Writings on technology and society from Wellington, New Zealand

Monday, December 17, 2012

People should be allowed to have red cars!

Dear Editor

I am writing to ask why people are not allowed to have red cars. Some of my friends’ favourite colours are red, but they are not able to have their cars painted this way. Why?

I have seen people writing in your newspaper to say that cars are meant to be black and it is simply wrong to paint them any other colour. They generally don’t explain why they think this, except to point to the manufacturers’ books that say cars must be made black (but don’t justify this). For heaven’s sake! This is the twentieth century and we have moved on so far since cars were invented. Back then, some people said that having any kind of car was wrong – look how they’ve changed once they have got used to the idea.

Others have said, if my friends have red cars, that their black cars will be worth less somehow. Nonsense! There’s absolutely no reason to assume that. They can keep driving round the black cars they’ve always had. Some of the sillier of these people have even said that, if we let people paint cars red, they will want to go around painting other things red, like horses and dogs. What a crazy thing to say!

The most honest people who don’t want people to have red cars say it’s because they just don’t like them. Some of the people who use other arguments really think this, as well, but they don’t like to say it in public. But no-one is going to force them to have a red car. They can keep having a black one, or none at all. Other people having red cars won’t affect them at all.

I’m asking everyone who doesn’t think there should be red cars – think about why you oppose them. Why is it your business to try to stop something that won’t affect you and will make other people happy?


Red Car Lover

posted by colin at 8:08 am  

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  

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Finity – Confronting Limits

Tomorrow I’ll be talking at NerdNite Wellington. As the title suggests, I’ll be talking to how unprepared we are to confront finite limits.

This article sets out the thinking I’ll be basing my talk on. And here is the Prezi I’ll be using.


posted by colin at 5:48 pm  

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Broadband as a Human Right (updated)

One year ago Finland passed a law declaring access to a broadband Internet connection to be a legal right. What does that mean? There’s a discussion of this over on Red Alert, after Jonathon Penney delivered a really interesting talk at Victoria University entitled “Open Connectivity, Open Data”.

Incidentally, it’s really good to see a major political party actually trying to develop policy in the open on the Internet. I’d love to see them both doing it. Where are you, National?

I wrote a comment on the Red Alert blog trying to explain what I think statements like “Broadband is a Human Right” mean. Here’s an expanded and tidied up version.


posted by colin at 2:32 pm  

Monday, June 28, 2010

Good in parts

I spent today at the Microsoft Open Government Unconference in Wellington. It was an interesting experience. On the one hand, I got the impression of a company trying to weave something from the whole “open government, open data” thread which is being spun out of a genuine desire by government folk to share things, and on the other hand there was the disconnect of trying to script the agenda for an “unconference” – a contradiction if ever there was.

posted by colin at 11:56 pm  

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

How valuable is information?

Oliver Bell has posted a thought-provoking article called Information is Currency. He and I discussed some of these ideas over a beverage or two one night in Wellington recently. Reading through Oliver’s article, I find some things to agree and others to disagree with, so I’m taking the time here to write a reflective response.

The value of information depends on several things, including its scarcity and its usefulness to the potential end-user. I’m left wondering if there is information that is inherently valueless. I can think of examples of obscure trivia, but someone, somewhere, always seems to care. It can be argued (and Oliver presumably is arguing this) that search engines monetize obscure information by using it to sell eyeballs to advertisers.

Of course, search engines don’t sell the information itself. They sell a way of discovering it. The information itself has generally already been published for free. The information has value based on the network effect, i.e. that its a published in a standard form using the World Wide Web. The search engines are very much part of this system that imputes value to freely-published information.

So, then, the monetary value of freely-published information derives as much from the great mass of other web sites, from the search engines and from the Internet itself as it does from the information.

However, I’m interested as much in what we can do with information in bulk as I am in in assigning a numerical value to individual chunks. If I write a piece of software, say, is its optimal value realized if I sell licenses to use it or if I simply publish it for others to use as they see fit without monetary recompense? The answer to that question depends partly on who recognizes the monetary value. If we look at value to the community of computer users as a whole, allowing anyone to use the software will have the greatest value. If I look at it in terms of personal revenue-maximization for that piece of software, I would presumably retain the source code as a secret and sell licences to use it on the basis of my perception of each user’s ability to pay. This applies to any information goods, i.e. things that can be copied without using up physical resources.

There are two components to value of information in the Internet age – value derived from maintaining its scarcity and value derived from making it available. Both are highly dependent on usefulness. The former is usually captured by the publisher, the latter accrues to the community.

There may, as Oliver suggests, one day be a market for all kinds of personal information. The individual worth of each piece is likely to be very low. The worth to the community as a whole of pooling its information is likely to represent the major part of its technology and its culture.

posted by colin at 3:48 pm  

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  
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