May 28, 2013

'Hard core' Greens hijacking coal seam gas debate, says Chris Hartcher | The Australian

THE "extremist" Greens have been blamed for derailing debate over coal seam gas as the NSW government fights off criticism of the way it toughened controls on major gas projects.
NSW Resources and Energy Minister Chris Hartcher said the argument over CSG had been captured by a "hard core" of opponents who refused to compromise because they wanted to shut down all energy from fossil fuels.
The minister also rebuked the gas industry for failing to engage with the community and allowing the objections to CSG to build to the point where the government had to act in February to impose 2km "exclusion zones" around residential areas, redrafting rules it had issued just five months earlier after lengthy consultation.
Amid an often emotional debate on CSG, leaders including federal Resources Minister Gary Gray and Coalition resources spokesman Ian Macfarlane have warned of the risks to energy supplies in NSW because of decisions by premier Barry O'Farrell.
Mr Macfarlane said the state was facing a "crisis" and Santos executive James Baulderstone told The Australian that residential customers could see a 30 per cent rise in energy bills unless new gas supplies were developed.
Highlighting the contrast between two big states, the Queensland government told the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association on Tuesday of plans to release more areas for gas exploration and development.
Mr Hartcher, however, told the industry that the community debate in NSW had forced the imposition of the latest restrictions.
"Industry did not engage in the debate, industry stood back and allowed the debate to happen in the early stages and that vacuum was very quickly filled by the extremist Greens, of which Sydney has its fair share," Mr Hartcher told the APPEA conference attended by about 3,000 people in Brisbane.
Mr Hartcher said the vacuum was made worse by films like Gasland, the US film depicting the dangers of gas projects on water supplies.
"The great mass of the community are interested in seeing the community progress. The great mass of the community want economic development, want jobs, want income, want secure life for their families and themselves," he said.
"They are readily able to be persuaded by good and clear information as to the benefits of any evolving process.
"But that information and that debate was not presented to them and the argument was captured by the extremist element among the Greens."
Mr Harcher also said the state's corruption inquiry into coal licenses under the previous government meant there were community doubts over CSG as well.
"The government acknowledges that the restrictions it has imposed in September of 2012 and February of 2013 are not easy for industry to live with but the government believes those restrictions are necessary, otherwise there will not be the social license so important in a democratic society."
"The anti-CSG sentiment is quite strong and it's fuelled not just by those who concerned about it but by a hard core of people who are opposed to any use of fossil fuels at all," he said.
"It doesn't matter what concessions are given to that group, it doesn't matter how you try and rationalise with that group, they will simply argue that fossil fuels need to be eliminated."
Mr Hartcher told the conference that one of the state Coalition MPs had received letters from nuns at the local convent warning against CSG while the Country Womens' Association had joined protects in Sydney against the developments.

Stand-up lectures give way to online apps | The Australian

Quintin Rares
Quintin Rares has developed the first interactive digital textbook app to cover an entire university course for Sydney University. Picture: James Croucher Source: The Australian
TABLET computers are forcing major changes at Australian universities. Age-old stand-up lectures are being usurped by iPad apps and one university is trashing the textbook business model by organising free texts on students' iPads.
The University of Sydney business school has developed what it says is "the world's first interactive digital textbook app to cover an entire university course". The app is being marketed internationally as an iBook app for Apple's iPad.
At the University of Adelaide, first-year students enrolled in some science subjects are obtaining digital textbooks on their iPads free. They are issued with an iPad as part of their core learning tools.
Bob Hill, the executive dean of Adelaide University's faculty of sciences, said the university had spent considerable time sourcing suitable free textbooks, which now were available in the majority of science subjects. Students were saving about $600 annually, which would jump to about $1000 within two years when it was expected all subjects within the faculty would have online textbooks.
The University of Sydney's business school, meanwhile, has developed an interactive digital textbook to cover a business negotiations course. It is the brainchild of Quintin Rares, the school's postgraduate unit of study co-ordinator in business negotiations, who is also a practising solicitor.
"A couple of years ago, when I was teaching this course, I delivered lectures as I suppose you would traditionally expect them to be delivered. Then I thought, this is a negotiations course. It is practical. We need to get practical things into the course."
Mr Rares created a textbook for Apple's iBooks made up of his lecture notes, cross references to glossary definitions, abstracts, studies and a dictionary for international students. There is a mini-exam at the end of each lecture.
Instead of attending regular lectures, students spend half of each class practising negotiation skills, and the other half is debriefings and workshops.
Mr Rares said prestige universities such as Harvard and Stanford that now offered courses online were also stimulating change.
"My view is that the sandstone, you-need-to-turn-up-to-class universities have to change the way they teach, as (online) there's almost no focus at all on teaching lectures and standing in front of the room talking."
He said the three hours students spent each week with their lecturer were devoted to "doing things and being tested".
"There's no place for them (lectures) any more," he said. "I see it (change) as almost necessary. Imagine you have a choice between going to, without mentioning any names, a second-rate university in Australia or you could go to Stanford online. Where would you prefer to get your degree?"
He said local universities could remain competitive against online course providers through the quality of their person-to-person teaching.
Co-dean of the University of Sydney's business school Tyrone Carlin said it was possible that traditional university lectures would disappear, but only in some settings. "There is (currently) a very strong on-campus formal lecture model. I think that as the technology develops we're going to see some greater differentiation."
But he said the "human dimension" would mean this wouldn't be uniform. "Universities are set up with staff with a particular skill set. If we're going to morph from one model to another, that has a very human dimension to it as well, not only in terms of people's skill sets and aptitudes, but just in terms of people's desires."
Professor Carlin said the university also had been experimenting with giving new students iPads. Students in a new admissions pathway for school leavers from less privileged backgrounds each received an iPad. About 200 iPads had been issued so far.
The University of Western Sydney this year provided new students with 11,000 iPads.
News Corporation, publisher of The Australian, has been developing educational software for the US market and has unveiled an Android-based educational tablet computer.

