Writings on technology and society from Wellington, New Zealand

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Retake the Net wordle

Here’s a wordle made up of the Retake the Net website. It’s not fiddled in any way; this is exactly what came out. It shows our priorities.

RtN wordle

If you think it’s about time that individuals took back the Net for the things it can do for us and for each other, rather than leaving it to large companies and governments, join us now.

posted by colin at 10:24 am  

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Taking back the Net

The Net used to be under the radar of governments and corporates. Then it got a lot bigger, governments paid it attention and large companies moved in. Some were beneficial, some weren’t and some were neutral. But the ethos of the individual Net user running the whole show got diluted along the way.

It’s easy to lament these things. It’s more fun to do something. A group of us are running some projects under the heading Retake The Net to try to put some power back into the hands of ordinary users. Yes, you and me. Retake the Net is putting together a Bar Camp for 29 October 2011.

The project I’m most closely associated with is called the Policy Auction. (That’s a working title and it will change when we launch.) The basic idea is to provide a platform where people can promote policies – things they think the gummint should do – and put up real virtual currency against them. Hence the auction. Maybe it will make a splash – that’s the general idea. And the timing right before an election is no accident.

About half a dozen people are giving up their time to build this thing, and it’s going to be very cool. But not as cool as it would be if you helped, too. We want to hear from Java geeks, visual designers and comms folk.

There’s a meeting of the Retake The Net crew at Betty’s in Wellington tomorrow night (3rd August). I do hope to see you there!

posted by colin at 9:29 pm  

Saturday, February 19, 2011

I was a Webstock virgin

Until Thursday, anyway. Despite the amazing Webstock conference running in my home town of Wellington for several years now, I still hadn’t made it along to one. My loss.

How to describe Webstock 2011? Compared to commercial conferences, it was head and shoulders better than any I had been to, ever. Compared to unconferences and enthusiasts’ meetings, it was way more professional and focussed. But the best description of it was one word – the adjective on the conference pencil (I kid you not) – Awesome! (more…)

posted by colin at 3:59 pm  

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

So long, Knowledge Economy – we hardly knew you

It wasn’t long ago that the Knowledge Society and its brother, the Knowledge Economy, were all of our futures. Remember the Knowledge Wave conference? That was almost a decade ago now. It posited that we all had a better future if only we would stop just growing nice things and sending them offshore and focussed more on creating intangibles that we could somehow sell for money than trees, views and milk. The future was going to be one where most New Zealanders were engaged in high-earning activities rather than farming or tourism. Except that it isn’t. Sure, we have a sharply growing technology sector – I work in it myself – which is great for the country. But it’s fanciful to think that will ever displace food and wood as our number one. We just have such a good competitive advantage in that area.

Missing technology trends is not unique to the academics and business leaders who promoted the Knowledge Wave. In the mid 90s I went to a presentation to Ministers by a government department (which I won’t name to save its embarrassment) explaining how it was going to build an entire business on helping New Zealanders and the world find things on the Internet. Oh dear.

posted by colin at 12:13 am  

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Today on the radio: Do we deserve the Internet?

It’s my last time on Radio New Zealand National for a while, and I thought I’d use it to address some more a philosophical question than I often do. I’ve written a separate post with my ideas below.

I’ll be on air after the 11am news. You can listen live, or soon afterwards you will be able to pull the podcast or download the audio as ogg or mp3.

posted by colin at 11:05 pm  

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The gathering storm

I make no apology for using Sir Winston Churchill’s title for the first volume of his history of the Second World War to describe the culture war between those who would capture ideas for their exclusive use and those who would disseminate them widely.

It’s not a straightforward issue. On the one hand, most of us would accept that there is value in providing an incentive to create clever things that ultimately benefit many people. That’s the public good argument for copyright and patents. On the other, our culture and our technology are built on the work and ideas of others and controlling people’s access effectively controls our development as a species.

These are important matters that need a global consensus. What I’m seeing at the moment is an attempt to enclose the commons of ideas for the benefit of a few and to detriment of us all. That’s been the case for a century at least, but the arrival of the Internet has pushed things to a whole new level.

That brings me to ACTA, the treaty being negotiated in secret by our government and others, which is at least partly about the interaction of copyright and the Internet. I’ve railed against the secrecy around ACTA before, because it prevents the ordinary people whose lives will be affected from having a say in it.

