Archives For Off Topic…

For his outstanding contributions to computer science, Leslie Lamport, father of the Byzantine Generals problem, has been awarded the 2013 ACM Turing Award.

What an unexpected pleasure. I’ve been asked to give a keynote speech at this year’s IET system safety and cyber security conference. So if you want to hear me in the flesh gentle reader, come along to Manchester this October, I promise to provocative.

WRESAT Tests (Image source: Australian government)

Australia is a lucky country, run by second-rate people who share its luck

At the end of WWII my country could make its own aircraft, radar sets, ships and tanks. By 1947 Ben Chifley our war-time prime minister had launched the Snowy Mountain scheme,  and by 1958 we had built HIFAR our first nuclear reactor. In 1967 we were the fourth nation to launch a satellite into orbit, and were pioneering digital computers on the Snowy scheme. So how did a nation that did all these things not because they were easy, but because they were important, end up in a situation where the dying heart of it’s industrial might is considered a few foreign-owned car manufacturing plants in Victoria?

I had in mind in particular the lack of innovation in Australian manufacturing and some other forms of Australian business, banking for example. In these, as a colonial carry over, Australia showed less enterprise than almost any other prosperous industrial society.

Donald Horne

We seem to have lost the ability to imagine a tomorrow different from today, and then to act on that imagining. Instead our future is mapped out by the great and the good as little more than a large open cut mine. Nation building? We’ll have none of that, it’s all about homo-economicus, the citizen defined as consumer and the devil take the hindmost. Energy policy? Why would we need that? We’ve got plenty of coal to burn for another two centuries. Imagination and reflection? No time in the feeding frenzy media cycle that substitutes for informed and rational debate. Nor are our so called business leaders any better, an obsession with short term gain and an unwillingness to take risks has led to our best individuals and their ideas decamping overseas.

The problem is that this century is shaping up to to be even tougher than the last and any nation that lacks imagination, courage and the tenacity to stay the course will just go under. I wish I could report that I think Australians have what it takes to weather the coming storm, but viewing the puerile partisan debates swirling around the latest casualties in a long dying half century of neglectful myopia I am less than optimistic.

In June of last year I gave a short three day course on system safety at UNSW@Canberra, and this year they’ve asked me back to run it again!

Anyone who wants a good understanding of the theory and practice of system safety and how to manage safety risk, as well as an overview of modern risk theory, would find the course of interest and, I hope, useful.

There’s currently planned two course dates. The first is the original three day form, for those of us who are time poor, while the second is five days. Dates are as follows:

  1. 16-18 Jun  – 3 day short course.
  2. 14-18 July – 5 day course.
Look forward to seeing you there. 🙂

Elysium (Image Source:

Guess what, you’re living in the future

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The pentagon is functioning (Image Source: USN)

….And there are still unknown, unknowns

A while ago I posted a short piece on the difference between aleatory, epistemic and ontological uncertainty, using Don Rumsfeld’s famous news conference comments as a good introduction to the subject.

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In any significant design effort a fundamental part of managing and controlling the design effort is establishing a single entity, independent of the ‘agency of design’ itself in which accountability, responsibility and authority over the design is vested.

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