May 26, 2013

Coding Horror: Rate Limiting and Velocity Checking

Lately, I've been seeing these odd little signs pop up in storefronts around town.
7-11 rate limiter
All the signs have various forms of this printed on them:
Only 3 students at a time in the store please
We took that picture at a 7-11 convenience store which happens to be near a high school, so maybe the problem is particularly acute there. But even farther into town, the same signs appear with disturbing regularity. I'm guessing the store owners must consider these rules necessary because:
  • teenage students are more likely to shoplift than most customers
  • with many teenage students in the store, it's difficult for the owners to keep an eye on everyone, which further increases the likelihood of shoplifting.
I'm just guessing; I don't own a store. But like the "no elephants" sign, it must be there to address a real problem.
When you go into a restaurant and see a sign that says "No Dogs Allowed," you might think that sign is purely proscriptive: Mr. Restaurant doesn't like dogs around, so when he built the restaurant he put up that sign. If that was all that was going on, there would also be a "No Snakes" sign; after all, nobody likes snakes. And a "No Elephants" sign, because they break the chairs when they sit down. The real reason that sign is there is historical: it is a historical marker that indicates that people used to try to bring their dogs into the restaurant
All these signs are enough to make me question the ethics of high school students in groups of 3 or more. Although, to be fair, I've seen some really shifty looking graduate students in my day.
In truth, these kinds of limits are everywhere; they're just not as obvious because there's often no signage trail to follow.
  • Most ATMs only allow you to withdraw $300 cash maximum in one day.
  • Free email accounts typically limit how many emails can be sent per day.
  • Internet providers limit individual download and upload speeds to ensure they aren't overselling their bandwidth.
  • There's a maximum on how many Xbox Live Points you can add to your account per day. (All 500+ Rock Band songs aren't going to download themselves, after all.)
I'm sure you can think of lots of other real world examples. They're all around you.
There are people who act like groups of rampaging teenage students online, too, and we deal with them in the same way: by imposing rate limits! Consider how Google limits any IP address that's submitting "too many" search requests:
Several things can trigger the sorry error: we're sorry, search rate limiter with captcha
Often it's due to infected computers or DSL routers that proxy search traffic through your network - this may be at home or even at a workplace where one or more computers might be infected. Overly aggressive SEO ranking tools may trigger this message, too. In other cases, we have seen self-propagating worms that use Google search to identify vulnerable web servers on the Internet and then exploit them. The exploited systems in turn then search Google for more vulnerable web servers and so on. This can lead to a noticeable increase in search queries and sorry is one of our mechanisms to deal with this.
I did a bit of Google scraping once for a small research project, but I never ran into the CAPTCHA limiter. I think that entry predates its appearance. But it does make you wonder what typical search volumes are, and how they're calculated. Determining how much is "too much" -- that's the art of rate limiting. It's a tricky thing, even for the store owner:
  • Couldn't three morally bankrupt students shoplift just as effectively as four?
  • How do you tell who is a student? Is it based purely on perception of age?
  • Do we expect this rule to be self-enforcing? Will the fourth student walk into the store, identify three other students, and then decide to leave?
Rate limiting isn't always a precise science. But it's necessary, even with the false positives -- consider how dangerous a login entry with no limits on failed attempts could be. This is especially true once your code is connected to the internet. Human students can be a problem, but there's a practical limit to how many students can fit in a store, and how fast they can physically shoplift your inventory. But what if those "students" were an infinite number of computer programs, capable of stealing items from your web store at a rate only limited by network bandwidth? Your store would be picked clean in a matter of minutes. Maybe even seconds!
Not having any sort of rate limiting in your web application is an open invitation to abuse. Even the most innocuous of user actions, if done rapidly enough and by enough users, could have potentially disastrous effects.
Even after you've instituted a rate limit, you can still get in trouble. On Stack Overflow, we designed for evil. We have a Google-style rate limiting CAPTCHA in place, along with a variety of other bot defeating techniques. They'be been working well so far. But what we failed to consider was that a determined (and apparently ultra-bored) human user could sit there and solve CAPTCHAs as fast as possible to spam the site.
And thus was born a new user based limit. I suppose we could create a little sign and hang it outside our virtual storefront:
Only 1 question per new user every 10 minutes, please.
There are a few classes of rate limiting or velocity checking you can do:
  1. Per user or API key. Ensure that any given user account or API account key holder can only perform (n) actions per minute. This is usally fairly safe, though it won't protect you from a user who automates the creation of 100 puppet accounts to do their bidding. It all depends how strictly you tie identity to the API key or user; you can easily ban, or in the worst case, track down the culprits and ask them to desist.
  2. Per IP address. Ensure that any given IP address can only perform (n) actions per minute. This works well in the typical case, but can cause problems for multiple users who happen to be behind a proxy that makes them appear to you as the "same" IP address. This is the only method possible on mostly anonymous sites like Craigslist, and it definitely works, because I've been on the receiving end of it. Example implementations are mod_evasive for Apache, or the IIS7 Dynamic IP Restriction module.
  3. Per global action. Ensure that a particular action can only happen (n) times per minute. Kind of the nuclear option, so obviously must be used with care. Can make sense for the "big red launch button" administrator functions which should be extraordinarily rare -- until a malicious user happens to gain administrator rights and starts pushing that big red button over and over.
I was shocked how little comprehensive information was out there on rate limiting and velocity checking for software developers, becausethey are your first and most important line of defense against a broad spectrum of possible attacks. It's amazing how many attacks you can mitigate or even defeat by instituting basic rate limiting.
Take a long, hard look your own website -- how would it deal with a roving band of bored, morally ambiguous schoolkids?
Posted by Jeff Atwood

