably use Moodle for updating student assignment material and mark forum postings from my postgraduate students.

I am not able to yet get the WiFi to work reliably. In the networking utility there is a pulldown menu which should display WiFi units in range but seems to flick up one for a moment and then disappear. As a result I had to use the supplied Windows computer for my SLug presentation at Google Sydney.

The Linux boot sequence is very fast and it is almost as convenient to boot on the Kogan as it was to resume from hibernate on my old Windows XP laptop.

I have adjusted the sensitivity of the tack pad, so it works as expected most of the time. It is still prone to jump the pointer to the left side of the screen occasionally.

An MP3 player plugged into the USB port flawlessly. I am still working on the intricacies of getting the Virgin 3G wireless USB modem to work (but that was always a difficulty with the Windows XP laptop).

The one genuine fault with the Kogan I have found so far is playing video: it doesn't work and locks the system. When I attempted to test Skype video the screen locked up and I have to power off and on. When I tried the Ubuntu hardware test utility, the system locked up on the video test. At some point when I have a high speed Internet connection I will upgrade the operating system and see if that fixes the problem.

Overall the Kogan Agora Netbook Pro is very good (and excellent value for money). Kogan should perhaps consider a desktop version: leaving out the keyboard, touch pad, screen and battery and adding a clamp on VESA mount. Please note that I am aware that some manufacturers make desktop "nettop" computers with similar configurations to net books. But these tend to be over-specified, overpriced and sufficiently different to the netbooks to eliminate potential commonality.

Netbooks and nettops with common hardware and software could make an attractive package for educational institutions: they could issue netbooks to students and support the same hardware and software on desktops. Netbooks with broken screens (a common problem) could even be recycled as nettops.

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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Kogan Agora Netbook Pro first impressions

My Kogan Agora Netbook Pro ordered at about 12 noon yesterday arrived at 7:30 am today. This is an impressively quick delivery (even if I may have expedited it by saying I would be demonstrating the unit at the Slug meeting at Google Sydney on Friday). First impressions are good.

The unit is surprisingly understated: inside the courier envelope was a plain white cardboard box smaller than a briefcase. Inside the box was one thin sheet of closed cell foam. Impressively the rest of the packing was with recycled paper, not plastic.

The box contained the computer, power supply, battery and a very small bluetooth dongle. There was no printed manual at all. The only difficulty was installing the battery pack. The unit comes with a high capacity six cell battery pack which is an odd double cylinder shape. It took several attempts to work out how this was attached and a photo would have been helpful. When installed the battery pack sticks out of the back of the unit at 45 degrees. This doesn't look very elegant, but makes a handy grip for carrying and also makes the unit very stable on a desk and raises the bottom for ventilation.

The unit is entirely black, which I prefer to white or brightly coloured netbooks: white units show dirt and also are more conspicuous when blogging at odd locations. The screen cover has a very glossy patterned surface (I would have preferred a textured mat finish as for the rest of the unit). The keyboard is average for netbooks and not as good as the Tohsiba and HP ones, but is adequate. Otherwise the unit has the usual 10 inch netbook layout.

One surprise is that the small screen. I am used to a 12 inch narrow screen. The 10 inch Agora screen is much smaller, being the width of a sheet of A4 paper, but slightly less than half the height. The wide format seems to work well for entering text.

There being no manual, I plugged in all the cables, plugged in an Ethernet connection and turn the unit on. There are two buttons on the unit: the smaller has an antenna symbol and I assume has to do with WiFi. Powering up produced the usual Linix boot sequence. I was first asked to a user id and password and there was a delay of less than a minute while the system sorted things out. Of the usual questions I was then asked the only problem was with the location, where I had difficulty selecting "Sydney". I tried clicking on the displayed map but kept ending up in Antarctica, due to the touch pad being too sensitive. But that was about the only problem. A gOS log on screen was then displayed.

Entering my newly nominated user id and password, I was presented with gOS's attractive Apple Mac-ish desktop interface. Some of the desktop icons were perplexing, such as a vase of flowers and a snow dome which seemed to be displaying a weather forecast for Texas.

Most useful is the set of cons across the bottom of the screen. Putting the pointer on an icon enlarges it. By default there is the Firefox browser, Open Office, Skype and a set of Google tools. As with other netbooks, the Google tools are a bit of a cheat, as they just open the browser and take you to the web site of the Google tool.

The Internet access worked flawlessly and Firefox brought up the Yahoo home page for UK by default (perhaps these units were intended for the UK?). Apart from the home page a few other defaults will need to be changed. The default text size is too small and the sensitivity of the tack pad needs to be reduced, but that is about all.

