Too hard

I noticed today that it's been nearly 13 months since I posted. I have officially decided that this blog stuff is just too hard to keep up with and contribute something useful and not feel guilty about thinking about my blog when I'm at work. I don't know how FSJ/Scoble et al. do it.

So, I think I'll just fade away - for the moment.

See ya.


Future services

Following my last post, I've been thinking what my current "future service" would look like. I say current, because I don't think it's possible to imagine what things will be like more than a few years out at the moment -- too much change going on.

Partially, I'm influenced by a new toy a friend and I were playing around with at the weekend. Stu works for Sandman. Basically if you have lots of money to spend and want a seriously cool audio or video solution - call Stu. He was playing with a Linux box that's hardwired with a TV card and a DVD drive. Basically a home theatre in a single box. It had a wopping great hard drive in it and he'd loaded all his CDs and DVDs into it. We plugged it into my Sky decoder and LCD monitor and away we went. Pretty cool, but a bit hard to use and a pain to load all that content onto.

Fundamentally, what I want is a one-stop shop for everything. Here's my storyboard ...

The first thing, is that it all just works. Everything is seamless. I don't know how it works (ok, being me I probably do, but I don't have to know unless I want to). When someone rings me, my phone rings. My phone is just a handset. It uses a mobile network if I'm out and about and bluetooth's (or whatever the flavour of the day is) off my fixed line at home if I'm at home. It's a personal phone and work phone with different rings. It does interesting stuff like automatically sends work calls to voicemail after hours so my weekends don't get interrupted unless I want them to.

I have a box in my house. It's where all the clever stuff happens. It's where everything comes into the house -- my internet, TV, stereo and phone all plug into this box. It manages my bandwidth requirements. But I dont' pay for bandwidth any more because I managed to get a fibre feed into my house by convincing all my neighbours that it was a good idea/

My house is "wired" so in any room I can access any service if I want to. I can surf the web or watch a movie in any room with the appropriate device. I have speakers in the ceiling, a big screen in the lounge, a small one in my bedroom. All my components might be different but they have standard cables/plugs. When my daughters can afford their own TV, they can have one in their room and can watch stuff separately from me - if they pay for it.

When I have friends over and I want to put some music on, I just punch a few buttons and get a selection. I don't have to load CDs. I don't have to worry about where to store all my old CDs, videos and DVDs anymore either. Storage is no longer an issue.

I'll almost certainly still have a PC in my office, but I can run all this from anywhere in the house.

I pay a fee to some provider for this access. I might pay other providers for other services (but probably not because I get a discount if I stay with one provider). I am in control.

There must be more. I'm sure I can make it cooler than this. I'll keep thinking.



Alongside Moore's Law, there's a matching phenomenon for bandwidth known as Nielsen's Law, which basically states that end-user connection speeds grow at 50% per year. This has held true for some time and seems to be continuing. At the moment, I have a 2Mb down/128kb up DSL service. The best I'd get based on the technology installed in NZ is around 8Mb. If/when we get to ADSL2+, I could be looking at up to 24Mb, because I'm not too far from my local DSLAM. If we ever went with Fibre ToThe Home, I could be into the hundreds of megabits and over time it will (according to the law) just keep going up. Of course whether or not I can actually reach these speeds or use them is dependent on having the bandwdith through the core network and having services that require it - which is the topic of today's blog entry.

So what do I do with this bandwidth? Today I can surf the web, download average streaming video, listen to my old favourite radio station in the UK. If I want streaming TV, which is coming in other parts of the world, I need at least 15Mb. Then there's HDTV, which will require even more. But do I want internet TV? Will it be any better than broadcast TV - or what broadcast TV becomes in response? But what else is there? I dunno - for some reason TV just doesn't seem enough. There must be other stuff coming.

But what is it?

Where's the content? I reckon that's where the money is - bandwidth is becoming a commodity.