May 21, 2013

Adoption does not create a stolen generation | The Australian

THREE cheers for Adam Giles, the Northern Territory Chief Minister, who last week vowed that, if necessary, he would remove neglected Aboriginal children from their parents and place them in adoptive homes.
Of course there will be a chorus keen to do the Whiteman in the eye over the so-called Stolen Generations. But they can't do Giles in the eye. He is Aboriginal. And he won't play the Aboriginal leader's "moral superiority" game.
When asked on March 14 by the ABC's Leigh Sales in his first interview as leader, "You're the first indigenous head of government in Australian history. How do you intend to use that status?" Giles replied, "I won't."
Sales tried another tack. "Will you be campaigning on indigenous issues? Do you intend to try to bring any focus to those sorts of areas?"
Giles replied, "Indigenous affairs has always been a passion of mine, but I've never declared myself as an indigenous politician."
Focus is not what Aboriginal policies require. Goodness knows there has been nothing but focus for 40 years. Focus is code for pay more. Aboriginal children need to be saved. Present policies will not save them. Only a new direction will. Giles lives and breathes life into that new direction. The spirit of liberalism, a liberalism that harks back to Paul Hasluck, and the fight for Aboriginal equality that characterised the 1967 referendum.
Giles made a stunning point about adoption. He said, "You mean to tell me when we've got all these alleged cases of chronic child sexual abuse, children running around on petrol, going on the streets at night sexualising themselves in some circumstances, and there's only one permanent adoption, for fear of Stolen Generation? That is not standing up for kids."
How right he is. But there are serious consequences if he wants to keep to the path of saving children from their own. An entire industry built on collective identity and collective solutions will feel as if their time is up. And so it is.
When Labor is flung from office, the Liberals will have to step in. Not with a polite marketing difference but with a bold statement of what is right and what is wrong.
The first place they need to look is racist legislation. The Northern Territory Adoption of Children Act, section 11, states: "Where an order for the adoption of an Aboriginal child is to be made, the court shall satisfy itself that every effort has been made to arrange appropriate custody within the child's extended family, or with Aboriginal people who have the correct relationship with the child in accordance with Aboriginal customary law."
Where it is not possible the court "shall give preference to the adoption of the child by applicants one or both of whom are Aboriginal persons" or "facilitate the maintenance of contact between the child and its own kin and with its own culture."
This act, and a whole load of attitude behind it, is racist. It is the reason only one child has been adopted. There should be one single measure of good: "the best interests of the child".
Indeed, the concept is written into the Territory Care and Protection of Children Act, affecting non-adoption matters. Section 10 states: "When a decision involving a child is made, the best interests of the child are the paramount concern."
The trouble is that a further section takes precedence. Section 12 sets out the principles "that should be upheld in the placement of Aboriginal children". Section 12 states that "Kinship groups, representative organisations and communities of Aboriginal people have a major role, through self-determination, in promoting the wellbeing of Aboriginal children" and "an Aboriginal child should be placed with a person in the following order of priority: a member of the child's family, an Aboriginal person in the child's community, any other Aboriginal person".
What if the culture, that is, bad behaviour, is the problem? Howard Bath, the Northern Territory Children's Commissioner, reported last week on the dire state of Aboriginal care and protection. His preferred solution is more money for services. Bath reported on these matters in the same terms in 2007. How many more times should this game be played? There is no more money. Labor has spent it.
Australia is dealing with a failed experiment where people have been excluded from the healthy part of society, initially through prejudice and then through ideology. The result is entire regions and families are destroying each other. No amount of new services will fix that.
Giles should not fall for the old public service trick of employing more public servants. It's a comfortable life for some and a death sentence for others.
Gary Johns is author of Aboriginal Self-Determination: The Whiteman's Dream. (Connor Court, 2011).

