Writings on technology and society from Wellington, New Zealand

Friday, December 21, 2007

Normal service

…will be resumed as soon as possible or so it used to say on the telly in the UK whenever the TV station broke down. And normal service on this blog will be resumed in a few weeks once I have taken some time out with my family exploring some of this wonderful land we live in.

So, sporadic posting only for a few weeks. If you’re in New Zealand go out and enjoy yourself! Have a great break, drive safely, and above all make time to just relax.

posted by colin at 4:03 pm  

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Let’s talk about Spam

New Zealand spam, even, and I’m not talking about the pressed ham. A few years ago a man in Christchurch was outed by investigative journalist Juha Saarinen for sending vast quantities of the stuff – he boasted of 100 million messages per day – mainly with solicitations to buy things that were supposed to enlarge your penis. If you even had one. That person got extremely grumpy when he received many angry phone calls about his business, complaining that his children were taking calls from strangers angry about unsolicited and inappropriate messages. The irony was apparently lost on him. When challenged, he said that he was doing nothing illegal.

Anyway, after the publicity that person (I would normally use the word “gentleman”, but somehow it doesn’t fit) said that he would stop spamming. Fair enough. But this week the newly-formed anti-spam division of the Department of Internal Affairs has swooped on on an alleged spammer, again in Christchurch, after an expose by the BBC and some fine work by a Danish journalist. The product is again male bodily extension. And this time, all the computers at an address – 22, not bad for a home – have been seized with a view to prosecution under the Unsolicited Commercial Messages Act of 2007.

That’s right, the Spam Act has been used in anger. If this person was indeed spamming he deserves the full penalties of the act, there’s no argument about that. But let’s, for a moment, think about the cynics of this act back when it was a bill – it didn’t get unanimous support in Parliament, after all. Where would New Zealand now be if it hadn’t passed? Left explaining to the BBC’s audience that this vile activity, illegal just about everywhere else, was acceptable in New Zealand? That we think it’s alright for New Zealanders to write to the world’s boys and girls offering to supersize their genitals? 100 million times a day?

Well done every MP who voted for it.

posted by colin at 6:37 pm  

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Staying safe over the Summer break

Today on Radio New Zealand National I talked about several things, including how to practice safe online behaviour when you aren’t at home. Read on for my notes, or pull the podcast to find out if I stuck to them!


posted by colin at 11:50 am  

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

One Laptop Per Child

OLPC Image credit: Fuse-Project

Last week I spent a couple of days in Australia, and as part of it I was driven from Canberra to Sydney by the amazing Pia Waugh. In the car were not one, but two OLPCs.

The One Laptop Per Child is intended to be a cheap but functional laptop suitable for children in developing countries. It’s a very nice little machine, and I was really impressed.


posted by colin at 8:18 am  

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Toys please

Today on Radio New Zealand National I talked about what I thought someone of a geeky persuasion might like for Christmas. Not that I have any first-hand knowledge, you know…

You can get the audio online, or read my notes below.

(And good luck for your Christmas presents )

posted by colin at 11:15 am  

Thursday, December 6, 2007

The why and how of blogging

Today on Radio New Zealand National I talked about blogging – how to get started, and if you’d even want to!

Read on for some advice, and as always some links at the end.

posted by colin at 11:50 am  

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Maps on your telephone that know where you are

The new MyLocation feature on Google Maps for Mobile is spooky but cool.

Google Maps is a way of finding maps of just about anywhere, online on your computer. Check out if you haven’t seen it. It provides street maps, driving directions from A to B, and it can overlay satellite photos so you can see what the area looks like from above.

Google upped the ante on that service in the middle of this year when it introduced Google Maps for Mobile – the whole thing runs on most of the fancier kinds of mobile phone. So, if you’re lost or don’t know a street you are looking for, you can whip out your phone and get a street map of Wellington, say, and search for the street you want or the one you can see.

And you can switch between the map view and a satellite picture type view – a very detailed aerial photo just like in Google Earth. This is endless fun. You can armchair travel to all kinds of places, or just look down on familiar ones. (more…)

posted by colin at 6:23 am  

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

The Passing of a Good Man

I first met John Belgrave at the start of my second career, the one as a public servant. John was at the time the Secretary of Commerce, CE of the then Ministry of Commerce. John was helpful and tolerant of this wild-eyed former private-sector IT developer as I came into government and blundered about, scoring wins and own goals it seemed in equal measure. He was measured, funny, and above all wise.

More recently I have run into John repeatedly in his role as Chief Ombudsman. “Good on you”, he kept telling me, as I was advocating the regulation of Telecom. “Stand up for the right thing.”

And that’s what John always did. He stood up for the right thing. He fearlessly forced the government to release embarrassing figures in the last week of an election campaign. He has been a check on government departments and a voice for the little person, the disenfranchised. He was there for the family of Liam Ashley who were so badly let down by the justice system.

John was a public servant in the true sense of the term. He well deserved the honour he received in New Year’s honours this year. New Zealand will miss him.

I will miss him.

posted by colin at 5:01 pm  

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Ubuntu – a Linux distribution for everyone

I’ve been fiddling with Linux for a decade now. And, frankly, back then it was a total bear to get it working – you had to really, really, want to. Once you could get Linux to fire up, it was rock solid of course as it has always been, but the process of installing it was challenging even for geeks. Then you had to figure out how to get it to use your screen as anything more than a line by line device – Linux could and can do this beautifully and flexibly, but you had to know so much about your hardware and edit the configurations just so before it would go.

How things have changed! First Mandrake through the early noughties, and now Ubuntu are making wonderfully good and easy to install CDs of Linux. (Just a note to the side – Linux is just the kernel or core of an operating system, and you need a lot of other software to make it work. A lot of that software comes from the GNU project, so it’s more proper to refer to GNU/Linux. And that’s how the different flavours, or distributions of GNU/Linux differ – it’s all a matter of which additional programs are supplied with the kernel, and how it is packaged up for installation.)

Ubuntu was founded by Mark Shuttleworth, a South African man who made a lot of money in the dot com boom and has obviously decided to put something back. And with its latest release, Ubuntu has surpassed the ease of use of Windows in many respects – especially those annoying registrations and activiations, because Ubuntu is totally free.

The latest release of Ubuntu, which goes by the names 7.10 or Gutsy Gibbon, is very good indeed. It installs easily, and provides access to an ocean of free software, some of which is of the highest quality, through the menus. You can try Ubuntu without installing it on your computer, or you can install it side by side with Windows, or you can put Ubuntu on first, then virtual machine software from Virtualbox and re-install your Windows in a VM so it lives in a window under Ubuntu.

Ubuntu is a 700 megabyte download or a $15 CD purchase delivered from LinuxCDMall or Copyleft. Give it a go!

posted by colin at 8:20 am  

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