Writings on technology and society from Wellington, New Zealand

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  

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Fixing the holes

Like the roof on my house, the DNS has holes. A really bad DNS hole got patched earlier this year – well, mostly patched. I say “patched”, because the solution isn’t very good, it’s just dried up the worst of the problem, but the fix won’t last.

Kim Davies of IANA has written a very readable account of the problem in DNS security. It makes for scary reading. The bad guys will get control of the Internet unless we deal to this problem.

I have bitten the bullet and agreed to have a new roof on my house. Just patching the old one won’t keep the water out any more – it just comes through another place every time it rains. The DNS needs a new roof as well, and it’s called DNSSEC. It will involve lots of Internet folk in real work, but we need to get on with it.

posted by colin at 7:27 am  

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  

Friday, November 14, 2008

Extending the domain name system

I’ve just come back from a meeting of ICANN, the body that runs the core of the international domain name system. That meeting, which was held in Cairo last week, was dominated by discussions about extending the domain name system so that people would be able to apply for their own top levels, such as (say) .aotearoa or .tyrell-corporation.

ICANN holds meetings like this three times a year. They are big affairs with lots going on, and often in some exotic location. Today on Radio New Zealand National I talked a bit about what it is like to attend one, and about the domain name system expansion. Read on for my speaking notes or download the audio as ogg or mp3. (more…)

posted by colin at 12:14 am  

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Bloggers getting bigger, messier?

Great headline, isn’t it – I wish I’d thought of it. It’s from El Reg, a UK online newspaper, decrying the expansion of blog front pages.
It seems that more and blogs – and web pages in general – are putting images and other things on their front pages which serve to slow down the page loading.

I thought I’d measure a few front pages of web sites, using a web based service:

Here are some blogs and other web pages:

Kiwiblog 500k (2 minutes on a 56k modem)
Publicaddress 29k
Stuff 600k
NZ Herald 250k, mobile version 120k 30k

This matters because it makes the pages less usable to dial up or mobile users. So, if you have a web site with a big, heavy, front page you are effectively saying that you don’t want people with slow lines or who are using mobiles to surf there. That may be a valid decision for you, but you need to be aware that you are making it. And for many companies, and especially for government departments, it’s just not OK to disenfranchise people by effectively cutting them out of your website. Now, the government is very aware of this issue and has a set of web standards which departments have to conform to – and those standards say that pages mustn’t be too big.

posted by colin at 7:29 am  

Monday, November 3, 2008

On the necessity of windows

I recently passed through Singapore and rested for a few hours in the airport transit hotel. It’s a useful facility which can give you something useful to do with a layover, i.e. sleep.

The rooms are in a little warren of corridors, all completely contained within the airport terminal. And the rooms look like a standard business hotel room, with a desk, a bathroom and (of course) a bed.

That’s not all. These internal rooms also have windows. They aren’t real – how could they be? Each room has a set of drawn curtains right where you would expect a window. If you look behind the curtain you find a blank wall.

Why do we feel the need for a window? One definitely makes the room more welcoming. And, because you would only to to those rooms for a sleep (if you’ve been for some other purpose please don’t tell me) the curtains add to a feeling of night time, regardless of local time or your body clock.

posted by colin at 9:41 pm  

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