ULL - my argument

Fundamentally, I don't think that the government has done the right thing unbundling the local loop. I'm not saying that Telecom were doing the right thing either, but unbundling is not the solution.

In the last few weeks, Telecom's share price has dropped considerably on news of unbundling - not good for shareholders. However, it's also bad news for the country, because unbundling isn't going to solve anything. Definitely not in the short term (2-3 years) and I suspect not in the longer term.

Why is it bad?
It's bad because there's currently only one company in NZ with the financial power to undertake the investment required to really make a difference - Telecom. And the government has just removed their competitive advantage - oops. Without a reason to invest (i.e. to make money), no company is going to invest. That's what's happening in Australia where Telstra's major FTTN rollout is under threat.

It's bad because even with an unbundled local loop, it's unlikely that the smaller players can really afford the investment required to take advantage of unbundling. Sure the larger ones such as TelstraClear, CallPlus and ihug might manage it, but even then it will be in the larger city centres. It's unlikely that Fielding or Masterton or Gore or (enter small provincial city/town here) will see much investment because there's no money in it. Maybe a small player such as Inspire could manage something around Palmerston North, where it is based, but little on a national scale.

It's bad because investment in core infrastructure is required to support faster speeds - and that costs a lot of money and has a long payback period. To get to the speeds required for triple-play (voice, data and video) or qad-play (add mobile), you're talking 15-24Mb/sec downstream. That's ADSL2+/VDSL/VDSL2 type speeds. And you only get these speeds with very short copper loops (less than 1KM). From an NZ perspective, with its spread out landscape, that means a cabnetised network. i.e. Lots of 2m x 2m x 0.8m (ish) green cabinets dotted around the country that have copper from the house going in and fibre coming out. That means a lot of streets being dug up - a lot like when underground powerlines went in or when you first got gas in your street (remember those days). And it also means a Resource Management Act nightmare.

So what's the answer?
If we assume for the moment that faster broadband speeds is directly linked to economic growth (I'm only assuming it because I can't find a reference for it yet - I do think this is true), then it follows that it's in the national interest to improve it and is therefore a government problem. i.e. It's up to the government to solve it.

Because Telecom is a private company, its first responsibility is to its shareholders - so why do people get upset when they take actions that aren't necessarily in the best interests of the country? The business case for a large fibre rollout is hard to make. Ergo, the government (read "you and me") should pay. It's kind of like good roads or electricity or health. It's just got to be done and we can't and shouldn't ask a private/public company to take the risk.

So we've got to pay for it. I think the government needs to buy the infrastructure and fund the investment. Maybe they buy the appropriate parts of Telecom? But it needs to be:
  1. Nationwide
  2. Not expected to make a profit
  3. but cost effective
  4. Done quickly
  5. State of the art
  6. For the long term (i.e. kept up to date)

Well, that's what I reckon anyway (in summarised form)


Boston Legal and Internet Privacy

So I was watching Boston Legal last night. Good for a chuckle. One thing I like is that they can use short courtroom sequences to make sweeping generalisations that sound soo good.

Last night was all about privacy in the internet. Basically they were suing a company that made sensitve personal information available via their website. The defence was that the company had followed "standards" for protecting its website and could not be liable for any information leaked from it or the misuse of that information. They lost.

In the real world, who knows. One of my own sweeping generalisations is that Americans seem to have a penchant for suing each other. Can't do that so easily down here.

After thinking about it for a bit, I actually think that the outcome was correct. By making companies liable for protecting customers information, we shift the responsibility and incentive for protection of private onto a larger corporate entity, which has the financial resources to do the job. If banks, insurance companies, health providers, online shopping sites, etc. were all liable for privacy breaches and other security holes, I bet that the internet would be come much more secure very quickly - because they'd pay for the required research.

Go Alan Shore!


I'm coming back

This blogging thing turned out to be harder than I thought. In my defence, I've had two promotions and a new baby since I last posted so there have been a few things going on. I've come up with a few new "laws" too.