Apart from setting up email, here will be a challenge in finding replacements for the few Microsoft Windows specific applications I use. One of these is accounting software for my business. I noticed that Google accounting is one of the functions on the Kogan, but does it do Australian BAS statements?

ps: One curiosity is the name of the unit: "Agora", which was a town square in ancient Greek cities. Perhaps this suggests the netbook is the place where you now interact with education, government, business and society, as was done in the Agora of the ancient world? I have often walked past the marble block set into the floor of the National Library of Australia, which is from the Library of Pantainos in the Ancient Agora of Athens. The word agoraphobia derives from this. Makers of larger, more expensive and not so functional computers way well suffer from fear of what the Agora may do to their business. ;-)

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Kogan Agora Netbook Pro

I have ordered the Kogan Agora Netbook Pro, 10.2 inch. This is $569 delivered. It is essentially a colne of the MSI Wind (which Aldi also were selling). The Kogan has been configured with a larger 6 cell battery and 2 Gbytes of RAM (the Aldi unit had only a three cell battery and 1 gbyte RAM like most netbooks). The Agora has gOS Linux in place of Ms-Windows XP. This is a bit of a shot in the dark for me: my Twinhead laptop failed and I decided on a replacement in a hurry. Other netbooks I looked at were the Levono Ideapad s10e, Acer Aspire One, MSI Wind U100 and the Benq U101 (all of which are between $640 to $699).

One issue I have is the transition from Windows to Linux. Already I use Firefox and Open Office in place of IE and Microsoft Office. But I had not made the transition of my email from a very old Eudora and my accounting software is still on Windows.

Kogan have a very good e-commerce web site. But I needed telephone sales support (which was also good), because I could not find the button on the web to enter my credit card details. Using Firefox, the button at the bottom of the order form, where you enter your address details, was covered by a "comment" box. I found if I turned off styles, I could then see the button. Kogan need to make a change to the web form to fix this, as this netbook is likely to appeal to open source enthusiasts, who prefer Firefox to Internet Explorer. It would be a shame if the people the netbook appealed to couldn't order it.

ps: One advantage the Kogan Agora has it is only available in black (like a Model T Ford), other units are in a range of colours and often you can be stuck with a garish colour you did not want. My Tiwnhead laptop was white, which drew more attention to it that I wanted. In an extreme case someone in a Greek cafe saw me using it and rushed up to give a monologue about the value of computers in education (thinking the Twinhead was an OLPC).

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Monday, July 20, 2009

Sustainable education with open source and smartphones at Google Sydney

At the next Sydney Linux User's Group meeting I will be speaking on "Learning to lower costs and carbon emissions with ICT", 31 July 2009 at Google Sydney:

Fri 31 July: SLUG monthly meeting

2009-07-31 18:30
2009-07-31 20:30
Google Sydney, Level 5, 48 Pirrama Road, Pyrmont

General Talk

Tom Worthington: Learning to lower costs and carbon emissions with ICT

Tom designed the first globally accredited course on Green ICT and has been teaching it via the web since January 2009. The talk will discuss how ICT can be used to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 15% by 2020. Also outlined is how to use the web for running formal, university accredited courses using free open source software with open access content delivered to smartphones. The Istanbul public transport system also gets a mention. ;-)

See Tom's Web site for more information.

Tom runs green IT courses at ANU and ACS. You can read the free open access version here.

In-Depth Talk

Meeting Schedule

See here for an explanation of the segments.

  • 18.15: Open Doors
  • 18.30: Announcements, News, Introductions
  • 18.45: General Talk
  • 19.30: Intermission
  • 19.45: Split into two groups for:
    • In-Depth Talk
    • SLUGlets
  • 20.30: Dinner

Dinner this month will be held locally, not at Golden Harbour as originally planned. Details are TBA.

We will be taking numbers at the beginning of the meeting. If you have any particular dietary requirements (e.g. vegetarian), let us know beforehand. Dinner is a great way to socialise and learn in a relaxed atmosphere :)


General discussion and Q&A about Linux, free software and open source.

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Thursday, April 02, 2009

Linux sneaks onto NSW student netbooks

Lenovo IdeaPad netbookNews reports indicate that Lenovo IdeaPad S10e netbooks with Windows XP have been selected for NSW secondary school students. While it would seem that Linux misses out, the retail IdeaPads also come with "Splashtop", an instant on version of Linux with simplified applications.

The IdeaPad has had mixed reviews, but should stand up to student use more than many portable computers. The first batch will have Windows XP installed. This is supposed to be later upgraded to Windows 7, but that would be a very complex undertaking. If the netbooks also come with Linux, then a better option might be to upgrade that and keep Windows XP, for legacy applications.

While not specifically designed for students, Splashtop's simplified interface has similarities to the OLPC's Sugar child friendly graphical user interface and so may be better for education. Splashtop may also be less demanding of system resources, allowing the limited capacity of the netbook to perform better. It would also be immune to the many Windows security attacks.

