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Bad news on the SKA plus #TPP update

Paul Matthews, NZCS CEO. 12 March 2012, 4:24 pm
Bad news on the SKA plus #TPP update

Those who follow such things will know that New Zealand and Australia have been working very hard on trying to host the next generation of scientific advancement, the Square Kilometre Array, on this side of the world.

The SKA is worth billions of dollars but more importantly, would likely spin off a significant high-value sub-industry in Australasia if it was based here. It's basically a giant telescope - larger than has ever existed before - made up of a heap of satellite dishes collectively covering a million square metres.

Sound big? It is. The SKA central computer will have the processing power of around a billion PCs. It's reported to be so sensitive it'll be able to detect an airport radar on a planet 50 light years away. For those not scientifically minded, that's so far away it would take 50 years to get there if you were travelling at the speed of light - quite a long way really!

And boy will it produce some data. Initially 10GB/second to be exact, or 36 Terabytes per hour 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. And therein lies one of the major issues with hosting it here.

There's been a long process running for the last 5 or 6 years about where the giant telescope should be hosted, with the last two options remaining being a South African-led bid versus an Australian-led bid including hosting some of it in New Zealand.

As extensively reported over the weekend, sadly for us it looks like the South African-led bid is looking increasingly likely to succeed. While it's not fully done and dusted, it's been leaked that the committee exploring the bids in detail have recommended the African option for a number of reasons.

SciBlogs (one of the leading science blogsites) looks at why and notes that the bids are close, but one of the key differences is the significantly increased cost of power and data transfer (read: broadband) on this side of the world.

Yes you read that right - we might have just missed out on part-hosting one of the world's greatest scientific breakthroughs with net benefit in the billions because broadband's cheaper in the third world than here*. Youch.

Whatever happens, huge kudos to those working behind the scenes to try to get the telescope here. A broad range of individuals have put in a huge effort including people like Sergei Gulyaev at AUT (who headed up the academic side of things) and Brett O'Riley, formerly of NZICT (who helped round up broad industry support).

It'll be a bugger if we do lose out, but it wasn't from lack of trying and all those involved should be proud of their efforts. And it aint over yet of course.

You can find out more about the Square Kilometre Array here and details of the Australia/New Zealand bid here.

* Slight dramatisation... there were other factors too.


Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement hits the headlines

Regular Newsline readers will be well aware of the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement negotiations currently happening and the risks these pose to New Zealand's intellectual property laws.

As a little background, the US appears to be attempting to use this so-called trade treaty to push a strong IP agenda on New Zealand and other potential signatories in exchange for other tradeoffs, such as letting us keep Pharmac. Possibly.

We at NZCS like Intellectual Property. It makes sense that those who create stuff should be able to benefit from it. However this absolutely needs to be balanced with the good of the country as a whole and sadly, this current fad of trying to destroy the fabric of innovation, scientific and arts development in the name if IP can only end in tears.

You see, almost all of the inventions, designs, stories, etc that the big media corporations are trying to prevent others building on were only possible by building on the work of others. Disney wouldn't be Disney if the sorts of IP laws they're promoting were in existence when they started out.

And that's kinda the point really. IP as it's being suggested is simply a tool to protect the status quo. America has a very strong software industry with big multinational corporates significantly contributing to their tax take. Anything they can do to protect that is good for them - even if it's bad for other developing export industries like, for instance, New Zealand (as I pointed out recently in NBR).

For those wanting a quick and easy introduction to this area I strongly recommend Kirby Ferguson's excellent Everything is a Remix, Part 4:

In short, if New Zealand is serious about fostering a growing and significant hi-tech industry we have to resist efforts to constrain and restrain such growth and that includes US-style IP laws. But will New Zealand's leaders resist?

Which is where the current Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement negotiations come in.

As reported in the mainstream media, leaked documents show that the US is still trying to force the strictest possible IP rules on the rest of the world. I don't think it would be too out of line to argue that the rationale for doing so has more to do with the tax location of those set to benefit from such a move rather than any sense of fair play for poor starving artists.

The core idea of Copyright when established was to provide a relatively short period by which an artist could benefit from their work before it became public domain. This was initially set at 14 years in the US before being extended in 1790 to 28, then 1976 to 50 years.

The concept of extending this to 95 years, especially in the digital age where we live in a sort of reverse-cat-years world in relation to innovation and development, seems frankly abhorrent.

So a big ups to InternetNZ and NZRise who travelled to Melbourne earlier this month and hosted an event outlining these concerns to the negotiators from all countries. Excellent stuff.

Many of these points were discussed in the first (sold out) NZCS MEGA-BREAKFAST in Auckland earlier in the month exploring the MegaUpload drama and surrounding issues. Wellington members should pop along to the Wellington MEGA-BREAKFAST at the end of the month to discuss these issues further but you'll need to get in quick - it's likely to sell out as well.


Our proposed new name - what do you think?

And lastly, you may have seen we're currently consulting on a proposal to change our name to Institute of IT Professionals.

I strongly urge you to take a look at the Consultation and Discussion Document [PDF] to find out why and please send in your submission. There are 10 specific questions at the back of the document we're especially interested in but more importantly we just want to know what you think.

A one-line "I think this is a great idea" or "Not so sure about this" is fine too, but it's really important your voice is heard whether you support the proposed change or not. Submissions close 15th April 2012.

Paul Matthews is Chief Executive of NZCS, the professional body of the IT industry.


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