Writings on technology and society from Wellington, New Zealand

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Travelling again – staying connected

I’m away from New Zealand for a few weeks, visiting my extended family. Here in this sceptred isle the weather is cold and I’m already missing Wellington. But the company here is great, and I’m actually looking forward to Christmas.

I’m doing some interesting things to stay connected while I’m travelling. There’s no way you want to pay our outrageous data roaming charges, so the iPhone “Data Roaming” option is firmly off. But there are things you can do. The house I’m staying in at the moment, for instance, has wireless broadband but it’s all locked down by my host’s employer. So, I’ve bought a little wireless access point with me – also locked down hard – and connected it directly to his router. That means that the four different wi-fi enabled gadgets I’m carrying can all get online. I bought one of these when I arrived but I haven’t needed it yet.

As to those who might say that I should just leave everything behind and ignore the Net for while – maybe I should. But, then, who would pay my bills while I’m away or keep my business running? And how would I have managed the Skype teleconference I needed to have on my arrival?

posted by colin at 10:43 pm  

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The little phone that could

For years Apple’s Mac OS X has been making slow inroads into Windows’ installed user base. But it’s slow progress. Windows is still massively dominant on the desktop.

That’s the context for today’s story about Apple’s venture into smartphones, the much-hyped iPhone. The sales of iPhones exceed the sales of every type of Windows Mobile smart phone put together.

The article linked above speculates as to why this might be. It suggest two reasons, both of which come down to developer preference: one is that Windows Mobile runs on a wide variety of hardware and that makes life hard for developers; and the other is that the iPhone is just sooo cool. That’s right, it’s the third party applications developers who are driving the adoption of the iPhone and deserting Windows mobile.

This is significant because we are seeing Microsoft being taken on and beaten handsomely – not just little chips away at a huge installed user base. It must be an unfamiliar feeling for them.

posted by colin at 6:10 pm  

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Geek toys for Christmas

Today on Radio New Zealand National I have a light hearted look at things to buy for Christmas for your friends of a geekier persuasion, or, let’s face it, things to just go out and buy for yourself! Read on for my notes or download the audio as ogg or mp3. (more…)

posted by colin at 9:20 pm  

Thursday, November 27, 2008

1,000 mph. On land.

Today on Radio New Zealand National I celebrated the British attempt to break the land speed record. The British broke it last time it was broken as well, back in 1997 when ThrustSSC took the record to 633mph – a massive 20% increase on the previous record. ThrustSSC was the first car to go supersonic on land, hence the name. And every day, the project posted a huge amount of information on the Internet so armchair record breakers could follow it from around the globe. And its Internet supporters were there for it when it ran out money.

Now, the same team has started a new project – BloodhoundSSC. They want to break their own record and get up to 1,000mph on land. Wow!

Read on for my speaking notes or download the audio as ogg or mp3. (more…)

posted by colin at 1:12 pm  

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Technology changes the check-in desk

A better title might be Technology gets rid of the check-in desk, because that’s pretty much what Air New Zealand is doing for domestic passengers.

Today on Radio New Zealand National I talked about this and how it works. Read on for my speaking notes or download the audio as ogg or mp3. (more…)

posted by colin at 2:00 pm  

Monday, November 17, 2008

OLPC – the return of “Give one, Get one”


One Laptop per Child is re-running its Get One, Give One programme this year. That’s fantastic news. It gives rich westerners (which is to say, just about all of us) an opportunity to fund OLPCs getting into the hands of kids in developing nations, while getting our kids’ hands on them as well. (Alright, maybe our hands – these little machines are very cool.)


OLPC is the result of many, many dedicated people working around the world. The project was started by Nicholas Negroponte, of MIT Media Lab fame, but has gone thoroughly global since. Habitués of a certain Wellington water hole will have noticed a team of people with a pile of OLPCs testing software every Saturday.

The G1G1 programme is to be run by Amazon – good on them – and this year it’s going wider than just the US. No word yet on whether it will cover NZ, but why shouldn’t it? It will be backed by a TV advertising campaign in the US and on Youtube. The pricing will be $399 US for two of the neat and distinctive little laptops, with one of them being sent to the purchaser and the other direct to someone who needs it.

There are more details here, and some great blog entries about putting the OLPC into Ethiopia here.

posted by colin at 7:29 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  

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  

Monday, August 4, 2008

More about ACTA

Computerworld is carrying an article about Mark Harris’s attempt to get more information about ACTA – a secret treaty that the New Zealand government has just finished calling for submissions on. The Government gave him 13 of the 91 documents he asked for, and crossed out material in most of those 13, as well. Mark has a lot more information on his site.

I talked about this on the radio a few weeks ago. And here’s my submission to the Government – which still hasn’t even been so much as acknowledged, over three weeks after I sent it.

Frankly, the potentialities here are scary – ACTA could do everything from killing off free software to stopping innovation on the Internet, but virtually all the information we have about it comes from leaked documents. Our government is negotiating in secret, and will probably end up giving away more of our rights like it did during the last Copyright Amendment Act.

This really is not good enough. Our government should have nothing to do with this, and we should all be telling them that. Now.

posted by colin at 11:47 am  

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Crushed by the weight of destiny

I’ve just spent a rapt couple of hours in one of my favourite places – Musée Rodin in Paris. I love Rodin’s work because he can evoke such intense emotions using lumps of stone and metal. Here is one of my favourites:

This is the Cariatide à la pierre. A caryatid is an architectural column in the shape of a human figure, and this caryatid has partly collapsed beneath the weight she is carrying. But she’s still struggling to get to her feet, even though she knows it’s hopeless.

The sign by the exhibit says that she represents humankind being crushed by the weight of destiny. It’s part of a larger Rodin work called The Gates of Hell, loosely based on Dante’s Inferno, which explores the extremes of suffering and pleasure.

posted by colin at 4:36 am  
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