May 20, 2013

It takes brains to be a swindler | The Australian

Eric Lobbecke
Illustration: Eric Lobbecke Source: The Australian
LAST week's budget seems the farewell card Labor had to have. It constrains spending, while funding DisabilityCare and the Gonski reforms; it projects sustained revenue increases, with receipts rising twice as rapidly as payments to 2014-15; it heralds a surplus in 2015-16; and it paints a strong picture of the outlook to 2023-24, at which time net debt will be negative and the government will be accumulating assets on behalf of taxpayers.
Having thus tabled a budget that could glow in the dark, Wayne Swan can leave office holding his head high.
If you believe any of it, that is. For there's the rub: it is one thing to present numbers; another to make them plausible. And on that score, the budget doesn't get off to a promising start.
Having previously committed to holding real spending growth to 2 per cent until the return to surplus, the qualifier "on average" has crept into the government's fiscal rules. Understandably, as spending actually rises by more than twice the cap next year.
Echoing Saint Augustine's prayer imploring God to "make me chaste, but not yet", what spending virtue there is comes safely down the track. And given a government that has gold medals for missing its targets, the little-noticed assumptions on which it rests hardly inspire confidence.
For example, comparing Labor's record with the budget's estimates for the period ahead, the average annual growth rate of real health spending is projected to collapse from 6.3 per cent to 2.4 per cent; that of education plummets from 9.5 per cent to barely 2 per cent; while the growth rate of welfare spending halves.
Since the 1980s, there is no five-year period in which growth rates of those outlays have been so low; and with scant detail as to how such drastic reductions are to be secured, Baldrick's words "I have a cunning plan" can be heard marching in one's direction.
As for the revenue side, it too makes Walter Mitty seem positively unimaginative. Take the carbon price. Only days ago, Greg Combet, looking like an anarchist whose bomb had gone off moments too soon, was forced to concede that with European permits trading for about $5, Australian prices would not reach the $29 level he had stubbornly clung to.
Apparently, in Combet's world, what goes down, must come up, so the budget predicts a 2015-16 price of $12.10 - which on current European futures prices, is more than 50 per cent too high.
That initial canter in carbon prices then becomes a gallop, with the budget projecting a 50 per cent increase in 2015-16 and a sustained rise thereafter.
Why? Because that returns prices to their path in Treasury's carbon modelling, with its assumption of global agreement on carbon trading by 2016.
Optimistic? For sure. But nothing a miracle couldn't fix.
The other parts of the revenue side don't do much to improve the view. The trouble with these is not that Labor won't do as it says, but that it will.
Among the areas of greatest concern are the proposed changes to company tax.
According to the government, the multinationals are ripping us off, avoiding their fair share of the tax burden.
Combining its favourite betes noires, foreigners and big firms, gives it an opportunity to hit two birds with one stone - all the more as the changes are so arcane as to be incomprehensible to anyone but specialists. Unfortunately, those changes will impose high economic costs.
For example, far from closing an abuse-ridden loophole, the modifications to the "thin capitalisation" rules (which limit how much interest firms operating internationally can deduct from their tax bill) will discourage foreign investment by increasing the effective tax rate on globally mobile capital.
Estimates in the Henry Report imply that by so doing, they will reduce GDP by $19 billion over the next decade (details are on my blog).
It doesn't end there, however. For those changes will also deter Australian firms from investing overseas, notably in Asia, as interest on debt used to finance foreign acquisitions will no longer be assured of tax deductibility.
That their global rivals also vying for those acquisitions will generally benefit from such deductions in their home countries only increases the damage.
The biggest losers will probably include - don't say it in front of the children - Australian banks and miners, whom Labor especially loathes; but all major industrials are likely to be adversely affected, hindering the adjustment to the "Asian Century" the government promotes.
Nor are those the only changes. They come on top of measures that speed up company tax payments, which increases pressures on corporate cashflows, and abolish the R&D tax concession for large firms, penalising our few knowledge-intensive multinationals.
Overall, while the countries with which we compete for investment are reducing their already low corporate tax rates, this government is increasing ours. From a political point of view, that makes sense, as these increases, unlike higher personal income taxes, are scarcely visible to voters.
But they make our tax base even more dependent on highly volatile company tax receipts; and by taxing investment, they inefficiently reduce productivity growth. As the Henry Report showed, it is not the profits of the big, bad multinationals that will suffer from that fall, but the real wages of ordinary Australians.
So much for "Labor values". And so much for a budget Swan can remember with pride. The problem, as Charles Ponzi observed, is that it takes brains to be a swindler; and most importantly, you mustn't try to fool the same people twice. Despite repeated debacles, Swan seems determined to learn that lesson the hard way.

