Writings on technology and society from Wellington, New Zealand

Thursday, March 12, 2009

RIANZ: Your Internet connection belongs to us

Campbell Smith of the Recording Industry Association of New Zealand, a body that represents some copyright holders in New Zealand, has written a column in the Herald saying that requiring people’s Internet providers to cut them off if they are accused of copyright infringement is a reasonable way to protect artists’ rights.

posted by colin at 11:22 am  

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Off to Foo

Tomorrow I’m going to Warkworth to the third annual Kiwi Foo Camp.

Foo is an amazing experience. It’s so energising to be there with scientists, geeks, and artists. And Nathan, Jenine and Russell do a fine job in organising it.

Part of the deal with Foo is that everyone presents (“no passengers”). I’m going to talk about “Hacking Government”. It seems that the geek community is quite bad at telling government what it wants, in a way that government actually responds to. Perhaps we can start to deal with that.

posted by colin at 2:54 pm  

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Where it all began

Bletchley Park.jpgI was privileged yesterday to visit Bletchley Park, the home of the British WWII codebreaking effort.

As well as the story of Alan Turing and the Enigma, which I’ve talked about many times before, Bletchley Park has many tales to tell. One I didn’t know was the Colossus computer built to crack a later German code. It really was the first programmable digital computer in the world. Twelve were built, but all were destroyed after the war by Churchill’s order. He didn’t want the Russians to know the extent of Britain’s codebreaking abilities.

Today you can see a rebuilt Colossus made out of radio valves and old telephone exchange equipment. It’s about the size of six modern computer racks, and generates over 5kw of heat (nothing changes!). It also has a loop of paper tape running at over 30mph. It’s all part of an intitiave called The National Musueum of Computing.

So, Bletchley Park is the place where the modern computer was invented. And then covered up.

posted by colin at 8:16 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  

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  

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 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  

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Birthdays: Google, GNU and the silicon chip

Today on Radio New Zealand National I talked about some birthdays and tried to look at what these different things had meant to us.

Read on for my speaking notes, or listen to the audio download as ogg or mp3.


posted by colin at 11:11 am  

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Free formats!

Today on Radio New Zealand National I talked about how you save sound and vision on a computer, and about how broadcasters like Radio New Zealand can make their programmes available over the Internet. And I talked about the importance of free formats, and announced that RNZ is now progressively making its content available in the free Ogg format. Great decision, guys.

Read on for my speaking notes or listen to the podcast. In Ogg.


posted by colin at 11:55 am  

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  
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