Big data the key to improving urban efficiency

Cities that fail to embrace ”big data” – and the meteoric rise of smartphones and the internet – to get more out of their existing infrastructure will be left behind, according to one of the world’s leading ”smart cities” advocates.
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Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Carlo Ratti said many disruptive internet applications had made it possible to get higher productivity out of the assets cities such as Melbourne already possessed.

Speaking at the International Transport Forum in Leipzig, Germany, last week, Professor Ratti said websites such as room-letting service Airbnb and the controversial ride-sharing smartphone app Uber were examples of how access to information meant infrastructure could be better used.

There were about 2800 rooms, apartments and houses for rent in Melbourne on Airbnb, a website that allows people to rent a spare room or an entire house or flat to strangers.

In Paris, since Airbnb’s launch in 2008, there were an extra 16,000 rooms – something Professor Ratti said had negated the need to build more hotels.

”Airbnb has totally changed the way many people get a room in a different city,” the 43-year-old Italian architect and engineer said. ”It has done it not by building many, many new hotels, but by using spare capacity.”

Airbnb has in several instances, notably in Docklands, caused issues with apartments rented out via the website used for all-night parties.

”Overall, though,” Professor Ratti said, ”it is a beautiful thing because it allows us, without changing the physical world, to use things better in a more effective way.”

Professor Ratti was among a clutch of urban planning experts presenting at the forum. Many of the speakers focused on how ”big data” is already helping the planet run its cities far more efficiently.

Professor Ratti and fellow presenters at the forum’s ”Transport Innovation” session argued that cities embracing innovations made available from this data – now flowing from smart phones in particular – will save or delay billions of dollars in infrastructure spending by working existing facilities harder.

Professor Ratti said that in cities whose roads are clogged to standstill by unpredictable traffic jams – ”Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo or Moscow, you don’t know if it will take you half an hour or four hours [from the airport] because of traffic” – building new roads is not the answer. ”It will not solve the problem and it will be incredibly expensive. The only thing you can do is use the infrastructure we have better, and to do that we have to work with real-time data and synchronised traffic flows.”

The forum was also addressed by Corey Owens from global ride-sharing service Uber, a smartphone app that can allow any motorist to be paid for providing lifts.

Mr Owens said taxis were an ”incredibly structural problems for cities” because too often large queues of cabs were sitting at airports or in city centres for hours at a time. ”That means [drivers] are struggling to provide for their families. Meanwhile, consumers are pissed at them for not providing a good service. How is it possible that both supply and demand are being failed?”

Professor Ratti said serious legal issues concerning services such as Airbnb and Uber are the result of a lack of laws around the new services. ”We are seeing the difference between regulations that are based on static systems and the ability that we have now to have much more dynamic systems.”

Xerox Corporation recently delivered an intelligent parking system to the city of Los Angeles that made variable pricing possible for 6000 individual on-street spots – allowing the city to increase the cost of parking in some locations and send a message to drivers to consider parking elsewhere. It resulted in a 10 per cent improvement in traffic.

Clay Lucas travelled to Leipzig courtesy of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

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Five Wishes for a dignified death

John and Anne Kumnick say the Five Wishes program has given them peace of mind. Photo: Angela WylieA good death has no formula. Inevitability is the only shared truth. For some, it may be a no-fuss, painless drifting into another realm. Others might see it as a celebration: their favourite music ringing out in a room packed with loved ones.
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But as the debate around end-of-life care intensifies, many are leaving little to chance, and turning to safeguards they hope will help them die well.

While once, decisions on medical treatment and pain relief were the only things to consider when writing advance-care plans – which outline wishes in the case of incapacitation or terminal illness – increasingly, people are recording detailed instructions on how they want their emotional and spiritual needs attended to in their final days.

Five Wishes – dubbed the ”advance-care directive with a soul” – is the latest movement to hit Australia, having proved so popular in the US that more than 19 million people have signed the not-for-profit’s end-of-life planning forms.

Launched here last week, its personalised, less clinical approach to the business of dying appears to be its drawcard, with users able to record explicit wishes on everything from who they want to forgive on their deathbed, to whether they want to be massaged with warm oils or have poetry read to them.