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Sunday, November 02, 2008

Mobile Interface for Children's Computers

Clutter User Interface for Ubuntu Mobile Internet DeviceLinux projects are working on simplified graphical user interfaces (GUIs), such as the Ubuntu Mobile Internet Device (MID), for small low power mobile devices. Perhaps such simplified interfaces would be suitable for educational computers used by young children.

The best known GUI for children is Sugar, developed for the One Laptop per Child project. Sugar desktop of the OLPC XO-1 laptop computer Sugar is used on the OLPC XO-1 laptop computer. Like mobile device GUIs, it concentrates on providing one application at a time. This is both to make the interface easier for the user and to make use of the limited screen, input devices and processing capacity.

But Sugar is difficult for adults, who are used to current desktop GUIs. Also Sugar is only readily available on one model of computer which is not commercially available and so not easy for schools or parents to get. Using the same GUI for mobile devices and children's computers would allow such devices to be widely available. Schools and parents would have a choice of what hardware to buy to run the interface. Also teachers and parents would be more easily able to operate the interface and the children to use other computers.

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Saturday, October 18, 2008

Quicktop instant-on operating systems for green ICT

Splashtop, BlackTop and Windows PE are cut down operating systems being used to provide quick access to a few frequently used applications on desktop and laptop computers. The could be a much more energy efficient computers. The idea is that you can quickly browse the web, play a video or check your email without having to wait for the main operating system to boot. On some laptops, such as Dell's, a separate low power processor is used, which greatly increases battery life. If such applications prove popular, then the main computer and operating system could be left unused most of the time.

It may seem bizarre to have a computer with a powerful processor and hard disk left unused, but is much the same as is done with high performance motor vehicles. The four wheel drive mechanisms of most four wheel drive vehicles are not used, as they drive on sealed roads. However, the drivers still value the availability of the system. Similarly some car makers have introduced systems for shutting down cylinders in car engines, so for example an eight cylinder engine operates as a three cylinder engine. It would make far more financial and environmental sense to simply buy a two wheel drive car, with a small engine (my car has a 1 litre three cylinder engine for example). Buying an off road vehicle with a large engine and then drive it on suburban streets makes not practical sense. However, people still buy these vehicles and use them. So it the manufacturers try to make them as efficient as possible. In the same way it may make sense to provide notebook and desktop computers with instant on operating systems and processors, which are what is used most of the time.

It may be feasible to retrofit desktop computers with low power instant on functionality. This would consist of a small nettop PC which was inserted between the peripherals and the main PC. The screen, keyboard, mouse, printer and other devices would be plugged into the nettop and then than would be plugged into the main computer. Most of the time the user would be interacting with the nettop computer and operating system. On those rare occasions when they wanted to do something it was not capable of, the nettop would start up the main computer. In reality this would hardly ever happen. Also, of course, it would make more sense to use a shared central virtual computer, not have one on every desk. But in many cases it is not possible to convince the user, or their ICT staff to give up the desktop PC.

For offices, one workable arrangement might be to build the nettop computer into a VoIP telephone handset. This would then have perhiperals, inlcuding a screen, keyboard and mouse plugged into it. An optional desktop computer could also be connected.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Digital Education Revolution Goes Linux

In a move that may make the federal government's Digital Education Revolution more economically and environmentally sustainable, Slashdot reports that NSW laptops for schools may be pre-installed with open source software. The original report appears to come from the Australian newspaper: "NSW considers giving students Linux laptops" (Fran Foo, October 14, 2008). The NSW Secondary Principals' Council president, is reported to have suggested packages such as Edubuntu, the education version of Ubuntu. Coincidently, next week Pia Waugh from the One Laptop per Child Australia Foundation will speak in Canberra at CASE AGM, at Volunteering ACT.

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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Subnotebooks under $350

Last year I predicted a "normal" personal computer would reach a tipping point in early 2008, with $US500 low power computers. We are not quite there yet, but units like the $US350 Eee Box desktop PC should be the norm by the end of 2008.

The popularity of the original ASUS Eee PC subnotebook forced competitors to bring out their own models and now the prices are dropping. The Aspire netbook, is down from $US399 to $US349 for the Windows XP model and from $US379 to $US329 for the Linux model.

The "Eee Box", desktop version of ASUS's Eee PC is now on sale for $US350 and getting good reviews for performance and power saving (see test and video demo). If this has the same effect on desktop computer prices the Eee PC had on subnotebooks, then we can expect usable desktops (minus the screen) for around $US300 by the end of the year. The Box has Microsoft Windows XP Home, an Intel Atom N270 (1.6 GHz) CPU, 1 GB RAM and a 80 GB Hard Disk and uses 22.3 Watts.