I intend to start talking about new stuff, perhaps on a less frequent basis and see how I go.

The NZ government has decided to unbundle the local loop. Lots of people are applauding that. I actually don't agree, I think it's a mistake for NZ. The previous arrangement was also untenable, but unbundling is not the answer. It's the old pendulum argument. We've swung so far one way, that the knee jerk reaction is to move as far away as possible from where we were. The correct answer is probably somewhere in the middle (Gibson's Eighth Law).

More later - hopefully.



Perspective is important... When it really comes down to it, being able to help people like Friday here matters - a lot. The link here takes you to the blog of Scot Harrison, a photojournalist on the Anastasis. Currently in Liberia in West Africa, this is just another example of the great work these guys do.

(This takes a while to load, but the change is dramatic)


Post-9/11 secrecy produces some undesirable results

Here's an interesting article that I tripped across this morning. As is always the case with these sortes of things, it takes great pleasure in pointing out the silliness of certain "security" practices, so it almost misses the important points.

There are two real problems with this strategy of classifying and declassifying stuff all over the place:

  1. the bureaucratic overhead; and
  2. the fact that if stuff is all blacked out, it's impossible to correlate the information. All we can hope on this last point is that the people who need to see all the information, can see it.
The reasoning behind classification (preventing the bad (or worse the stupid) people getting at information) is a valid approach. It just worked better in the past because information sharing was much harder. Now days, once something gets out, it's almost impossible to get back - it's amazing what a good Google search will turn up. I'm still open to it - there are some things that probably should be unavailable, but real security shouldn't rely on it.

Perhaps the most important point in the artcle is the throw away line at the end:

Knowledge empowers. An informed public is one of national security's
greatest strengths.

I tend to agree with this. The second sentence fits well with Gibson's 2nd law (the truth will set you free). I'm a knowledge management fan so I'm all for empowerment - however, there's a lot more to this statement that just telling people things.

The important part is the knowledge bit - i.e. information with understanding. So not enough to just declassify and release information - the proper "so what?" analysis needs to be done. Obviously there will be spin put on whatever analysis is done, whether intended or not, so again it comes down to people thinking. However, without the correct information up front (the truth) it's all a bit pointless.


Blog maps II

Man, this blogmap thing is getting lots of air play. I'm still trying to come up with a use for it and I've bitched on both Scoble's and Chando's blogs about how it seems of little value, but still feel strangely drawn to be on the map. So I'll stay there for the moment - still feeling unimpressed and slightly voyeuristic looking at the location of all these other people - until someone can give me a good reason to keep it, or I get sick of staring at it on my homepage.


Blog maps

Just found Chandu Thota's blogmap toy. It's an interesting use of technology. Unfortunately because NZ isn't on the map yet, I've lied and told it I still live in England ;-) No one I recognise around that neighbourhood though - yet.

To be honest, although I've added this to my blog for the moment, it seems a bit cutesy and I'm struggling to come up with a real use for it. It's sort of like a teleblog (or is that blogphone) book so if everyone was on it, it might be quite good.

Idea: Maybe a mindmap type view would be cool showing linked blogs that someone is interested in rather than just those that are located nearby. i.e. Nearness is either by commonality of blog (determined automagically by some yet to be determined method) or by hard links. Then rather than overlaying blogs on a terrain map, we overlay on a logical map by topic/subject/or anything other type of criteria. That could be very cool.


Brain drain

I'm thinking about something new today, a little more close to home, but an interesting topic none the same. This is just a starter post.

A recent article in the NZ Herald, points out that 24.2% of New Zealanders with tertiary qualifications are resident overseas. That's the highest in the OECD and compares with only 2% of Australians. A ot of people are worried about this - calling it the "Brain Drain". The theory being that all the smart people are leaving so there must be something wrong. Especially as NZ has some of the best places to live in the world.

