Nine to Noon: 3 March 2011

March 2, 2011 – 1:40 pm

This post is about my 3 March 2011 appearance on Nine to Noon on Radio New Zealand. Listen to the show in MP3 and OGG. My notes below were made during research for the show, but we often depart from the script. In particular, this week I ad-libbed about the Christchurch Recovery Map project.

Something new this week: I solicited topics from my Twitter followers, and got some great story ideas that I wouldn’t otherwise have covered. Go team! Thanks to Don Christie, Bernard Hickey, and Daniel Spector.


Life from Apple iPad 2 event, antilasers, 3d Printing company, Reprap, MakerBot, Ponoko, ThingiVerse, NZ Tech Company Sells to US Partner.

Quakes and Computers

* how have Christchurch computer businesses been affected?
* were people outside Christchurch affected?
* what’s been learned?

Tech business in Christchurch have been affected by the quake. Not just employees dealing with lost houses. There’s still intermittent broadband access in the region, so some businesses can’t get online to conduct their business. Some can’t access their buildings–computers, records, servers, email, source code are all locked inside a cordon or under sludge.

But it’s not just people in Christchurch who were affected. A friend’s company had outsourced its website. The company that ran the website for them was based in Christchurch. In the CBD. My friend got a call saying “oh hi, your website is still up but it’s in a building we can’t get to that might be condemned and the generators will run out of power in a few hours. SO. We’re moving to backup servers in a different city and you shouldn’t notice any problems but we thought we should let you know ….”

This outsourcing is all part of the “move to the cloud” that you sometimes hear about. Cloud computing is the idea that you access your services, whether it’s web hosting or wordprocessing, through the Internet. This way you don’t have to run the computers, manage the software, all that stuff. It’s easy! What could possibly go wrong? Oh, right. Your supplier of cloud computing might have their data center on top of a new fault (or is it an aftershock …?).

I was talking about this with friends, about what the lesson here is. I interpret the lesson as “when you outsource to `the cloud’, you’d better make sure they have good disaster recovery plans.” My friend pointed out “almost everyone who does this stuff themselves, runs their own servers and all that, doesn’t have a disaster recovery plan. Most people who take backups store those backups beside the original computers, and never check to see whether the files can be restored.”

I think the real lesson is that it doesn’t matter how many disasters happen, people don’t do this prophylactic stuff. Preparation just doesn’t come naturally to us. I’ve lost computers and files, several times, and still don’t have a sound backup regime.

iPad 2

* Steve Jobs was there
* post-PC products
* Nat hates iPads
* what’s new

Released today in SF. Steve Jobs himself showed up for the launch, both to reassure investors and ensure it was media-worthy. The interesting bit for me is how Apple’s talking about it: “post-PC products”. Most of their revenue comes from iPods, iPhones, and iPads. If you think of Apple as a computer company, you’re on the wrong track.

The launch ended with a discussion of what post-PC means. Their competitors chased iPods and iPhones as though they were PCs, turning out ugly function-overloaded clunkware. Now they’re doing the same with iPads. Nothing has matched the designed beauty of the i-products.

Here’s what Steve Jobs said:

This is worth repeating. It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology is not enough. It’s tech married with the liberal arts and the humanities. Nowhere is that more true than in the post-PC products. Our competitors are looking at this like it’s the next PC market. That is not the right approach to this. These are pos-PC devices that need to be easier to use than a PC, more intuitive. The hardware and software need to intertwine more than they do on a PC. We think we’re on the right path with this.

My iPad gives me the squirts — bought it to see what it was like, and it’s like a designer prison. Beautiful but you’re not in control. Apple decide what apps you can install, and getting files onto and off the iPad is a bloody nightmare. Why? Apple engineers are human too, they want to do the same things I do. It’s a pain because the user inconveniences drive us through the iTunes stores to buy our music and movies, and there’s no level playing field for competitors to keep prices down and selection up.

So I won’t be rushing out to get an iPad2. If you’re a fanboy, here’s what you’ve got to look forward to:
– front- and rear- facing cameras. Front is so you can video chat between iPads, or iPads and iPhones, using Apple’s “Face Time” software. Rear is so you can do augmented reality type stuff: see on the screen what the rear-facing camera sees, then overlay information about what’s in that picture.
– faster CPU and graphics. Should feel 2x faster when apps are running, and graphics could be nearly 10x faster. Of course, the lessons we’ve learned from the pre-post-PC world is that if you get a faster computer and the software gets lazier or more ambitious, so it quickly feels just as slow.
– thinner and lighter
– two colours, black and white.

Same price as first-gen iPads. To be released in the US on March 11, NZ on March 25.


* what is a laser
* what is an anti-laser
* why do we care?

A laser is a device that emits coherent light. Imagine a room of people doing aerobics. Very hard to jump up and down at the same time: normally one’s just starting while another’s halfway up and the next bloke over is starting to come down and it’s just chaos. The skinny chick is bouncing up and down like a yoyo, the cow, whereas wobbly me is much slower. Coherent light is like the perfect aerobics group: they bounce up and down at the same speed at the same time.