While the first two ”wishes” deal with legal and medical treatment matters, the other three are more holistic and include clauses such as how often the signatory wants to have their hair brushed or teeth cleaned, who they do, and do not, want in the room when they die, and what happens to a person’s social media accounts after they are gone.

For John Kumnick and his wife, Anne, from Doncaster – who are both in good health but mindful of not being a burden to their two daughters at the end of their lives – creating a Five Wishes living will was a collaborative, family decision that gave them peace of mind.

”I’ve seen other documents that are very clinical – name of doctor, name of lawyer, preferred funeral director, bank accounts and all that sort of stuff, which is technical and procedural. This is a more humane document, it attends to the personal side of end of life, and that appeals to us,” Mr Kumnick said.

Christina Widuckel, chief executive of Colbrow Healthcare – a nursing and care service that brought Five Wishes to Australia – said there was a growing appetite for personalised end-of-life planning.

”We noticed that most other advance-care directives and planning tools were very much focused on people’s illness and they really only came into effect when someone was sick,” she said. ”But dying is not a medical experience, it’s a human experience. Five Wishes is very much focused on mind, body and spirit, not just the person’s illness. It’s a much more gentle way of introducing the topic of end-of-life care.”

However, there are concerns that as more versions of advance-care directives become available, their legal weight will be diminished.

About 7 per cent of Australians are believed to have an advance-care directive, with their legal standing varying from state to state. In Victoria, refusal-of-treatment orders are covered by statutory law and apply to current and future illnesses. But the robustness of documents such as Five Wishes, which are covered by common law, has yet to be tested.

End-of-life care specialist Associate Professor Bill Silvester, who founded the Austin Hospital’s Respecting Patient Choices advance-care directive, said evidence from NSW, where 40 such documents exist, suggested more choice was not always helpful.

”The concern about having all these different forms is that it ends up being confusing for patients and for doctors,” he said. ”We’re now working with the state government to have a standard, uniform, simple advance-care directive document used right across the state. It makes it easier for people to understand and it also means it’s more likely the doctors are going to follow it.”

He said he was also concerned that long documents with ”warm and fuzzy” details were unlikely to be taken into account in critical situations: ”If I’m a doctor in the emergency department and I’m having to get on and make urgent decisions, or in the intensive care unit, to be honest, I just don’t think people are going to follow it because they’re just not going to have the time.”

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The Voice coach Will.i.am lauds Australia’s ‘awesome’ singers

Presence: The Voice coach Will.i.am. Photo: Marco Del GrandeAs the four coaches on the reality TV show The Voice chase talent on the show’s cavernous stage, William Adams – better known to his fans as Will.i.am – insists that all is fair in love and television.
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”Is it really a competition?” the Grammy and Billboard Music award winner asks, easing into a chair in his Los Angeles office. ”I choose not to look at it that way.”

The contestants ”want to have a career, [so] what can I do to help them on their way?” he says. ”How can I help fine-tune something special they have? The four coaches, we have our careers. And if another career can come out of the show, that makes our industry healthier.”

Adams, 39, has been the frontman for the hip-hop/pop band the Black Eyed Peas since 1995 and has also recorded four solo albums. In 2011 he joined the British version of The Voice as a coach and this year (with fellow Voice UK alumnus Kylie Minogue) joined The Voice Australia, replacing outgoing coach Seal (while Minogue replaced Delta Goodrem).

He admits candidly he did not expect The Voice Australia to deliver top-tier talent. ”I thought they were going to have good singers but I didn’t think they were gonna have ‘What the f—, did you hear that?’ I didn’t think that was gonna happen.

”If I had to judge The Voice UK versus The Voice Australia, Australia has better singers. That was surprising. Surprisingly awesome.”

His relationship with Australia, he says, is long-standing and meaningful, noting Australians embraced the Black-Eyed Peas before many other countries.

”I have been going to Australia since 1998, that was the first place we [the Peas] were ever successful.

