Writings on technology and society from Wellington, New Zealand

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Yesterday was World IP Day

I bet you didn’t know! Apparently it’s true – you can see the official postcard here. I’d embed the image directly in this blog but I don’t want to infringe anyone’s IP.

Have a look at ArsTechnica for a hilarious take on what this means. My favourite part:

[According to the head of WIPO]: “What, [people] might ask, do the workings of copyrights, patents, industrial designs or trademarks have to do with the really big issues, like how to stop global warming; or with the things that add spice to life, like watching their favorite athletes perform in this year’s Olympics? The answer is that, without intellectual property rights, many new technologies developed to tackle global problems would never see the light of day and the great sporting events, which entertain and unite us, would not be broadcast into homes across the globe.”

So there you have it: without IP we’d have global warming and no Olympics (though somehow the ancient Greeks managed to have the Olympics but no global warming, and they did it without a modern IP legislative apparatus).

Quite. We can all debate the importance or otherwise of intellectual property concepts, but let’s not get carried away.

posted by colin at 9:16 am  

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Dance on a Volcano

I’ve just been to New Zealand’s most active volcano. It’s an amazing experience. (more…)

posted by colin at 5:34 pm  

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Competing with free

How to compete against something that’s free? On the face of it, you can’t. But that’s what companies and people find sometimes find themselves trying to do when the rules change around them. To a large extent, we are defined by the way we react when the world changes.

posted by colin at 11:20 am  

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Something the world didn’t need

Another ISO document format standard.

There already is an ISO document format standard – it’s called ODF. But Microsoft refused to work with ODF and has insisted that its own format be made a standard as well. New Zealand, I am delighted to say, voted against this, correctly noting that having more than one standard increases everybody’s costs. Unfortunately it has passed anyway.

To people who say: there should be competition in standards, let the market sort it out – I say “rubbish”. There should be competition in software, but if that software doesn’t implement common standards there’s no real competition. Refusing to implement common standards is anit-competitive. Letting the market sort out standards means the poor old consumer gets it in the neck. Did you buy an HD DVD player? That standard has just lost in the marketplace and your investment is wasted. And with the size of the market in word processors and spreadsheets – we all use them, after all – imposing additional costs there is a drag on the whole developed world’s economy.

Getting this spurious standard approved was ugly. Have a look at Herald journalist Adam Gifford’s take on the whole thing. And while you are thinking about it, check out the British government’s advice to schools on the matter. Both are worth a read.

posted by colin at 1:50 pm  

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Computer monitors

This week on Radio New Zealand National I talked about computer monitors. They may sound boring, but some of us spend a lot of time staring at them. I talked about where they have come from, where they are going and how they work.

Read on for my speaking notes, or listen to the podcast!


posted by colin at 11:53 am  

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Solving the Enigma

There’s a really interesting article on the web site of the US Government’s National Security Agency all about the breaking of the Enigma, the German wartime code. I’ve talked before about the contribution of Alan Turing – this article sets it in a wider context. Unlike this disgraceful Hollywood outing, it appears factual. Recommended if you are interested in codes and the people who break them.

I found the pointer to this article on security expert Bruce Schneier’s blog.

posted by colin at 8:59 am  

Thursday, April 10, 2008


Today on Radio New Zealand National I talked about the technology of biometrics – that’s teaching computers to recognise people by aspects of our bodies such as face geometry. This all seems a little spooky until you realise that fingerprinting has been doing this for years.

There are a lot of different ways that biometrics can be made to work, and I talk about some of them on air. Well-implemented biometrics can be beneficial, but there are some real risks as well. Read on for my notes and links, or pull the podcast.

posted by colin at 11:52 am  

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Good news – competing cables

It seems that a new cable is to be built between New Zealand and Australia and on to Guam, by Pipe Networks and Kordia. This is excellent news because it provides competition on international cables. Kordia is the State Owned Enterprise formerly known as BCL, and it now owns the retail ISP Orcon, so this move makes sense for them. It also makes sense for New Zealand Internet users.


posted by colin at 7:16 am  

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

A dog’s breakfast

Two government stories in one day – and I just wish this one was positive. But it isn’t. Our elected politicians have voted for a complete dog’s breakfast in the form of the Copyright Amendment (New Technology) Bill. It’s been passed and it’s now an Act.

This was the law that supposed to legalise your iPod. Yes, that’s the same iPods as ministers use, as musicians use, and even as copyright lobbyists use. As it stands – or as it stood until now – the law says you are infringing copyright if you copy the CD you own onto the iPod you own. This bill was supposed to change that, but it doesn’t really.


posted by colin at 10:22 am  

Wednesday, April 9, 2008


As Don Christie has blogged, the government is releasing the software that drives the new government web portal at under the General Public Licence -the GPL. That makes the portal free software.

This is a really good thing for several reasons. One is that the portal code becomes available for anyone to use, tweak or re-implement. And that’s entirely appropriate – we taxpayers have paid for this software to be developed, why shouldn’t we have access to it?

But the main reason this is so important is that it shows the government getting into step with many other players in the field. Free and open source software is the norm for infrastructure software – look at the Apache webserver, look at Firefox, look at Linux, look at just about every program that makes the Internet work. Here in New Zealand our domain name registry released its registry software under the GPL.

That’s right, without free and open source software there would be no Internet. That’s not just empty rhetoric – lots of companies tried to build internets – remember Prodigy and Compuserve? But the open Internet, built using common, open standards and open source software, eclipsed all the others.

The government is keen to use the Internet to suit its purposes, and to suit ours as well. This way, it’s putting something back. Good on it.

posted by colin at 7:21 am  
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