May 19, 2013

Skilling up: Deakin Uni’s big data and analytics program - business analytics, Deakin University, big data, business intelligence - CIO

With a flood of information rushing in to the business, companies are increasingly demanding workers who can analyse the data and make insights and predictions. However, finding a properly trained person for the job can be a difficult challenge.
Deakin University has announced plans to fill the skills gap with Australia’s first big data postgraduate program, supported by IBM, SAS and Microsoft. “It’s not a cliché – we do live in an information age,” says Dineli Mather, head of Deakin University’s School of Information Systems.
“There’s so much information being captured and used day to day,” she says. “With business organisations, that information they can store is massive, but there has to be a strategy behind it. What information do we capture, how do we capture it, and very importantly, how do we then use it to get a better business outcome and competitive advantage?” feature: How predictive analytics is tackling customer attrition at American Express
In October, Deakin and IBM launched a Centre for Excellence in Business Analytics. The centre is based at the Deakin’s Melbourne campus.
Starting in March, Deakin’s School of Information Systems will offer a business analytics major within the Master of Information Systems, MBA and Master of Commerce.
In addition, the school is developing a full Master’s degree in business analytics for offer from July 2013. Mather expects to enrol 60 to 80 students in the first group for the 18-month program. She also predicts many students from other degrees will take analytics as an elective or specialisation.
The Deakin program will allow students to specialise further in the specific sector they want to apply their knowledge, including health, finance and economics, Mather says. IBM meanwhile plans to offer business analytics certification through the centre.
“Even the smallest businesses are interested in analytics,” Mather says. “If they can use analytics, they can actually target their marketing more carefully and it becomes a lot more cost effective to run their business.”
Developing the program
Deakin’s School of Information Systems had focused on information systems and management, but the university was finding shrinking interest in the program from students, Mather says. At the same time, it had become evident that businesses were increasingly hiring graduates with a different skillset altogether.
“What was clear was that business had moved into business analytics five or six years ago, but universities hadn’t really kept up with it and created the kind of graduate that business was looking for. At the start of the year, we couldn’t even find more than half a dozen courses globally that were offering business analytics.”
Use of analytics to decipher big data has been growing exponentially in the last five years, says Mather. “But awareness of the power of business analytics has really reached a peak over the last couple of years and the technological advances and the software tools that are available now allow people to do analytics very easily.”
Deakin had already been using an IBM business intelligence tool, Cognos, in some of its courses, so the university reached out to the vendor to discuss how to expand the course into an entire program in business analytics.
Mather says the university’s collaboration with industry makes its coursework unique among analytics programs in Australia. “We did interviews with all of the companies who are having major analytics practices,” including IBM, Microsoft and top consulting firms, and asked what skills they are actually using and what type of people they want to recruit.
“What we found was that there were essentially two roles that people could have in business analytics. One was traditional pure analytics,” including quantitative analysis and text mining, she says. “But the bigger range roles were for a more generalist” who could understand how information is captured, stored, governed and kept secure; how to draw insights from the information; and how to link those insights to business strategy.
“Our course is going to be unique in that it is the first business analytics course to have that full spectrum.” Yale and New York University are developing similar programs in the US, but Deakin will have the first in Australia, says Mather. Macquarie University and the University of Sydney have some courses, but do not offer full Master’s programs.
Involving business
“We want the students to walk off with two things,” says Mather: “The academic foundations and theoretical skills, but also the practical outcomes so they can hit the ground running when they go out there” into the business world.
About six to eight Deakin staff will teach the program. However, a third of each subject will be delivered by business practitioners, Mather says. “For example, we have a predictive analytics unit that will use SAS and we’ve already met with SAS and are discussing how we use the SAS tool but also how we can involve people from [the company] to teach part of the program.” The school will similarly involve officials from IBM and Microsoft, she says.
“It’s more than guest lectures,” she says. “The guest lecture process relies on people’s goodwill. We are actually doing it more as a strategic partnership.” With IBM, “in exchange for their delivering a third of the unit and getting involved in course design, we will contribute more money into their certification programs”.
It’s “absolutely compulsory” to involve real businesses in the program, Mather says. “It’s one of those discipline areas where it’s all about practice. The theoretical foundations on their own don’t really prepare you for the work.”
With input from business, Mather expects course material will change over time. “It’s a very young discipline and very much an evolving discipline.”
Students coming into the Master’s program are expected to have some business experience, though the school will offer a foundations program for those who do not, Mather says. Most of the people who have inquired about the courses so far have three to five years of work experience but “want to move into this field,” she says. “That’s our ideal target.”
Vendor collaboration
IBM has worked with universities around the world as part of an education initiative, but the collaboration with Deakin is a “closer engagement” than it’s had in the past, says Mike McKee, IBM business analytics regional manager for Australia and New Zealand. “We see it as an exciting next step in terms of our relationship with the tertiary institutions.”
The company will provide its business analytics software Cognos BI and teach students how to “use it in a business and practical sense,” McKee says. IBM plans to provide speakers, conduct workshops and coordinate with the school on special projects involving real IBM clients, he says.
It will also help integrate its certification program into Deakin’s offerings. IBM will “work with Deakin to ensure that the components of our certification program are incorporated in their teaching, so that at the end of it, part of the exam they may do” is IBM’s certification test, he says. Certifications to be offered by IBM at Deakin are: introduction to statistics; introduction to analytics; relational database fundamentals; and introduction to big data.
Business analytics is one of IBM’s top four focus areas, McKee says. “We are focused on that because we see a huge demand in the marketplace. We’ve seen big data is growing and the requirement for business analytics is growing dramatically.”
IBM sees a key skill in “getting beyond just using structured data and using unstructured data ... in a more intelligent way” to predict future outcomes.
The resources industry in Australia, in particular, has demand for big data analysts, McKee says. Those organisations may want to predict outages on large pieces of capital equipment so that they can perform maintenance before the problem occurs, he says.
However, “students are coming out of university often with good technical skills but not as well positioned in terms of the requirements of the marketplace”.
“We are very keen to see that the universities do produce graduates that are very skilled and have a business orientation when they come out of university.

