Writings on technology and society from Wellington, New Zealand

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Away for the next two Thursdays

I’m overseas on business this week and the next, so I won’t be doing my regular Radio New Zealand slot. The good news is that Nathan Torkington has agreed to do it. Nathan’s a great guy – you’ll like him.

posted by colin at 8:33 am  

Monday, October 27, 2008

Electromagnetic inducer

Today I went for a walk – the Puke Ariki track in Belmont Regional Park, fantastic but I won’t be able to move in the morning – and I came across three guys doing something strange on Boulder Hill.

They had a machine that superficially resembled a tripod-style barbecue. At the top were heavy unshielded wires connected to things that looked like insulators which were standing up around the circumference of the machine. I say they looked like insulators, but they were aluminium coloured instead of the more normal ceramics that insulators are made from. And there were some serious wire coils underneath the “insulators”, made of the traditional copper wires. Beneath the body of the machine, suspended between the tripod legs, another part of the machine swung freely in the wind. A stray length of wire (number 8?) ran from the machine through some lazy spirals to an end on the tussock. I’d have taken a picture, but the guys really didn’t encourage it.

The guys themselves weren’t particularly communicative. They had probably been asked by dozens of people what this was all about, and all they told me was that it was an electromagnetic inducer. The edge in the spokesman’s tone of voice didn’t invite further questions.

So, my question is: are these guys –

a) performing some vital public service

b) doing some useful research through a recognised tertiary institution that they aren’t prepared to explain to random passers-by

c) total flakes?

Answers in the comments, please!

posted by colin at 9:12 pm  

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Hitting the target

You’ve seen the ‘Target’ word puzzle that runs in most daily newspapers. It looks like a 3×3 square of letters with the central letter highlighted. Your mission (should you choose to accept it) is to make as many dictionary words as possible out of the letters in the puzzle, and including the central highlighted letter. There’s always one nine-letter word.

I quite enjoy looking at the puzzle and trying to get the long word, but I lack the patience to list out all the others. A couple of years ago I decided to try to automate doing the puzzle – yes, I know it’s cheating – and here are the results. Read on for some geeky Python stuff.

posted by colin at 9:19 pm  

Friday, October 24, 2008

Books, books, books!

Books are a very old technology which is still going strong. And why shouldn’t it? Today on Radio New Zealand National I take a look at books and their relationship with the Internet. Read on for my notes or download the audio as ogg or mp3. (more…)

posted by colin at 12:11 am  

Sunday, October 19, 2008

A little programming project – part 3

A few weeks ago I blogged about writing a little program to make my life easier. (The entries are here and here.) In summary, this program automates the messy but easy administrative task of editing links to the sound files of my radio programs into their respective blog entries.

posted by colin at 6:16 pm  

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Packaging and Selling Technology

Creating and building technology is one thing; coming up with the latest thing that appeals to the hearts and minds of consumers is another. Today on Radio New Zealand National I take a look at the difference. Read on for my notes or download the audio as ogg or mp3. (more…)

posted by colin at 10:03 pm  

Friday, October 10, 2008

If you don’t like the Copyright Act, join up!

There is now a Facebook group for people who don’t like S92A of the Copyright Act and think it should be got rid of as soon as possible.

In related news, New Zealand’s extreme copyright law has been picked up by BoingBoing and the Toronto Globe and Mail. And Brenda Wallace brings out even more of the essential unfairness of it all. That’s right, we have been sold down the river.

I am embarrassed to see that this is what New Zealand is famous for.

Update: a YouTube video on the absurdity of it all.

Further update: a great piece about abuse of copyright written by Lawrence Lessig is running on the Wall Street Journal.

posted by colin at 9:16 pm  

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Weightless economy? Yeah, right.

The New Zealand Institute has written a series of think pieces on what it calls the “weightless economy” – it means using broadband to ship ideas around the world rather than ships to send dead trees and animal carcasses. They aren’t the only people to have observed what an opportunity the Internet offers the New Zealand economy, more than most countries because of our remoteness, but they are very eloquent and couch it all in language that economists understand.

You might think that would be welcome by bureaucrats and politicians alike. Non-polluting, renewable, no food-miles, etc. And both major parties have promised to spend up in varying amount to improve New Zealand’s Internet. That makes it all the more surprising that the government is apparently trying to kill the Internet in New Zealand off altogether. That’s right – S92A of the Copyright Act, which ministers have just told us to “like or lump” risks chilling new services on the Internet so they never get started, and driving the companies that distribute Internet out of existence. (Most of them are barely profitable now; it’s the sexy service companies like Google that make the big bucks. Go figure.)

Most of us agree that copyright needs some kind of protection in the digital world. Killing the Net to achieve it is too high a price. That’s what I talked about on Radio New Zealand National today – read on for my notes or download the audio as ogg or mp3. (more…)

posted by colin at 10:20 pm  

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Ministers: why we changed the Copyright Act

Recently, Parliament passed into law some changes to the Copyright Act to account for the modern technological environment. Some of those changes were good, some bad, and I’ve blogged about them many times before.

But the most controversial change to the Copyright Act made was the insertion of section 92a, which says, in effect, that ISPs have to have a policy to implement cutting off people’s Internet if they are accused of repeatedly infringing copyright.

This is the first issue I have ever seen get the entire Internet and IT industry in agreement.

All the participants at the TVNZ / InternetNZ debate last month were asked about this issue. National’s Maurice Williamson agreed it was a bad thing and said he didn’t know why he had voted for it. David Cunliffe, Minister for ICT, said he would set up a meeting between Internet folks and ministers to discuss it. That meeting happened yesterday and these are my notes from it.


posted by colin at 5:09 pm  

Friday, October 3, 2008

A national treasure

I’m referring to Te Reo Māori, the language of the indigenous people of Aotearoa/New Zealand, and an official language of our country. Even those of us who have no Māori blood should be proud to have a unique language as part of our country’s identity.

Te Reo presents some difficulties to printers and web publishers who assume that it is spelled using the standard Latin alphabet that English uses. It isn’t – Te Reo distinguishes between long and short vowels. A long vowel has the same sound as a short one but it is held for longer. In writing, long vowels are marked with a macron, which is a diacritic appearing as a horizontal bar over a letter. Anyone who learned Latin at school should remember them.

Marking long vowels in Te Reo is not optional if you expect to be understood. A word that has a short vowel becomes a totally different word if it is said or spelled with a long vowel. For instance, keke in English is cake, whereas kēkē is armpit. This is a mistake which could be hilarious, or more likely, rude.

Vowels with macrons don’t appear in ASCII, or even extended ASCII (which contains some European accented letters). But they do appear in Unicode. The correct way to display macrons on the web is to use escaped unicode. Here’s a list of the five vowels with macrons, in upper and lower case:

ā ā
ē ē
ī ī
ō ō
ū ū

People have used other ways besides Unicode to capture macrons. One way that used to be used was patching the fonts on a computer so that umlauted letters appeared as letter with macrons. An umlaut is two dots over a vowel, a diacritic used in German among other languages. It raises a vowel – the difference between “rat” and “rate”. It doesn’t lengthen a vowel. This approach has problems, such as not being able to write German words any more. But the biggest problem is that it is not portable, because when you copy from a system that (mis)uses umlauts to one that correctly uses umlauts, you get this kind of thing:

bad umlaut.jpg

This is a poor example from our state-owned television broadcaster!

posted by colin at 8:49 pm  
Next Page »

Powered by WordPress