”Our first gold record, our first platinum record, came from Australia. That’s where we went to tour all the time. Big Day Outs. And then our own little tours, at the Metro, in Adelaide, Canberra, Brisbane, Perth, doing our little runs around the country.”

Walking onto the set of The Voice Australia, the new coaches found easy camaraderie with established coaches Joel Madden and Ricky Martin, Adams says.

”I think we all have a natural chemistry,” he says. ”Kylie and I have chemistry because of The Voice UK and it’s hard not to have chemistry with Kylie, she’s a sweet, huggable, cuddly, snuggable, ‘let’s watch TV and eat marshmallows’ kind of person.

”Joel is the kind of person it’s hard not to have chemistry with because he’s just fun. And Ricky is nice. I don’t think we’re competing against each other; we’re mindful of everyone, we respect everyone’s opinion.”

While The Voice Australia continues to deliver titanic ratings to the Nine Network, the most common criticism of the talent show genre is that it attempts to pump talent from an ever-diluting well, and that it delivers artists who are too derivative of iconic artists, at the expense of genuine musical artistry.

But music, Adams says, has always been simultaneously inventive and derivative. ”I think we’ve always had originals and duplicates, right?” he says. ”It’s not just right now, it’s always been that way.”

While much of the new season’s PR focus was on Kylie Minogue’s return to Australia, Adams has generated enormous attention. Some have even suggested he’s more popular with the show’s female demographic than Latin lover Martin.

Adams pauses at the suggestion, and then breaks into a wide smile. ”That’s because they like Vegemite,” he says, laughing.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Flights from Australia to Bali cancelled after volcano erupts

Qantas and Virgin Australia have cancelled flights to and from Darwin Airport.Flights from Australia to Bali were cancelled on Saturday night as a massive volcanic ash cloud from Indonesia sweeping across Australia threatens to disrupt air travel for days.
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The eruption of the Sangeang Api volcano on Friday night caused the cancellation of Australian flights to Darwin on Saturday and to Denpasar on Saturday night.

The ash plume shut down Darwin International Airport on Saturday, before moving into Western Australia and grounding planes at East Kimberley Regional Airport.

Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss warned more airports around Australia could be affected as authorities monitored three separate ash plumes.

“Depending on wind and other weather conditions, the ash has the potential to affect flights to and from other airports, including Brisbane, during coming days,” he said.

“This is currently being fully assessed.”

On Saturday, Qantas, Jet Star and Virgin Australia all cancelled flights from Sydney to Darwin. A Jetstar and a Virgin Australia flight from Sydney both made it through to Bali earlier in the day, while the airlines did not have flights from Sydney to Denpasar scheduled in Saturday evening.

Jetstar has already cancelled its Cairns to Darwin return service on Sunday morning. Other airlines have not yet announced what, if any, flights would be stopped but have directed travellers to monitor their websites for news.

“Our team of meteorologists are continuing to monitor the situation, in consultation with the Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre,” Virgin Australia spokeswoman Jacqui Abbott said.

The first ash cloud, between 20,000 and 50,000 feet high and up to 15 kilometres across, was tracking south-easterly over central Australia on Saturday night about 100 knots but dissipating quickly.

A second cloud at about 45,000 feet was over Darwin and moving east about 60 knots.

The third ash cloud, north-east of Bali, is not expected to enter Australian airspace.

Virgin flights VA51 from Melbourne to Denpasar and VA33 from Adelaide to Denpasar were cancelled.

Melbourne man Jesse Hogan said people were in shock after their 3.40pm flight was cancelled, leaving them stranded at Melbourne Airport.

“I got through Customs and everything a breeze and it was only about half an hour before the flight was about to go, when we were due to board, when we heard the flight was cancelled,” he said.

“We’re sort of stuck in here in limbo.”

Qantas spokeswoman Kira Reed said all flights to and from Darwin were cancelled on Saturday, and Jetstar and Jetstar Asia flights had been cancelled to and from Bali and Singapore.

“Jetstar will continue monitoring the situation throughout the day and will update affected passengers if further cancellations are to come this evening,” she said.

Darwin woman Mandy Hall was in Hobart on Saturday anxiously waiting to see if she could fly to Melbourne with Jetstar on Sunday.