This is interesting to me for a couple of reasons:
1. I'm passionate about my country and want to see it succeed on the world stage; and
2. I lived overseas (on and off) for around 7 years and came back.

We Kiwis are a proud nation - mainly because we're small and generally punch above our weight in many areas (mainly sport). There's always been a real "gumption, guts and go" type attitude around here.

There's long been a great tradition here of young people heading off on the big "OE" - the Overseas Experience where you disappear for a few months or years and see some of the world.

Part of this is because we're 8 hours flying time from the nearest non-English speaking country (unless you count Australia ;-) So if you're going that far, you may as well make the most of it. It also means that long haul is no real drama for us - as most places are long haul from here. It's also a money thing. While I was living in the UK, I was still saving the same percentage of my salary, but that equated to 3 times what I would have saved in NZ. So I did well out of it financially.

Is it a problem?
Bruce Simpson of the $5,000 cruise missle fame seems to think so. Bruce uses it as a chance to bash the government again (who have dealt him some fairly hefty blows over the years) even if it is with his devil's advocate hat on. I don't think it's that bad. So long as we get a cycle of people coming back. Those figures aren't stated (if there are any).

If it is, what do we do?
We want them back I take it??? Of course we do. Being a small place, there's limited scope for doing most of the normal big things here - running huge companies, etc. All the big stuff is the cool stuff, which is necessarily a niche market (http://www.kongisking.net, http://www.supercarsnz.com) So we have to come up with other ways in enticing people back. The lifestyle is just one way. The one area I do agree with Bruce on is that the infrastructure for entrepreneurship is difficult. We have high interest rates, high corporate tax rates and the govt doesn't really invest in new firms. Therefore companies started here will always look at headquartering themselves overseas at some stage, if only for the tax breaks.

That said, New Zealand does have some things going for it. It is a great test market because you can roll something out country-wide very easily. It's got a geographically diverse environment that the scientists love because there's so much variety within a confined space. It's great for the larger worldwide telcos to use as a testbed. Vodafone do that. Alcatel are trialling their outsourced services model here too. We're one of 25 EDS-accredited Best Shore locations around the world too -so they hire here not fire. The list goes on. I'm sure I can dream up a few more.

Next post
The next post in this series will cover some of the initiatives around that could directly or indirectly help bring people back or provide great opportunities right here. I also want to think about immigration - another hot topic. Hmm, this could take a while.


A blunt knife is useless and so is Greg, therefore Greg is a blunt knife

As my statistics professor used to say:
There's lies, damned lies and statistics.

No idea if this was his own invention or not. Probably not.

Anyway, Bruce Schneier's found another pearl. Apparently, you can't get a high security clearance in the Israeli army if you're into D&D. Sigh. I think everyone will agree that this is a bit stupid. I'm sure my statistics professor could drum a statistically significant correlation to this in a few seconds.

The problem is that the number of reasons that this is wrong is as long as my arm, but anyone with half a brain could come up with counter arguments too. I thought the Israelis were pretty smart - and maybe they are.

However, although there may be no direct correlation between these two things, maybe it's as good a measure as you need. And that's a little scary.

PS. Greg is a guy I went to school with years ago who one day got compared to a blunt knife. And the rest is history.

Quality vs. quantity

This could almost have been one of those stupid "here I am again" posts that you catch on some aggregators like weblogs.asp.net. Seems like every man and his dog wants to let you know that they are still alive. Hardly a day goes by where I don't see a couple of them.

That got me thinking - with all this blogging going on (wonder what percentage of internet traffic is blog reading vs. spam these days?) what's the best way to reduce the noise?

