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The nation’s first cross-disciplinary research institute dedicated to maximizing the community benefits of broadband technologies has been announced by Premier John Brumby.

The Victorian Government will provide $2 million for the new Institute for a Broadband-Enabled Society (IBES). The Institute will be based at the University of Melbourne to foster innovation across a wide range of disciplines including Medicine, Engineering, Education, Social Sciences, Economics, Business and the Environmental Sciences.

Professor Rod Tucker, Director of the IBES, says the Institute will source skills and resources of leading University researchers and 10 major industry leaders. Together they will develop and test new products and services which will benefit society, in areas such as e-health, e-education, e-commerce, and environmental monitoring.
 
The IBES has attracted the support of leading global and local companies to join its research program. They include Cisco, Microsoft, Alcatel-Lucent, Telstra, Ericsson, NEC Australia, Optus, Allied Telesis, Pacific Broadband Networks, and Haliplex. The research will also be enhanced by the support of Bell Labs and NICTA, Australia’s national research centre of excellence in Information and Communication Technology.

Professor Tucker says the IBES will serve as a national and international focus for research and innovation across the full spectrum of social, business and technological activities associated with and influenced by the new Australian National Broadband Network.

 “The strong support of industry coupled with the support and commitment of the State Government of Victoria, positions IBES to play a key role in the development of an Australian industry that is ready for the true broadband revolution," he says.

University of Melbourne Vice-Chancellor Professor Glyn Davis says the IBES will be a unique facility that will allow new ideas and applications to be tested in a real broadband environment that will maximize the contribution the Australian Broadband Network will make to Australia’s economic and social progress.

 

Professor Tim Lindsey says the re-election of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has, somewhat surprisingly, barely rated a mention in one of it's biggest trading and diplomatic partners: Australia. 

"Perhaps this was because it was expected, but I suspect it's more likely that Australian's have barely noticed Indonesia's extremely successful transition to democracy.  Of all the countries that have gone through the economic crisis, Indonesia is one of the few in which democracy has taken hold and increased."

"Attitudes in Australia are still fixed by the old experiences of an authoritarian, military backed dictatorship under Suharto.  Despite the fact that somewhere around a fifth of Australian's have gone to Bali, no one seems to have registered the massive transition to an open, democratic and vibrant democracy."

Improved local government based violence prevention plans are more in need than ever before, according to the final results from a new University of Melbourne study.

"It's not rocket science, it's not a matter of allocating tremendous new resources, but simply using the resources that are already there effectively."

"The bottom line is that local coalitions can work effectively, though they need State and Federal Government support, specifically in terms of sharing ideas and an appropriate policy framework.  During the three years we did this research there were lots of exciting projects in a number of local governments, but on the whole they weren't tied in with any kind of state policy on violence prevention.  This is a shame because the State Government stated that prevention of violence and fear of violence was one of its eleven top priorities when it was elected in 1999-2000."

Dr Whitzman says the recently updated State Government policy is going to be a major improvement.

"Part of the issue with this project is the old State Government policy was phased out in the first year (2006), but the new policy is coming in at the end of the year, and I think we've been able to provide valuable input on that."

"I think we're going to have much stronger policy in this area because of this project, and that's very satisfying"

Consumers will soon be able to compare, buy and reject products based on their greenhouse emissions after the launch of a carbon footprint labelling scheme. Australia will be the third country, after Britain and the US, to get the foot-shaped Carbon Reduction Label, which is being billed as the greenhouse equivalent of a nutritional panel.

Professor Snow Barlow from the School of Land and Environment comments on the importance of the scheme for food security and best practice in standardising greenhouse gas emission reporting for food production.

Victoria is well behind OECD best practice when it comes to its public transport operations according to Professor Bill Russell, Deputy Director of the Australasian Centre for the Governance and Management of Urban Transport (GAMUT).

"Melbourne has a fairly unusual system of public transport operations through franchising,” he says. “The OECD doesn't think it’s a good system, the public doesn’t think its a good system.  The OECD says public transport should either be publicly operated, or operated on the basis of specific gross contracts.  The best practice examples in Australia are in Perth and Brisbane with 100% public operation, and so it’s quite an ‘odd-man-out’ situation in Victoria."

"This is the last roll of the dice, and the Brumby Government must deliver effective public transport during the life of these contracts."

Professor Russell also warned against expectations that the new operators will make an immediate positive impact.  "Connex had a lot of problems and were unable to provide reliable service, and it would be very optimistic to think that another operator can simply walk in with existing tracks, rolling stock and system design and accomplish the kind of performance that is being experienced in Hong Kong for example."

"It's a high risk bet by the Brumby Government.  It's betting a lot that this re-franchising will be successful and deliver the kind of public transport system people want."

Why is it easier to follow directions when they are explained through a series of landmarks instead of street names? According to the research by the University of Melbourne’s Geomatics Department and Whereis.com, when your mate says “turn right at the post office” he is actually tapping into your spatial cognitive recognition to give you a better understanding of how to get where you’re going.  

Armed with this knowledge, and equipped with what is said to be a world first landmark selection system, whereis.com has incorporated a range of Australian landmarks into its map directions, finally providing users with real-life navigational context for their chosen routes.