The typical computer bought for home or business in 2007 had a DVD drive, multi-hundred gigabyte hard disk, Microsoft Windows Vista and multi-hundred Watt power supply and cost around $1,000.

By the end of 2008 the idea that you might spend thousands of dollars on a computer will be considered more than just odd. If energy awareness campaigns work, then to buy a computer which consumes hundreds of Watts of power will be considered anti-social (if not actually illegal).

ASUS initially brought out the Eee PC with Linux and only flash memory, with no hard disk. But competitors brought out subnotebooks with small disk drives and Windows XP. It looks like most people will not give up their disk drives by the end of the year, nor Microsoft Windows. HP brought out their subnotebook with Windows Vista, but other vendors have stuck with Windows XP. Microsoft will probably bring out some sort of Vista Lite in response.

The cheap and green low power computer is here, but revolution to Linux and Internet storage will have to wait until 2009.

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Sunday, May 25, 2008

Linux notebooks down to $US250

LinuxDevices reports that the Bestlink Alpha 400 Linux-based notebook PC is being offered for $US250 ($US180 in volume) It has a 400MHz CPU and a 7-inch color LCD and appears similar is size to the ASUS EEE PC, but with fewer features. The unit only has 128MB RAM and 1 or 2GB of internal flash.There is an SD card slot for more memory, Ethernet and two USB ports (no WiFi built in). Details of the software are sketchy.

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Tuesday, March 04, 2008

MythBuster Backs Linux

In MythBusters: 7 Tech Headaches—and How to Fix Them, (Popular Mechanics, February 2008), Jamie Hyneman from the TV show MythBusters suggests this solution to computer operaitng systems overloaded with stuff: "Switch to a Linux-based OS such as Ubuntu. Since most Linux OSs are free, there's no business reason to bloat up the system with feature frills. "

However, his solution to c
ordless tools with different kinds of battery packs, has been tried and was not a great success: " cordless tools with power packs in 6-volt modules ...". Black and Decker make their VersaPak range of power tools, to use one or two 3.6 volt battery sticks. These battery packs are simply made of three NiMH batteries joined together. It would not be difficult for manufacturers to agree on such a design as a standard, but they have not. Of course another option would be simply to use standard size replaceable cells.

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Monday, February 11, 2008

Eee PC demonstration, Sydney, 29 February 2008

Sydney Linux Users Group (SLUG)I will be giving a demonstration of the Eee PC and talking about what effect other such little low cost computers may have on big business, in Sydney, 29 February 2008:

2008-02-29 18:30
2008-02-29 20:30
Atlassian, 173-185 Sussex Street, Sydney

SLUG's monthly meeting, featuring talks and SLUGlets. Meetings are open to the general public, and are free of charge.

Our meetings take place next to Darling Harbour, near public transport and other amenities.

Our location: Atlassian, 173-185 Sussex Street, Sydney (corner of Sussex and Market Street). Entry is via the rear on Slip Street. There are stairs going down along the outside of building from Sussex St to near the entrance. A map of the area and directions can be found here.

We start at 18:30 but we ask that people arrive 15 minutes early so we can all get into the building and start on time. Please do not arrive before 18:00, as it may hinder business activities for our host!

Appropriate signage and directions will be posted on the building.

This month's sessions are:

General Talk
Tom Worthington: A Watershed for the Networked Organisation

With trends for carbon neutral, thin client, wireless and open source converging to signal a radical change in the use and distribution of the desktop personal computer and the desktop phone, the CIO is being presented with real challenges for transformation.

Low power, diskless and low cost advances are creating alternatives and opportunities for the organisation to simplify their systems. Some of the results from testing those alternatives with carbon neutral thin client computers, handheld Linux systems and diskless sub notebook computers will be included and discussed in this presentation.

If low power and portable networked systems are set to revolutionise the organisation, the CIO needs to be ready.

Tom Worthington will demonstrate, citing devices such as the Zonbu Thin Client Computer and the Asus Eee PC.

In-Depth Talk
Matt Palmer: SNMP: 'e's not dead, 'e's just restin'

What SNMP is, why it's still useful these days, how easy it really is to get SNMP stuff working, and a tour of a simple way to provide custom data through SNMP.

Meeting Schedule

See here for an explanation of the segments.

  • 18:15: Open Doors
  • 18.30: Announcements, News, Introductions
  • 18:45: General Talk
  • 19:30: Intermission
  • 19:45: Split into two groups for:
    • In-Depth Talk
    • SLUGlets
  • 20:30: Dinner

Dinner is at Golden Harbour Restaurant, in Chinatown. We will be having the $24 Banquet. We will be taking numbers during the break to confirm the reservation size. If you have any particular dietary requirements (e.g. vegetarian), or if you would prefer to order separately, let us know beforehand.