Many ways to skin a cat
RSS aggregators like that one, or Scoble's link blog are a great way of trawling a lot of content for the needle in the haystack. I can clear 200-300 posts in about 20 minutes and only end up reading a handful. I do find it much easier following the aggregators of the aggregators like Bruce Schneier for security stuff. He seems to pick up the gems for me :-)

Then there's podcasting, which is OKif you have the bandwidth. I know it's coming - slower in my part of the world than others, but I'll also really only want the good stuff if I go audio. It won't be possible to scan hundreds of podcasts, so the aggregated form it still required, unless we can come up with a cunning plan to get the "news headlines" in audio form.

Reducing the noise
As always, the quality of some blogging is not so high. A lot of it is also irrelevant to my interests, particularly on aggregated feeds like Slashdot or Boing Boing.

Further, so many blogs are about the same thing, with hundreds of people linking to the same site. Although this is a great way of establishing interest and give Google some good feedbakc for their PageRank engine, what I think would be cool is a way to get this sort of page rank shown along side a link. It could work in (at least) two ways:
  1. Use hyperlinks that display the Google PageRank alongside the link;
  2. Create a way of aggregating many other feeds/blogentries/links and automagically merge the common elements (i.e. the 50 entries that link to the new trailer for the Hitchhickers Guide to the Galaxy) all become a single entry with some sort of counter beside it (ala PageRank again);


Remote home surveillance

Here's another one for the "how useful is it really?" department.

Telstra in Australia are working on a new product called Business Secure. It allows you to monitor your home or business remotely via the internet or your mobile. More fodder for the paranoia, I say.

I don't see this as a useful surveilance tool. I suspect anyone able to afford it and set up to use it (i.e. with security staff) will already have dedicated resources and cameras in place. SMEs will probably only use it reactively.

That said, if my wife wants to ask me if she should where the blue or the red dress, I can at least give her a slightly more informed opinion ;-) Although I dare say she'd eventually object to the cameras! Maybe my bosses could set one up outside the stationery cupboard?


More on airport security - it's not the actions, it's the responses.

Bruce Schneier has turned up the 1,349,822nd example of poor airport security. I've already commented on his blog about this. Here's what I said...

Yet more examples of ignoring Gibson's First and Third Laws.
I long for the days when I used to be able to wander onto a plane with my Swiss
army knife in the pocket.
We can bleat on about how bad it all is, but what can we _do_ about it??? How do we lower entire nation's paranoia levels? What is a reasonable compromise so that people feel safe but uninhibited?
Is there an 80/20 rule we can apply?
So many questions, but so few answers. Sigh.

OK. Maybe I'm getting to be a bit of a blowhard about my "laws", but the general idea is still true.

For the sake of the argument, I think it's safe to assume that there are lots of examples of OTT security in airports.

The crux of the matter
The major problems here are cultural not regulatory. Although events such as 9/11 and the war on terrorism have led to the current security infrastructure, the problem in this case is not those actions it's the responses to them. i.e.
  • Because of the American psyche, based around their history and the way they perceive the world, they have reacted in a certain way to these events.
  • Because of the British/French/Australian/New Zealand/Beninian/Iraqi/Afgani/... psyches, based around their history and the way they perceive the world, they have reacted in a certain way to these events
  • Because of America's standing in the world, other parts of the world have reacted a similar or completely different ways
Another example of this is perhaps the whole firearms debate that Michael Moore put up. Question: Why do so many American's die in gun-related crimes compared to say Canada, which has the same regulatory framework? Answer: It's a cultural thing.

So often major events are catalysts for change. Something major happens and people revert to type and react accordingly. Welcome to life. This is not stuff that can change over night if at all. It's taken years to get to our current states of mind. I don't see it changing easily.

What do we do about it?
Taking a deep breath and thinking rationally will help. People like Bruce, experts in their fields can help with this. Then we need to get to a collective understanding. Oh dear, here comes Gibson's 4th law (90% of people are stupid). In this case, the interpretation is that 90% of people will do whatever someone tells them to, because it's easier not to think.

Buggered if I know what do to about that.

You found me!


Someone found my blog and it feels gooooood. This internet thing could really take off you know ;-)