ICT Job Tips| Technology|

With the job market sitting in a ditch, the days when a technology professional could leave a job in the morning and have another lined up by nightfall seem long ago.
Those currently on the bench could stay there for up to 12 months, according to Peter Acheson, CEO of technology recruiter Peoplebank.
“The market is very tough; there's no question about that, and it's very, very tough in Queensland,” Acheson says.
So tough that the Australian Computer Society last week launched a support group for Queenslanders who have been laid off. 'Inspiring Your Next Career' is a six-week pilot networking program beginning in June. 
Hiring professionals and employers say those who don't fancy spending a year on the sidelines need to lift their game to get back on the field.
So here are some tips for putting the personal aside and getting there:
1. Meet the person, not the online profile
Holed up at home playing Minecraft when you're not scrolling through career websites? Not good enough. Those who really want to land their next gig are working their networks hard. Think industry gatherings, ACS lunches, anywhere that offers the opportunity to meet and greet.
Nourish career coach Sally-Anne Blanshard says "coffees, conversations and questions" are key.
“Be curious about industries and sectors and sniff out leads that you can pursue,” she advises. “Be bold and ask people to help you get introduced to who they know that may be able to help you.”
Online good, offline even better, Blanshard adds. “LinkedIn is great for introductions and connecting online but then as soon as you get the chance, you need to engage with that person face to face . . . Let them meet the person, not the avatar.”
2. Back to school
Use the time out to improve your skills. Doing some training while you're off the tools has a dual benefit, Acheson believes. As well as demonstrating you are serious about your career and prepared to invest in yourself, short courses offer an opportunity to rub shoulders with other techie types. Add them to your network, Acheson advises. “Lots of jobs come about this way.”
3. Up close and personal
Firing off a response to every ICT ad is fine – but those who are serious about landing a role home in on their target. Acheson says a personal approach to the top five companies you'd like to work for can be worth the ink. “Write to the CIO directly or approach them via a referral network,” he says.
Founder of software developer Bigcommerce Mitchell Harper concurs: “A warm introduction or reference to the hiring manager from an existing employee can put you at the front of the pack and give you a better chance of not just getting the interview but also getting the job.”
4. Smarten up
A well-presented CV can mean the difference between a second glance and the circular file.
Harper says tailoring it to the job is a good start. Edit out roles that aren't IT related and make a splash of ones that are.
Expansive references, LinkedIn-style, can bring a resume to life. “Actually have photos, names and quotes from previous employers that call out your top three traits or skills that are relevant to the role you're applying for,” Harper suggests.
5. Scrub up
Spruce yourself up too while you're at it, says Premier Network Support's service delivery manager, Anthony Tsesmelis, who is on the hunt for service desk staff and project engineers.
ICT workers may have pioneered the "jeans and polo shirt as workwear" look but for job seekers, a suit is safer.
“For a professional services role, that's something you would want to see coming in the front door,” Tsesmelis says.
6. Adjust your expectations
When there aren't enough jobs to go round, the chances of being caught in a bidding war are slim. In fact, says Acheson, the reverse is now occurring. Large companies are demanding rate cuts before renewing contracts and some ICT workers are offering to take them before being tapped on the shoulder.
Against this backdrop, the offer of a lesser rate or salary beats none at all, Acheson says. And taking a short-term contract can be better than twiddling your thumbs waiting for a longer one to pop up.
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May 17, 2013