We hope to see you there!

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Friday, January 11, 2008

Another $199 Linux PC

Shuttle KPCAccording to Erica Ogg Shuttle are introducing a $199 KPC Linux computer. Like others, this has a low power processor (Intel Celeron), 512MB of memory, 60GB or 80GB hard drive and no DVD drive. No word so far on what version of Linux is used.

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Sunday, December 23, 2007

More ASUS Eee PC Models Available

ASUS Eee PC 2G BlueASUS Eee PC 2G PinkThere are now models of the AUSUS Eee PC available with 2, 4 and 8 Gbytes of flash memory via

The lowest cost 2G model (US$299.99) seems to be available with the cover in: Pink, Blue or Green.

ASUS Eee PC 2G GreenASUS Eee PC 4G BlackThe 4G model (US$399) is available in black and white.

ASUS Eee PC 8GThe 8G model (US$499) seems to be only in white. In Australia the distributor, Myers, seems to only have the 4G model in White (AU$499).

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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Thin Clients from the Sunshine State

John Nichols, CEO of ThinLinX, holding a waterproof case with an LCD screen and HOT-e thin client Linux computerOn my way out from USC I stopped at their innovation center to visit thin client startup company, ThinLinX. This is a startup company specializing in thin Linux client computers. John Nichols, CEO, showed me some prototypes. They are currently seeking financial backing for the next stage of development. He talked about some of the trials they have conducted in Australia and New Zealand.

The "Hot-e" computer runs Linux on an ARM processor, with a Debian linux environment for software developers. The computer cases will be made in China, but the circuit board will be made, and the units assembled, in Australia.


Currently there are two models: HL100 and HL200, both with 64 MB RAM, 8 MB Flash Memory,l USB 2.0 ports, Compact Flash slot Type I/II, SD/MMC socket and 10/100 Ethernet. The HL100 has not video output and intended for machine monitoring applications, web cams and the like. The HL200 adds a XVGA DB15 CRT plug for video output.

Planned for February 2008 are
the HL101 and HL201, upgrades adding WiFi, Bluetooth and 256MB of flash memory.

HL300 is planned for March 2008, with a AMD Geode LX 700 processor, up to 512MB RAM, and up to 2GB of flash. Most significantly, the Geode is an x86-compatible processor and is used in the One Laptop per Child computer and some other low power Linux computers. This will make it easier to run commonly used applications on the system.

The ThinLinX computers are true thin client computers, requiring data storage and processing of applications top be run elsewhere. This makes for a lower cost system, but at the cost of more complexity and risk of a single point of failure. Most of the perceived risk and complexity is illusory. Running a couple of dozen ThinLinX computers from a server is likely to be easier and more reliable than setting up conventional desktop PCs. However, the perception will be that this is harder.


ThinLinX are offering their low end models for SCADA (Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition) applications, where a small computer is needed to monitor and control some machinery. This need not be in a factory, it could be the solar hot water system in a home. Larger units can be used for thin client applications, replacing some desktop computers. ThinLinX also offer access to Microsoft Windows applications remotely, but I have my doubts about how useful this is.

One application
John mentioned was to provide the processing nodes for a WiFi mesh network, for public safety applications. John had one of the HOT-E devices mounted in a watertight "Pelican" type case with a small LCD display, as a prototype for use by emergency workers in the field.

Thick Thin Computers Easier to Sell

"Thick" thin client computers, like the Zombu, would be much easier to introduce gradually to an organization and look less of a risk than the ThinLinx. With 4 GB of flash memory, the Zombu can have its operating system, office applications and a useful amount of user data storage on board. This makes the Zombu a self contained computer which can operate without the need of a remote server for much of the time. The
ThinLinx system could be cheaper an easier to manage in the long term, but it would be more difficult to get started.

Thinner Thick Thin Client

John Nichols' problem is to work out what features to build into the thin client. Each extra feature might only add a few dollars, but for a low cost device every dollar matters. How many customers will use the WiFi, Bluetooth, Compact Flash slot, SD/MMC socket or Ethernet? Some customers will use some features, but how many are willing to pay for all?

My suggestion would be to produce a thinner version of the HL300, which could be thickened by the customer. This would have the x86 compatible processor of the HL300, but with fewer interfaces and less memory. The
WiFi, Bluetooth, Compact Flash slot and SD/MMC socket would be omitted. There would be 512 of RAM standard. Only 8 MB of Flash Memory would be provided by default. Extra communications (WiFi, Bluetooth, 3G) and memory (Compact Flash, SD/MMC or simple USB sticks) would be provided via USB. A typical configuration for a Zombu type thick client system would have a 4 Gbyte USB flash device for the operating system and office applications.