“I don’t think that our flight will be leaving from Melbourne tomorrow to get back to Darwin,” she said.

“From what I’ve learnt about volcanic ash, it’s not something that’s going to disappear overnight.”

The Bureau of Meteorology’s Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre and Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) are closely monitoring the ash plume.

CASA has issued a warning to Australian pilots and aviation operators of the hazards of flying through or near the dust but each airline makes its own decisions under the international system.

CASA spokesman Peter Gibson said the ash could affect large and small aircraft with piston and turbine engines.

“Volcanic ash clouds contain extremely fine particles of pulverised rock made up mainly of silica,” he said.

“The silica is very hard and abrasive and can be very damaging to aircraft structures, engines and windows.

“The silica can also melt inside jet engines and be deposited in the hot sections of engines.”

Tim Birch, a meteorologist from Darwin Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre, said predictions could not be made about how long the ash cloud would continue to affect air travel to and from Darwin.

“It is entirely dependent upon what happens with the volcano.”

Mr Birch said that, based on the current weather conditions and volcanic action, Australia’s eastern ports including Sydney and Brisbane would remain unaffected.

Sangeang Api’s first recorded eruption was in 1512 and it last erupted in December 2012.

The most recent eruption has forced the evacuation of farmers from areas on the slope of the volcano.

– with Melanie Kembrey

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David Eastman likely to be freed, despite nagging doubt

The convicted killer: David Eastman. Photo: Graham Tidy The Canberra public servant sentenced to life without parole and who most likely shot dead one of Australia’s most senior police officers looks set to walk free within weeks in the latest twist to one of the nation’s most tortuous murder investigations.
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An inquiry recommended on Friday the ACT Supreme Court quash the 1995 conviction of David Harold Eastman for the assassination of Australian Federal Police assistant commissioner Colin Winchester in Canberra six years earlier.

The ACT’s attorney-general at the time of Eastman’s conviction, Gary Humphries, says the court has little choice but to accept the recommendation.

So after 19 years’ imprisonment, the 68-year-old Eastman will likely be released.

It follows a six-month inquiry by Acting Justice Brian Martin that found the disgruntled sacked public servant was denied a fair trial, and although he was ”fairly certain” Eastman was guilty of the murder a ”nagging doubt remains”.

The standard of proof in Australia for any crime is ”beyond reasonable doubt”.

And that ”nagging doubt” is likely to reignite claims, raised at the time of the shooting and pushed by Eastman over the past 20 years, that it was the Calabrian mafia who shot Mr Winchester twice at close range as he got out of his car outside his home on January 10, 1989.

He had been at the heart of an undercover operation, code-named Seville, to trace higher-ups of Mafia-run drug rackets.

Detectives investigated the possibility his killing was linked to Chinese triad syndicates or corrupt police.

Police had said that Mr Winchester lost his life because he had rejected a plea by Eastman to drop an assault charge that stood in the way of his return to the public service.

But the coronial inquest, held in August of 1989 also heard evidence of a disgruntled, sacked Treasury official who had been in a heated meeting with Mr Winchester 25 days before his murder. Residues of the same ammunition used to kill Mr Winchester was found in the boot of his car, the inquest heard.

That inquest ran for a record 27 months, sat for 137 days, heard evidence from nearly 250 witnesses and cost more than $5 million until the coroner, Ron Cahill, issued a warrant for Eastman’s arrest in December 1992.

”This is a federal police frame-up – I am completely innocent,” Eastman said upon his arrest.

He was found guilty and Justice Kenneth Carruthers declared the killing in the ”worst category of cases of murder” when he sentenced Eastman to life without parole.

After a string of appeals and challenges, including to the High Court, any hope Eastman had of a retrial seemed lost two years ago.

But the determination made by Acting Justice Martin means it is possible he will be released within weeks. Mr Martin also recommended Eastman be pardoned.

The inquiry also found a re-trial would not be feasible. The forensics linking Eastman to the murder scene were almost entirely debunked, and the expert responsible for analysis of gunshot residue had his credibility and reliability savaged.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.