Nation depends on response to SOS | The Australian

INSIDE one of Australia's oldest and most important naval shipyards last Friday, a team of managers drafted an extraordinary plea for survival to the Gillard government.
Unless the government urgently commissioned the construction of more warships at Melbourne's Williamstown shipyards, they wrote, the yard - which built its first navy vessel in World War II - would be closed, sold or mothballed by the end of next year with the loss of 1100 jobs.
Such a disastrous outcome, they warned, would "critically undermine" the nation's ability to build frigates and submarines.
The internal draft briefing paper, written by shipyard owner BAE Systems last Friday and obtained by The Australian, was aimed at giving "speaking points" to BAE managers when dealing with the nation's "influencers and decision-makers".
"The defence white paper issued on May 3, 2013, did not solve the naval shipbuilding gap for BAE Systems in Williamstown," the paper says.
"If the DMO (Defence Materiel Organisation) is not directed to procure naval ships from the Williamstown yard now, 1100 employees will have no work come January 2015."
This was not the response to the white paper that the government was hoping for when Defence Minister Stephen Smith had been boasting of how it would end the boom-bust cycles of the nation's four naval shipyards and create a truly sustainable national naval shipbuilding industry.
But with the costs of planned projects estimated to be worth $75 billion, including about $36bn to build 12 new submarines, the country cannot afford for naval shipyards to go bust and lose key skills while they wait for this next wave of work.
As the latest defence white paper says: "The government is committed to a program of naval shipbuilding that will ensure that the skills developed during (current) construction of the Air Warfare Destroyers and Landing Helicopter Dock ships will be available to be applied to the future submarine program and Defence's broader long-term needs.
"To do otherwise would result in a later delivery of the future submarines at a higher cost than is necessary, thereby resulting in a loss of capability for the ADF."
No government in Australia has been able to create a sustainable long-term naval shipbuilding industry, for a variety of reasons, including insufficient orders, lack of money, short-term thinking and no overarching national strategy to keep shipyards in operation after they have built each new wave of ships.
From the early 1980s until the early 2000s, Australia built up a credible industry that, despite some well-publicised mistakes, churned out six Collins-class submarines, 16 warships for the Australian and New Zealand navies, minehunters and patrol boats.
However, when the orders ran dry, the industry fell into decline, with the Williamstown yard cutting its workforce to only 100, compared with up to 1600 during construction of the Anzac-class frigates between 1993 and 2006.
Numbers at Adelaide's government-owned ASC shipyard also dropped sharply because the numbers needed to maintain the submarines were far fewer than those required to build them.
A defence report, the Future Submarine Industry Skills Plan, which was released alongside the white paper this month, says that will cost taxpayers dearly in terms of lower productivity and efficiency, and a shortage of the required skills.
"The consequence of allowing skills to develop to very low levels has been shown in current projects to cost time and money," the skills report says. "There is truth in the maxim that the most expensive thing you can do in shipbuilding is to stop."
In 2009, when the industry had to ramp up again to build the three new AWDs - the country's biggest defence project, worth $8bn - the government decided it would give the work to three of Australia's four naval shipyards: ASC in Adelaide, BAE in Williamstown and Forgacs in Newcastle, north of Sydney (the fourth shipyard is Austal in Perth, which made the Armidale-class patrol boats). These four yards employ about 4000 people.
The three chosen for the AWDs would build individual steel blocks for the boats and these then would be assembled in Adelaide.
But when the shipyards tried to recruit their new AWD workforce they found, understandably, that their new workers were inexperienced in the complex engineering, welding and other specific skills sets required to build warships. The situation was seen by many as a car crash waiting to happen, and it did, in 2010, when workers at the Williamstown shipyard bungled the welding on the keel block of the first AWD, HMAS Hobart.
This set off a chain of events that have caused the AWD project to be delayed for two years, with significant cost overruns.
That setback in the country's flagship shipbuilding project has caused some to question why Australia needs a shipbuilding industry at all, given that Australia could purchase warships from overseas at a lower cost and with more reliable delivery schedules.
Defence officials say Australia, as a maritime nation, needs the ability to build its own ships and that it would be dangerous in a conflict to have to rely on other nations to supply our navy. But that ignores the fact Australia does not build its own fighter jets and entirely has outsourced this vital element of our defence to the US, which builds the two aircraft - Super Hornets and Joint Strike Fighters - that will form the RAAF's future air strike force.