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Friday, November 30, 2007

Green Linux PC Tipping Point to the Networked Organisation in February 2008

What is considered a "normal" personal computer will reach a tipping point in around February 2008. The norm will become low power Linux computers using the Internet for data storage.

The normal computer bought for home or business in 2007 has a DVD drive, multi-hundred gigabyte hard disk, Microsoft Windows and multi-hundred Watt power supply and costs around $1,000. If you buy a $500 low power Linux computer, like the Zonbu or Asus Eee PC, which runs Linux, uses tens of watts and depends on the Internet for storage, you will be considered a bit odd; perhaps a greenie, academic or an anarchist.

However, this may change soon and quite suddenly. By the end of 2008 I expect that the idea that you might spend thousands of dollars on a computer and propose to store data on it long term will be considered more than just odd. To consume hundreds of Watts of power to do so will be considered anti-social. Propose spending hundreds of dollars on operating system and basic office software licenses at at a company and you will be sacked, try it in a government agency and you will be charged with corruption.

The normal PC will have a processor equivalent to a 1.5GHz VIA C7-M or 900MHz Intel Celeron-M ULV 353, 512MB RAM and either 4 2 GB of flash disk or a 60GB hard disk. Most PCs will not have a DVD or CD ROM. There will be minimal hardware support for graphics and the computer will use less than 20 Watts of power. These computers will cost less than $500, some as low as $200.

If this sounds far fetched, consider the change which happened with the Internet and the web in the mid 1990s: this went from being an academic experiment to the mainstream. The change with PCs can happen much quicker, as it has the Internet and web to provide the infrastructure, support and the marketing of the idea.

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Sunday, September 23, 2007

Docking Station the Killer App for Thin Clients?

Belkin High Speed Laptop Docking Station Doubling as laptop docking stations might be the "killer application" to make thin client computers popular. Belkin have released a Docking Station to connect a laptop to peripherals which, at about $US200, is comparable in price to Thin Clients. It probably is a small Linux computer programmed to be a docking station.

The Belkin High-Speed Docking Station connects to a laptop using an ExpressCard port. It provides USB, Audio In/Out, Ethernet and Video connections. Unlike docking stations made for specific models of computers, it is not just a cable adapter, the unit has its own video and Ethernet hardware. So essentially the unit is small computer programmed to relay data from the laptop (this is borne out be the difficulty some users are having getting it to work). With some reprogramming it should be possible to use it on its own as a thin client computer.

Alternatively it should be possible to program a thin client computer to display data from a laptop computer and relay keyboard and mouse input. The laptop could be connected by USB 2.0 or WiFi. The thin client would then be a docking station for the laptop, but with the advantage that it would be usable without the laptop connected.

This could provide very popular for homes and offices. The desktop computer would be replaced with a cheaper and easier to maintain thin client computer which would provide basic functions. Those who need more computing power would plug in their laptop. Others could plug in a USB flash disk, USB portable hard disk or their smartphone.

See also:

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Clustering TDB right answer to wrong question

Andrew Tridgell from IBM OzLabs gave an impressive live demonstration of Clustering TDB on Monday. He claims that the clustered version of Samba will allow for very large servers to be built to serve Microsoft Windows PCs as well as Linux computers. These can service 30,000 PC users with one server machine having 100 processor nodes. The server could have 10,000 disk drives and hold millions of gigabytes of data (petabytes).

The bit I didn't understand was why anyone would want such a server. If you have a very large number of users running from the one server in an organization, it is likely they are mostly running the same small set of applications. In this case it would be far more efficient to run those applications on shared processors, than on desktop PCs. This would likely result in a 90% saving in hardware.

In the extreme case if 30,000 desktop PCs are running the same application, there will have to be 30,000 copies of the same software loaded from the server and installed in 30,000 sets of RAM. Ideally, if a shared processor was used, only one copy of the application would need to be loaded in one set of RAM. In reality several copies would be needed and each user needs some RAM for their own data, but this could still save 90% of the data traffic and RAM.

One reason to use PCs is to be able to use Microsoft Office and other windows applications. It is possible to run these from a remote server and use software such as Citrix to provide it to a desktop. An example of this is the new State Library of Queensland, which uses Citrix for some reader machines.

A better approach would be to use applications which were designed to run efficiently in a shared environment. One way to make this palatable to users would be to offer them Web based applications which they could use remotely. While these would have a less interactive interface than PC applications, they would have the advantage for the user of being available anywhere there was a web browser available. They would also work well with the Web 2.0 collaborative idea, allowing staff to share information more easily.

The advantage for the technical staff would be that they would be extremely efficient in processor and memory use. In addition web based applications using efficiently encoded data will need less storage space. The 100 node 10,000 disk PC system may only need 10 processors and 1,000 disks if implemented with a web based interface.