Commercial Manager of whereis.com Fred Curtis says the addition of this tool will help the whereis.com mapping site remain at the forefront of Australian mapping by improving the experience people have when requesting directions on the site.

“We continue to find new ways to build upon the already market-leading Whereis.com user experience. Current trends in technology all point to increased functionality alongside ease of use, so that’s the direction we’re heading,” he says.

Dr Matt Duckham, Senior Lecturer in Geographic Information Science at the Department of Geomatics says what makes this addition to whereis.com different from existing navigation systems is that it identifies the most suitable landmarks based on cognitive principles.

“Deciding which landmarks are most useful is really based on the uniqueness of the landmark, and this can be determined by three main things; the landmarks meaning, its visual salience and where the landmark is located, relative to the decision point on the route,” he says.

“While computers can work out how far it is to the next interaction, humans find it much easier to use instructions that refer to places with meaning and that we can easily identify.”

“It really is an exciting time for researchers in this field. The unique partnership between our researchers and Whereis.com has opened the doors for a new generation of systems that provide mapping data and navigation instructions based on your location. As far as we know, nowhere else in the world is this kind of user experience available that delivers detailed landmark and geometry information to consumers”.

Mr Curtis concluded that, “being an Australian mapping company, it was important our whereis.com team worked with local experts to investigate the potential of incorporating the new landmark feature to our site. Melbourne University’s geomatics team certainly fit the bill.”


 

A drug banned in Australian horse racing significantly reduces the risk of bleeding in to the lungs in thoroughbreds during racing, a groundbreaking study has found.

The study, which will be published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA) on July 1, 2009, is the first to draw a definitive link between use of the medication furosemide (also known as frusemide, Lasix or Salix) and the prevention of exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage (EIPH).

 

If women are allowed to wear minimal clothing, they should be allowed to completely cover their body and wear a burqa, says Director of the Asia Institute at the University of Melbourne Professor Abdullah Saeed

Professor Saeed says French President Nicholas Sarkosy’s call to ban the burqa was interpreted by many Muslims as an attack on their faith. Yet he says Sarkosy’s address was motivated by a concern for women’s rights.

“From Sarkosy’s point of view women don’t have a lot of choice, and in his regard women are forced to wear the burqa. However, when we look at Muslims in France and the issue of veiling, roughly 50 per cent support the ban and roughly 50 per cent don’t support it,” he says.

“There are some Muslims who argue that veiling is not Islamic, for them there is no requirement in Islam in the Koran to suggest that veiling is a requirement. For them this is not Islamic and prevents women from particular aspects of modern life. But there are also some Muslims who argue that it is Islamic and argue that the wearing of burqas is supported in the Koran and should be part of Muslims life in the modern period.”

“The practice is a matter of choice and if women is allowed to wear minimum clothes, why shouldn’t they be allowed to completely cover her body,” he says.

Social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have had a tremendous effect on the reporting of Iranian elections, according to Associate Professor Ingrid Volkmer.

Associate Professor Volkmer says YouTube and Twitter have allowed a global audience access to footage and reports from Iranian citizens which would have been gagged by the Government, and says these first hand accounts have made the Iranian people less like ‘the other’ to a western audience.

“Basically ‘the other’ - which used to be the Iranian population - has become us. In this footage streets look the same as ours, people use mobile phones like we do, and they even look like we do,” she says.

“What Twitter does is give us immediate accounts of what people in Tehran are doing. It allows them to organise themselves and organise demonstrations. From Australia we can read the same message as if we are there, its more authentic and lively.”

“Personal interaction is having political impact and we haven’t had that before. We have only had media outlets covering global affairs such as CNN, NBC and SBS, but never this kind of personal interaction and this creates empathy.”

Associate Professor Volkmer says the impact of social media on the Iranian elections shows journalism is changing.

“In the old days we basically went overseas and delivered a message from the Australian perspective back to Australia, but this has dramatically changed because all of a sudden it seems we are one concerned community.”

Associate Professor Ingrid Volkmer is the Deputy Director of the Media and Communications Program at the University of Melbourne.

The internet came to Australia 20 year ago today, with a fragile link from Hawaii pinging across the seas to Robert Elz - now a fellow of the Melbourne School of Engineering in the Department of Computer Sciences and Software Engineering.

The subject line of what was probably the first message into Australia was straight to the point - ‘Link Up’, it said.  The message was sent by Torben Nielsen, who had been funded by NASA to set up internet links with countries throughout the pacific. Director of e-Research at the University, Professor Leon Sterling, says Melbourne University was chosen as the site for the nation’s first connection because they were leading Australia with UNIX technologies.

It was quite a rollicking journey for Australia’s first ping because there wasn’t a cable laid, the message traveled over a cable from Melbourne to Sydney, then via satellite to the west coast of the US and then back through another cable to Hawaii.

According to the latest Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) figures there are 7.1 million internet subscribers in Australia and Professor Sterling says the internet has had a huge impact on the world as it’s grown. 

 “It has changed the way we find things, through Google. It has changed the way we think about knowledge, through Wikipedia. It has changed the way we access and share music. It has changed the way we communicate, with email and Skype and it has changed the way we socialise, with Facebook,” he says.

“As witnessed during the past week, the internet has also changed the way revolutions can happen as witnessed in Iran.”

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