Writings on technology and society from Wellington, New Zealand

Friday, January 31, 2014

So long and thanks for all the fish

I stopped updating this blog some time ago, mainly because my work started taking me overseas so much I couldn’t keep up with it.

But now I am blogging again, perhaps a bit less frequently than I used to, over at my new website Jackson Strategy. I’ll be covering technology and how it changes our lives, and what we should be doing about that. Please drop by!

posted by colin at 11:33 am  

Monday, December 17, 2012

People should be allowed to have red cars!

Dear Editor

I am writing to ask why people are not allowed to have red cars. Some of my friends’ favourite colours are red, but they are not able to have their cars painted this way. Why?

I have seen people writing in your newspaper to say that cars are meant to be black and it is simply wrong to paint them any other colour. They generally don’t explain why they think this, except to point to the manufacturers’ books that say cars must be made black (but don’t justify this). For heaven’s sake! This is the twentieth century and we have moved on so far since cars were invented. Back then, some people said that having any kind of car was wrong – look how they’ve changed once they have got used to the idea.

Others have said, if my friends have red cars, that their black cars will be worth less somehow. Nonsense! There’s absolutely no reason to assume that. They can keep driving round the black cars they’ve always had. Some of the sillier of these people have even said that, if we let people paint cars red, they will want to go around painting other things red, like horses and dogs. What a crazy thing to say!

The most honest people who don’t want people to have red cars say it’s because they just don’t like them. Some of the people who use other arguments really think this, as well, but they don’t like to say it in public. But no-one is going to force them to have a red car. They can keep having a black one, or none at all. Other people having red cars won’t affect them at all.

I’m asking everyone who doesn’t think there should be red cars – think about why you oppose them. Why is it your business to try to stop something that won’t affect you and will make other people happy?


Red Car Lover

posted by colin at 8:08 am  

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Retaking the Net

This Saturday (29th October 2011) is the RetakeTheNet Bar Camp in the Wellington Town Hall.

I’ve talked about RtN before. It’s a group of people who are uncomfortable about the extent of control of the Net being exerted by governments and companies, and who want to do concrete things to imp roe the situation. This last point is the kicker – anyone can yell a bit, but doing actual projects is a lot harder. We are trying to the use the features of the Net that have made it so successful, its openness and its innovation culture, to find ways to do things more freely.

The bar camp is for people to come and contribute ideas, meet some fantastic people, and just maybe get energized enough to actually do stuff. There will be sessions through the day starting at 10am (best get get there a bit early) and going on until an after party, starting around 4:30.

There are going to be some very cool people there. And, you never know, we just might make a difference! Come if you want to be part of that.

posted by colin at 7:30 am  

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Retake the Net wordle

Here’s a wordle made up of the Retake the Net website. It’s not fiddled in any way; this is exactly what came out. It shows our priorities.

RtN wordle

If you think it’s about time that individuals took back the Net for the things it can do for us and for each other, rather than leaving it to large companies and governments, join us now.

posted by colin at 10:24 am  

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Why are our data caps so low?

New Zealand seems to have the lowest data caps on its Internet in the developed world. Recently, InternetNZ commissioned me to write a report about this. My brief was to go round the Internet industry and ask people for their views, and specifically ask them why, if our expensive submarine cable is the answer to our high data caps, don’t we at least have free onshore Internet traffic?

The results are quite interesting. You can read the report here. InternetNZ is asking for comments on the report – please send them some if you have any.

posted by colin at 9:31 am  

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Taking back the Net

The Net used to be under the radar of governments and corporates. Then it got a lot bigger, governments paid it attention and large companies moved in. Some were beneficial, some weren’t and some were neutral. But the ethos of the individual Net user running the whole show got diluted along the way.

It’s easy to lament these things. It’s more fun to do something. A group of us are running some projects under the heading Retake The Net to try to put some power back into the hands of ordinary users. Yes, you and me. Retake the Net is putting together a Bar Camp for 29 October 2011.

