Writings on technology and society from Wellington, New Zealand

Friday, March 28, 2008

Two weeks with an iPhone

It’s been two weeks since I got my new phone, and I’m impressed. I’m still in that phase of delight which follows me getting something new from Apple, such as my first iPod or my Powerbook. The iPhone isn’t perfect, but I’m struggling to find ways in which it under-performs my old Treo 650, and there are lots of ways in which it improves on the Treo.

Read on for a fuller review.


posted by colin at 2:48 pm  

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Does Government “Get” the Web?

This week on Radio New Zealand National I talked about the core government web site at, how it’s starting to use some of the ideas of Web 2.0, and how the government is releasing the software that runs it as free software under the GPL. (more…)

posted by colin at 10:50 am  

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Queen Charlotte

Queen Charlotte was the George III’s queen, back in the days when the sole criterion for running a European country appeared to be coming from the correct extended family rather than actually being from the country you intended to rule. After all, she was born in Germany, and so was George’s grandfather George II. George III is nowadays famous for losing the American colonies and his marbles, and so giving us something to call the Regency Period while George’s son (also, of course, George) ruled in his place.

It was during George III’s reign that Captain James Cook visited New Zealand. Cook came here on each of his three big voyages, and on each he laid up his ship at a place now called Ship Cove in the Marlborough Sounds. Cook named that sound for his sovereign’s wife – Queen Charlotte Sound.


posted by colin at 8:27 am  

Thursday, March 20, 2008

My phone is dead. Long live my phone!

For three years I have had a Palm Treo 650, which is one of the PalmOS based phones. That followed on from a succession of Palm Pilots I used from 2001 onwards. I liked the Palm platform – it did some nice things, and most importantly it was easy for people to develop software for so there was lots of it available. As an example, when I went to South America, I went with a Spanish-English dictionary embedded in my telephone.

And my Treo was nice. I liked the full QWERTY keyboard, the integration of the contacts list and calendar with the ones on my computer, the way an SMS conversation was laid out in a chat, and the external ‘silent’ switch. Email was possible if rudimentary, and web surfing – well, you had to squint at the screen. Sometimes the phone crashed which was very annoying, but I forgave the instability for years because the phone was just so useful. Then I broke it.

I was sitting on a chair lift in France a couple of weeks ago, and I was slightly in the wrong place on the seat. When the safety bar came down, it and half a dozen burly skiers wound up resting on the screen of my Treo. And that was it for the phone. I wound up borrowing a phone in Switzerland – a small Nokia with menus in German. Then a Sony Ericson P990i in England – theoretically a smart phone, but everything I wanted to do with it was either not possible or just too hard to figure out. Then, back in New Zealand, another tiny Nokia loaner. I didn’t find it liberating trying to do without my contact list in a phone – just frustrating.

That brings me to my new phone. What to get? The Palm platform is looking pretty sick these days. I’d tried a Symbian phone (the P990i), although perhaps not the best example of one, and I was tempted by the Nokia E91i with its QWERTY keyboard and easy syncing to my Mac. But the E91i doesn’t have the SMS as chat feature that Treos have, or the external silent switch. Vodafone  sent me a new Treo as my old one was insured with them, but it runs Windows mobile not PalmOS, and won’t play with my Mac at all. So that’s on Trademe. As you’ve gathered if you are still with me, I care deeply about my technology. Call me finicky.

I have settled on an iPhone. It arrived less than a week ago so it’s early days yet, but I think we are going to get on just fine. It syncs beautifully with my Mac (of course!), has an increasing number of applications available for it, is easy to use, has the SMS chat feature and an external silent switch, and a full QWERTY virtual keyboard. Also, because it’s an iPod as well, that cuts down the number of machines I tote around on a daily basis. And it’s drop-dead gorgeous.

Here’s hoping for a long relationship!

posted by colin at 8:15 am  

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Let the unbundling begin

It’s good see the unbundling starting!

Unbundling is about letting other companies have access to Telecom’s local loop. It’s taken a while – more than a while – but finally the first products are available. Orcon can now sell you a bundle involving your broadband Internet – faster than Telecom’s – and a telephone line free local and national calls, using your existing number, all for what they say is $30 a month less than Telecom.

It’s currently available in only 5 exchanges, all of them in Auckland. Orcon say they will be extending into Wellington and other cities soon. In the meantime, if you’re interested in faster broadband and cheaper phone calls and you live in Auckland, have a look at the Orcon website and see whether it’s in your suburb.

Orcon are the first to launch but they won;’t be the last. Vodafone – or “Vodahug” to its friends, is definitely up for this. They haven’t launched yet, but they say they will have all of Auckland covered by the end of the year, and make a start in some of the other centres – and they are installing equipment that will give you even faster speeds, up to 50Mbps if you are close to your exchange. Incidentally my spies tell me that Telecom is being pretty good at letting people into the exchanges to install this gear – we haven’t seen keys to the exchange being mislaid as happened in Australia when Telstra was forced to go the same route. There are still problems though figuring out how Telecom’s desire to move a lot of the gear into smaller roadside cabinets will play out, but that’s something for a programme of its own. CallPlus will probably launch sometime this year as well, and I expect others to as well.

The Orcon prices certainly look keen – but the real point of unbundling is that it allows companies to try to sell a range of services of different qualities and prices, whatever they think someone might want and be prepared to pay for. So, you could imagine companies competing at least partly on price, and maybe some delivering much better, more specialist services – faster, lower latency, that kind of thing – at a higher price than Telecom did for its one-size-fits-all model. When there was only one place you could get the service that was never going to happen.

A few links:

Russell Brown’s article about the new Orcon services, and Vodafone’s release about its plans.

posted by colin at 6:26 am  

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Rumours of wars

And before modern communications technologies, rumours were all most people heard about foreign wars. Today on Radio New Zealand National I talked about how that all changed with the reporting via telegraph of a disastrous military engagement over 150 years ago.

Read on for my speaking notes and for some really good links. (more…)

posted by colin at 10:50 am  

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

What exactly is a kilobyte? (or a Megabyte, or a Gigabyte)

There is a lot of confusion about this out there – some of it deliberate – as I said on the radio last week, but the usual definition is 2^10 bytes, which is 1,024 bytes.  Here’s a cartoonist’s take on the whole thing – it’s funny.

Incidentally, by the definition above, a megabyte is 1,024*1,024 which is about 1.04 million, and a Gigabyte is 1,024 times bigger again at 1.07 billion.

posted by colin at 7:20 am  

Thursday, March 6, 2008

How computers store information…

…and why you ought to be backing up your computer.

Today on Radio New Zealand National I talked about how computers store things – what is a hard drive, anyway – and, I hope, convinced you that you need to backup your data regularly. It’s not that hard. Read on… (more…)

posted by colin at 10:56 am  

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