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Friday, July 06, 2007

Clustering TDB, Canberra, 9 July 2007

Department of Computer Science
The Australian National University

Clustering TDB - a Little Database Meets Big Iron
Andrew Tridgell (IBM OzLabs)

DATE: 2007-07-09
TIME: 16:00:00 - 17:00:00
LOCATION: CSIT Seminar Room, N101

The little tdb database has been at the heart of Samba for many years. More recently it has become a focus in the efforts to create a clustered Samba solution. Attempts to cluster Samba in the past have been patchy at best, oftentimes resulting in a solution which relies on "relaxed" data coherence rules, which is a polite way of saying that they can lose user data. In the last few months we have finally worked out a architecture for a clustered tdb which will allow us to achieve three goals simultaneously:

1) scaling to large numbers of nodes in a cluster (potentially into the hundreds)
2) robustness to node crashes and new nodes entering the cluster
3) correct data coherence rules, so user data is not at risk
4) High Availability, including IP takeover, service management and related tasks

This talk will present the solution we have come up with, and will discuss our experiments and the results of the first production installation.

Andrew Tridgell is a free software developer working for IBM OzLabs from his home in Canberra.

Tridge is widely known as the inventor of Samba and as a key contributor to Linux development. He has had a long association with ANU both as a student (having earned both his BSc and his PhD here) and a researcher in operating systems for highly parallel machines.

ps: I assume this is a rerun of Tridge's talk at the January Linux Conference.

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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Inaugural Australia-Japan Young Professional Exchange Network

Inaugural Australia-Japan Young Professional Exchange NetworkAnastasia Govan sent me her report from the Inaugural Australia-Japan Young Professional Exchange Network. A version will be published by the ACS, but in the interim, here are some edited highlights. Apologies for any errors I may have introduced:


The Australia Japan Foundation and Professions Australia worked together to facilitate Australia's young professionals to build long term collaborative relationships with their Japanese counterparts.

A delegation of young professionals took part in The Australia-Japan Young Professional Exchange Network to Tokyo from 13th- 17th November 2006.

The Australian Computer Society nominated Anastasia Govan, Australian Computer Society Board Director Young IT to Professions Australia for the Australian Young Professional of the Year award. Anastasia was successful and as Young Professional of the Year joined the exchange.

The objective of this initiative was to:

  • Advance Australian professional and business interests in Japan through support of a young professionals network that will initiate a range of activities (including study tours, workshops and conferences, exchanges, joint projects, participation in FTA-related discussions
  • Promote discussion sharing of ideas, and promotion of each countries interests
  • Build constructive and mutually beneficial relationships between young professionals in Japan and Australia (includes support of individual projects)
  • Engage business, the professional services sector, professional associations and their members as important stakeholders
  • Establish a dialogue on important cross professional and specific professional issues and to achieve Japanese counterpart support for the initiative
  • Identify a profession specific project to progress with Japanese candidates

Overview of ICT climate in Japan

  • Linux uptake is huge in Tokyo

  • Large commercial viability for consultancy and market infiltration of products supporting digital repositories, content management, workflow, Records/knowledge/electronic document management

  • Australia should consider investing in the large and popular ICT buildings such as Sony and BIC Camera in Japan and Computer Centres in Chaing Mai and Bangkok where any computer related hardware, software and peripherals can be purchased on multiple floors

  • IT and Finance were reported as the most difficult professions for women to enter and remain

  • In the last 10 years since the Japanese recession there has been an increase in the number of small businesses - particularly started by younger generation

  • There are large differences with the business etiquette of the older generation (traditional) to Gen Y (westernised)

  • Multi national companies may view English speaking westerners favourably for ICT with many recruiting firms set up to specifically meet this market and assist with working visa's etc.

  • Current ICT shortages in all areas

  • Development area is developing gaming for phones using java - requirement to speak Japanese

  • To acquire a working visa for ICT you need 10 years relevant work experience and a Bachelor or higher degree

  • It takes minimum 6-8 weeks to recruit a foreigner

  • Hospitalisation rates due to work related stress are high

  • Many foreigners enter to work in Japan as English teachers in the hope of finding work in their specialist field

  • Numbers are decreasing in ICT University courses - have very few mature age' Australian equivalents

  • Technologists are called Engineers along with several other separate professions in Australia

  • Recently held first ICT Career Fair in Tokyo

  • Free Trade Agreement negotiations based upon US FTA which has further ramifications for Australians complying with copyright in digital form

  • Trend is moving towards more temporary positions and hiring first through a recruitment agency before taking on ICT employee permanently

  • Knowledge of business etiquette

  • Knowledge of Language

  • Claustrophobia!!