The truth is that naval shipbuilding is as much about nation-building as it is about national security.
Defence tries to pretend otherwise, saying in its skills plan that "it is most certainly not about subsidising an industry" and that "Defence does not plan acquisition projects to sustain company revenues or jobs".
But politicians do, and that is precisely the precarious journey the Gillard government and any future Coalition government will have to walk if they want to end the so-called "Valley of Death", where shipyards are forced to close after big projects are completed, causing a loss of skills needed for future projects.
The unspoken contract accepted by both main political parties is that they are willing to tolerate greater cost and risk by building navy ships in Australia for the benefit of creating local skills, keeping jobs and safeguarding marginal seats, especially in South Australia where the largest shipbuilder, ASC, is based.
The government is willing to pay premiums of more than 30 per cent to produce warships here, rather than buy them overseas.
But to create a long-term naval shipbuilding industry here governments will have to better align defence policy with industry policy, a marriage that triggers howls of outrage from defence purists, who say defence capabilities are being dictated by local jobs-growth schemes rather than by Australia's strategic priorities.
Economist Henry Ergas argues that too much taxpayer money is wasted on the hefty premiums needed to build warships in Australia and that such ventures should be assessed more on their value for money than on so-called nation-building considerations.
"Decisions about where production of the future fleet is undertaken should be made on the basis of securing value for money, without giving any special preference to Australian industry," Ergas wrote for the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. "Rigorous implementation of this principle would likely lead to a substantial increase in the share of vessel construction and refurbishment work undertaken overseas."
But when it comes to warships and submarines the government disagrees, and both sides of politics are firmly committed to a permanent naval shipbuilding capability.
The problem is that the current defence capability plan for the construction of new navy ships promises to be a future bonanza for naval shipyards - but not until about 2023 when construction of new frigates, submarines and other vessels is expected to begin.
In the case of BAE, the Williamstown shipyard has only enough naval work to keep its 1100 employees busy until January 2015, when it finishes its allocation of AWD blocks and the fitting-out of the navy's two new Landing Helicopter Docks.
This means that unless the government gives it new work urgently, Williamstown will have no naval work between 2015 and 2023, according to BAE's internal projections obtained by The Australian.
The government is aware of the precarious nature of the Williamstown shipyard. In the white paper, it offered a small amount of temporary extra work by reallocating four AWD blocks back to BAE, partly offsetting the 16 AWD blocks it took off the shipyard in 2011 after it bungled the keel block.
But this is only a stop-gap measure that will save 160 jobs as those extra blocks are built across the next 18 months; it does nothing to solve the larger problem of Williamstown having no new orders during the following seven years.
The government's response in the white paper to the looming gap in shipbuilding orders was to announce it would bring forward the building or purchase of new patrol boats and the replacement of the supply ships HMAS Success and Sirius.
"Given that we've got work in those two shipyards (BAE and Forgacs) until the middle of 2015, we've got, we believe, time to make judgments about patrol boats and the supply ships," Smith said.
But there is no promise that this work will go to Williamstown. Even if it does, the red tape and glacial approval process make it unlikely that construction would begin by early 2015, when the 1100-strong workforce will run out of work. This means BAE would be forced to close, mothball or sell the shipyard, which it and the Victorian government upgraded for $85m after BAE bought it in 2008.
The BAE briefing paper says: "The only naval shipbuilding program that can now be directed at Williamstown is the replacement patrol boat." This would require the government to abandon any semblance of competitive tender between the local shipyards or overseas builders and simply hand over the patrol boat contract to BAE to save the shipyard during the gap between 2015 and 2023. It would have to pick favourites that might not offer best value for money - something it is loath to do - but would save many jobs.
If the government wants to preserve a long-term naval shipbuilding industry it will need to dust off its protectionist instincts and make decisions that may be neither economical nor fair to keep the industry alive and smooth out the bumpiness in ship order cycles.