A typical laser would be a bit like a fluorescent light: a tube filled with gas, which gives off light when you put electricity through it. You have mirrors at each end, precisely placed, which encourages the formation of this coherent light. Think of two people, one on each end of a skipping rope. If you’re waving your arms at different speeds, the rope just flaps around because you’re sending different waves down the rope and they’re not reinforcing each other. But when you get it right and the rope starts to swing, you’re reinforcing each other instead of canceling out. That’s what these mirrors do.

There’s an article out in Science magazine about a Yale team who built the *anti* laser. That is, it takes coherent light and makes it disappear. It also uses these precisely-placed mirrors to capture the light, but with a wafer inside that sucks up the light, turning it into heat. This matters because coherent light is the basis of fibre optic cables, which carry phone calls and broadband and all that good stuff around the world. The scientists hope that, eventually, this can make better faster smaller components for this fibre optic technology.

3D Printing

* what is 3d printing?
* what’s it good for?
* schools are buying them. Why?
* NZ connections?

A normal printer, a 2D printer if you will, puts ink on paper. A 3D printer builds physical objects. You send the printer a CAD diagram and, in the most common form, lays down layer after layer of goo and builds up a 3d object. Next time I’m in Wellington, I’ll show you something a friend gave me: the world’s smallest 3d printed violin. It’s a lump of plastic in the shape of a 1.5cm violin, and also a sign of how much sympathy my geek friends have for me.

The violin’s not playable–this 3d printer accumulates layer on layer, so there are some things that it can’t do, like build cavities. You get shaped lumps, not hollows. There are 3d printers that can do this: they deposit two types of goo, one of which can be dissolved without dissolving the other. This lets you make many more shapes.

These 3d printers open new doors for manufacturing. Before, plastic things like cellphone cases, light switches, buttons and knobs … they were all the province of manufacturers and you had to pay for molds and it was a drama to make, basically. Now you can, in your own home, prototype and prototype and try variations and do all that stuff to build new gizmos. It opens product creation and small-run manufacturing to heaps more people.

More mundanely, I’d love to be able to print replacement parts for my gizmos: I keep losing lens caps, battery flaps, all those bits that come off and don’t come back. All you need is the 3D design, and there are stores and libraries of designs being made available on the net on sites like

You can buy a printer off the shelf. It wasn’t too long ago that they were US$30k each. Now they’re $5,000 and under and this opens up huge new possibilities. A friend was at the learning@schools conference last week and a company was selling them to schools. Their desk was very busy, which means students are soon going to be designing and manufacturing their own products. How awesome is that? The height of my highschool manufacturing was the world’s crappest pencil case.

Kiwi connections are thick and fast. There’s an open source 3d printer called the reprap, which you can build yourself. RepRap == reproduce, rapidly. A kiwi, Vik Olliver, is one of the elder gods of that world — he’s been involved in the project from the get-go. The RepRap is the basis of the MakerBot, which is a commercially-available pre-built (and customized) version of the RepRap. And Kiwi company Ponoko, which focuses on this area of democratized small-run manufacturing, offers 3D printing services–you send them your CAD designs and they’ll send you the objects.

Businesses Vanishing Overseas

* M-Com sold
* it received government $
* are all businesses fleeing once they hit $20M in revenue?

Latest in a line of companies disappearing overseas. I’ve linked to an NBR article about M-Com, which provided software underpinning mobile banking, being sold to its partner. Nobody’s talking about how much it’s for, but they say they’ll keep their 80 Auckland-based jobs in the country. Keeping jobs is a sensitive issue, given that previous tech successes like Navman have moved jobs overseas relatively quickly.

Money and jobs are doubly sensitive because M-Com got a lot of government aid: it started in the University of Auckland incubator, Icehouse. It was funded through the TechNZ program through Foundation for Research, Science and Technology. There have been a few sales overseas recently: Hyperfactory, EMS-Cortex, NextWindow. This leads some in NZ to worry that we aren’t building large companies: that we reach a certain size, then we sell.

I’m on the fence. I think we have to beware of availability bias–that we only talk about what we see, namely the sales. There are big NZ companies that *aren’t* sold, like DataCom. It might be that only 5% of big NZ companies are ever sold internationally, it might be that 95% of big NZ companies are sold internationally — those numbers aren’t available yet. But, of course, fear headlines play into our “woe is us, poor little NZ” mentality.

Isn’t that just like a geek? “I want numbers, not stories!” I’ll go hunting for numbers and let you know what I find.

  1. 2 Responses to “Nine to Noon: 3 March 2011”

  2. Hi Nat,

    Thanks for the mention on radio on #3dprinting our web site is

    If you or the radio would like to get to see one of the printers, just let me know.

    twitter: 3dprintingsys

    By 3dprintingsys on Mar 2, 2011

  3. To get some insight on the hollowing out issue see:

    By mccalla on Mar 3, 2011

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