  • Young professionals are often older than 35 years of age and male

  • Difficult to identify female and young professionals as really need to be introduced by a colleague


Digital Eve Japan

Over the last 10 years the Digital Eve group has grown from 8 to over 700 members. DigitalEve Japan promotes women's digital lifestyles by offering a supportive community and programs tuned to women using IT in their workplace and in their everyday lives.

The members are Japanese and foreign women living in Japan who span a wide range of ages, technical and cultural backgrounds, and lifestyles. Many work in technology-related jobs, such as web designers/producers, programmers, videographers, writers, information architects, content developers, graphic designers, project managers and recruiters, or are seeking jobs in the field.

Digital Eve's mission is to;

  • Empower members to become top-level leaders, professionals, role models and mentors in their fields through the understanding and use of technology.
  • Build, on all levels, an effective networking resource including strong technology industry relationships.
  • Create an international, bilingual community to share technology experiences and cross-cultural understanding.
  • Include all women--of all races, ethnicities, economic levels, ages, languages, abilities and lifestyles--as participants in our community.
  • Offer access to resources, information and a community-based network for women.
  • Develop low-cost, readily accessible educational opportunities in digital technology.
  • Encourage women and girls to pursue technology-related careers.
  • Advocate that women have economic, social and cultural equality in the field of technology
  • Promote positive, balanced working conditions and lifestyles for women using technology in the workplace.

National Institute of Informatics

As Japan's only general academic research institution seeking to create future value in the new discipline of informatics, the National Institute of Informatics (NII) seeks to advance integrated research and development activities in information-related fields, including networking, software, and content.

These activities range from theoretical and methodological work to applications. As an inter-university research institute, NII promotes the creation of a state-of-the-art academic-information infrastructure (the Cyber Science Infrastructure, or CSI) that is essential to research and education within the broader academic community, with a focus on partnerships and other joint efforts with universities and research institutions throughout Japan, as well as industries and civilian organizations. Founded in April 2000, the NII marked its new beginning in April 2004 as a member of the Research Organization of Information and Systems.

Ringo MUG (AppleMac group)

Tokyo's English speaking Mac User Group meet monthly at the Apple Plaza in the IT centre of Ginza and share information on life with a Mac or PC in Tokyo by meeting in person, through RSS feeds and bulletin boards online.

Skillhouse Staffing Solutions K.K.

Skillhouse Staffing Solutions K.K. (Skillhouse) provides specialty staffing services focusing on Information Technology (IT) and Administrative Support.

By focusing resources on these two specialty areas, Skillhouse are able to apply our best-of-breed due diligence, testing, qualifying and matching methodologies to ensure our clients have the best talent available to them.

Become Japan

Founded in 2004 Become Japan is an web based ebusiness assisting people to make ideal shopping decisions through provision of research, product and price comparison search engines.

Embedded Technology Conference

Embedded Technology 2006 is the largest trade show and conference for embedded system designers and managers. It introduces advanced technologies and solutions for emerging embedded applications, including digital consumer electronics, automotive, wireless/ubiquitous computing and factory automation.

  • Trianz: Indian consulting company merging into Japan market
  • Telelogic Japan (Telelogic lifecycle solutions:software change, requirements management and configuration management - delivering lifecycle control of your software assets being used by Westpac in Australia)

Australian Resource Centre, Australia Japan Foundation, Australian Embassy

The Australia-Japan Foundation, established by the Australian Government in 1976, contributes to the bilateral relationship by playing a strategic role expanding relations and understanding between people and organisations from both countries.

The Resource Centre operates a full on-line lending service available throughout Japan. It also houses a unique online database of over 1200 academic papers about Australia, in Japanese. The library runs a Salon Seminar series, provides materials on Australia to schools free-of-charge, and is a key contact point for Australian Studies scholarships and activity in Japan.

Links to other ICT groups

Suggestions for the Japan to Australia Young Professional exchange 2007

  • Invitations to NII researchers and young professionals to take part in a 2007 exchange to Australia

  • Japanese counterparts and the 2006 Exchange participants attend/present paper at the 2050 Conference

  • Japanese counterparts attend/present paper for the 2008 Sydney International Young IT Australian Computer Society Conference, present to associations such as Australian Library and Information Association and Australian Computer Society as part of their National education across the nation presentation.

Feedback on future Australia to Japan exchanges

  • Introductory business etiquette and language course by local Japanese community group/s before making contact for prospective meetings

  • Previous years exchange delegation involved in mentoring/providing leads for the new delegation maybe done during the proposed workshop of previous Australian delegates and current Japanese delegates in each country

  • Each year rotate professions taking part - possibly include Librarian, Records Manager or Archivist next year (only RMAA is a member of PA).


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