The project I’m most closely associated with is called the Policy Auction. (That’s a working title and it will change when we launch.) The basic idea is to provide a platform where people can promote policies – things they think the gummint should do – and put up real virtual currency against them. Hence the auction. Maybe it will make a splash – that’s the general idea. And the timing right before an election is no accident.

About half a dozen people are giving up their time to build this thing, and it’s going to be very cool. But not as cool as it would be if you helped, too. We want to hear from Java geeks, visual designers and comms folk.

There’s a meeting of the Retake The Net crew at Betty’s in Wellington tomorrow night (3rd August). I do hope to see you there!

posted by colin at 9:29 pm  

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Avoid Outrageous Data Roaming Bills

If you’ve travelled overseas with a smart phone, you know that you have to turn off international data roaming, otherwise your telco will own your house. That’s barely an exaggeration given the cost of data roaming – here’s Telecom’s, for example – ranges from $8 per megabyte to $30 per megabyte. Yes, that megabytes. As one wag put it: I didn’t know they still made megabytes. Typically in New Zealand we pay $30-50 for a gigabyte, sometimes less than that, and our smartphones and our lifestyles are geared to use that data. These prices are thousand times higher than that.

From time to time, telcos drop these charges, often by quite a large margin, then pat themselves on the back. Just try working out what the charges are in gigabytes, not the megabytes they always quote, and see how they stack up against what you pay at home.

Why should you have to pay more when you go overseas? When you take your mobile to the UK, say, and use data, the mobile telco you are connected to in the UK ships that data back to New Zealand for your home telco to put it onto the Internet here. That’s bonkers, and its part of the reason why its all so expensive. What *should* happen is that local mobile companies wherever you are should just connect you to the Internet for a decent price, i.e. whatever they charge their own customers plus a percentage to reflect the cost of billing it back. I’m not holding my breath on this.

Anyway, that’s not what this article is about. It’s about how to avoid paying these insane charges.

posted by colin at 12:01 pm  

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Think of the children

If there’s anyone left who didn’t know, Parliament passed a Copyright Amendment Act last night under urgency. It has the effect of curtailing the rights of ordinary New Zealanders for the gain of overseas companies.

Yes, there needs to be balance between rights holders and ordinary Internet users. Yadda yadda yadda, we’ve been through the arguments so many times before. This Bill, now an Act, was hugely skewed towards the companies that sit between us and creative artists – check out InternetNZ’s Vikram Kumar or tech journalist Juha Saarinen for more detail.

But that’s not what has really, really annoyed me as well as just about every NZer under 30.

posted by colin at 11:09 pm  

Saturday, February 19, 2011

I was a Webstock virgin

Until Thursday, anyway. Despite the amazing Webstock conference running in my home town of Wellington for several years now, I still hadn’t made it along to one. My loss.

How to describe Webstock 2011? Compared to commercial conferences, it was head and shoulders better than any I had been to, ever. Compared to unconferences and enthusiasts’ meetings, it was way more professional and focussed. But the best description of it was one word – the adjective on the conference pencil (I kid you not) – Awesome! (more…)

posted by colin at 3:59 pm  

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

So long, Knowledge Economy – we hardly knew you

It wasn’t long ago that the Knowledge Society and its brother, the Knowledge Economy, were all of our futures. Remember the Knowledge Wave conference? That was almost a decade ago now. It posited that we all had a better future if only we would stop just growing nice things and sending them offshore and focussed more on creating intangibles that we could somehow sell for money than trees, views and milk. The future was going to be one where most New Zealanders were engaged in high-earning activities rather than farming or tourism. Except that it isn’t. Sure, we have a sharply growing technology sector – I work in it myself – which is great for the country. But it’s fanciful to think that will ever displace food and wood as our number one. We just have such a good competitive advantage in that area.

Missing technology trends is not unique to the academics and business leaders who promoted the Knowledge Wave. In the mid 90s I went to a presentation to Ministers by a government department (which I won’t name to save its embarrassment) explaining how it was going to build an entire business on helping New Zealanders and the world find things on the Internet. Oh dear.

posted by colin at 12:13 am  
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