There have been some remarkable revelations about ACTA in the last few days. Firstly, there have been three leaks. The text of the Internet chapter, an analysis of some countries’ views on transparency of the agreement, and an analysis of each country’s negotiating position on the Internet chapter of the draft ACTA agreement. We don’t know where the leaks are coming from, but it’s clear that many people negotiating the agreement are unhappy with the insistence of secrecy coming from (we now know) the US, South Korea and Denmark.

Nat Torkington has analysed the New Zealand positions from the latest link. New Zealand’s negotiators are pushing for clarity, for reasonableness and for transparency. Good on them. It looks as though New Zealand is making its view more felt than many other countries. Even so, what we end up with, of course, is not just up to New Zealand.

People in our government are listening about the lack of transparency. Our negotiators have just issued a call for submissions on some points of the Internet chapter ACTA by 31 March. This, coupled with the leaks, offers ordinary people a chance for some kind of say. So does the PublicACTA event to be hosted by InternetNZ on April 10th, right before the next round of ACTA negotiations which are to be held here in Wellington the following week.

It’s good that we have found out more about ACTA – even if it is mostly through unacknowledged “leaks”. It’s good that New Zealand is pushing for transparency. We need to empower our negotiators and those in like-minded countries to reject the extreme positions that some of the other countries are taking. Do consider sending a submission, even if it’s just “the current model works well, don’t change it”. I’ll write some more detailed points and publish them here well before the deadline.

However, it’s still appalling that a treaty that will affect everyone is being negotiated in secret, with an agenda being pushed by one industry based mainly in one country which won’t let the secrecy be lifted for fear that other countries’ citizens won’t let them stay in the negotiations.

Sunlight is the best disinfectant. We’ve had a glimpse of it. Let’s throw the curtains wide.

posted by colin at 11:49 am  

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The trials of Gary McKinnon

In the UK, a man named Gary McKinnon is fighting departation to the US for “hacking” US military government and computer systems in 2001 and 2002. He’s in his forties, he has Asperger’s, and he’ facing up to 70 years in a US jail for something that would earn him a much lesser sentence anywhere else. Yet McKinnon committed his crimes while on British soil.

I’ll talk about his case today on Radio New Zealand National after the 11am news, as well as handing out a brickbat and a couple of bouquets. After the broadcast you’ll be able to download the audio as ogg or mp3. (more…)

posted by colin at 8:23 pm  

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Time to right a wrong

The British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, has publicly apologised to Alan Turing, saying that his treatment was “appalling”. Quite.

Alan Matheson Turing was a British mathematician and Word War II codebreaker. He was the main person responsible the British ability to read the German Enigma codes. His contribution may well have saved Britain from being starved into submission by U-boat packs and so of losing the war. His work, without doubt, saved many lives. But, because of the heavy secrecy about it, most people had never heard of him until late last century.

Turing was a very unconventional character. He was gay, but made little attempt to hide. He was convicted after the war of gross public indecency – i.e. of having sex with a consenting male partner in private – and forced to undergo repeated injections of female hormones in some kind of bizarre attempt at chemical castration. He committed suicide two years later.

It’s about time that Britain faces up to how badly Turing was treated, and for that matter how badly other gay men have been treated over the years. Gordon Brown’s apology is fulsome, as it should be, but long overdue.

posted by colin at 10:04 am  

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Moped Diaries

I’m just about to leave Atiu, an island in the Cook Islands. I’ve had a fantastic few days here, and I’ve also had an insight into life in a small isolated community in the Pacific.

Atiu has less than 500 permanent inhabitants, plus at the moment 12 vistors. Put another way, visiting with my immediate family has increased the number of people on the island by a percentage point.

The people are very welcoming. I’m staying at the Atiu Villas, run by expatriate kiwi Dr Roger Malcolm and his wife Kura Malcolm, who is from Atiu. Everyone greets you as you pass them, and people are uniformly friendly. Nobody locks anything, and keys are normally left in vehicles. People all seem to be bilingual in Cook Islands Maori and English.

posted by colin at 6:03 am  

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Free stuff on the Internet

Today on Radio New Zealand National I’ll talk mainly about a free stuff you can use and downoad legally from the Internet. My point is that a huge amount of useful and world-class stuff is just there for the using. No cash required. Who said the best things in life weren’t free?

I put out a call for suggestions for this program by email and on my blog a few days ago. If you were one of the helpful people who replied – thanks. This program’s yours as much as mine. Don’t you love the Internet!

Listen live at 11:05 or download the audio as Ogg or MP3.


posted by colin at 7:17 am  
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