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Brislen on Tech

Paul Brislen, Editor. 17 February 2017, 4:15 pm

Here's the weekly roundup of news from tech circles, from TechBlog editor Paul Brislen. This week, featuring the new weekly TechBlog cartoon by Jim (see below).

Spark results

The telco formerly known as Telecom's retail arm has published its half yearly results and shares were down 4% as a result.

You'd think this would suggest a bad report, but in fact Spark was in line with market expectations (as they say) and lifted its earnings 3.5% to $178 million for the half year.

Word on the street (OK, some journo I spoke to earlier) suggests it's probably more about Telstra posting a really poor result and former-government owned monopoly telcos getting slapped around as a result.

What did come out was news that Spark may well challenge the Vodafone-Sky TV merger in court if it has to (assuming the Commerce Commission clears the deal, which increasingly looks unlikely) and has asked the two companies to delay the merger by a few days - something Vodafone and Sky TV have rejected outright.

The sticking point for Spark CEO Simon Moutter is around sport content, content that Sky TV has jealously guarded for many years. Any suggestion that New Zealand should introduce what are known as "anti-syphoning laws" and make important sporting events free to watch on free-to-air TV (hey, remember free-to-air TV?) have been strongly rebuffed by Sky's PR team and the company went so far as to buy Prime TV in part to enable it to air delayed coverage of All Blacks' matches so it could point to how available the content was.

Personally I can see the New Zealand Rugby Union eventually waking up to the idea that it can sell the rights to New Zealand rugby content directly to viewers all around the world and make a great deal more money in the process. It's worked for major sporting franchises around the world and really the only thing holding up the move here is Sky's willingness to sweeten the deal every time it comes up for renewal. Whether the same would hold true under a Vodafone ownership model (CEO Russell Stanners is a staunch League fan) remains to be seen but ultimately all sporting content will move to a direct model and intermediates like Sky TV will have to find a new draw card.

Spark also took some potshots at Chorus, in particular at the copper network which Spark says continues to suffer from neglect and outages, especially during the winter months. Customer migration to fibre has progressed well and Spark continues to push its fixed wireless lines as an alternative to copper. The marriage of Spark and Chorus was annulled in 2010 but finally the relationship, it would appear, is over.

NZ Herald - NZ shares fall as Spark earnings disappoint

Stuff - Spark would go to court over Sky TV merger with Vodafone

Stuff - Spark admits there is 'much work' to be done on its customer service

Computerworld - Spark lifts half year result, predicts flat full year

NBR - Broadband bargain-hunting forces Spark to change tack 

Spark - Half Year results

And for those who like a laugh, check out what "broadband" means to the Australians:

ZDNet - NBN CEO reiterates lack of demand for 1Gbps broadband


 

TGIF


 

Travelling tech

One of the upsides of the Spark result was its mobile business, which saw subscriber numbers grow by 6.4% (141,000 connections) in the half year.

The era of Spark boosting its figures by giving all its customers who moved from CDMA to GSM networks their old CDMA phone back with a prepay number to help boost the figures appears to have long since gone by the by and these days the numbers seem to be a lot cleaner.

Everyone has a mobile phone and most of those are smart phones. The introduction of the iPhone (nearly ten years ago now) really did revolutionise the IT sector and while Nokia may feel it's on to a winner with the rebirth of its dumbphone fleet, it isn't. Nobody wants a grey screen basic phone and even if they sell a few units, it's unlikely to sweep the world and reinstall Nokia as the number one provider. That boat has sailed, and fiery arrows have been successfully shot into its hull as a salute to those who have moved on from this world.

There is one fly in the smartphone ointment however, and its name is Trump.

The new world order of border protection, intellectual property and the ubiquitous ownership of devices that carry everything from our financial records, online dating profiles and even our fingerprints means those of us who move between jurisdictions find ourselves at the mercy of the rubber-gloved brigade who can and will demand you provide them with access to your devices.

I have discussed this with several journalists who have been asked to hand over laptops for (presumably) copying, and now fear their mobile phones will go the same way.

Of course, you can always say "I do not wish to hand over my device to you and I certainly don't want you to read my private messages because they are work related and contain sensitive information" but then the border authorities are perfectly able to reject your application to enter the country as a result.

The advice seems to be: pretend you're entering a hostile work environment where everyone is out to steal your data. Carry only what you need for this particular trip. Buy a burner phone (!) and put in only the most basic of contacts. Lock or even delete your social media accounts (even if only temporarily) or get some third party (like your lawyer) to change the passwords and hold onto them for you.

And of course, never ever make disparaging comments about Our Great Leader on any form of digital media.

The Register - The Register's guide to protecting your data when visiting the US

NZ Herald - Travelling with smartphones a danger

BoingBoing - "I'll never bring my phone on an international flight again. Neither should you."

BoingBoing - How to legally cross a US (or other) border without surrendering your data and passwords (which contains my most disturbing quote of the day:

"One thing Greenberg misses is the necessity of completing a US Customs and Immigration Service Form G-28 before you cross the border. This form authorizes an attorney to visit you if you are detained at the border, but it has to be completed and signed in advance of your crossing. It also should be printed on green paper. The current version of the form expires in 2018, so you can complete it now, file it with your attorney or friend, and leave it until next year." My emphasis added.) 

Telegraph - US travel industry has lost $185 million since Trump took office

Boston Globe - You could call US tourism a victim of Trump's travel ban

 

I for one welcome our mechanical overlords

And finally something to cheer us all up. If our ability to choose leaders who will wisely and selflessly build a better tomorrow is in doubt (ahem) then why not automate the entire thing.

I've often wondered when politics will be disrupted in much the way that the reseller model, classified advertising, television and all the other industries have been, only to be told it won't happen because politicians love power.

Well that really goes without saying but is also completely irrelevant. I really loved the first season of Firefly but no power in the 'verse will deliver me a second one no matter how much I wish it so.

The same is true of politicians. Their role is to aggregate our views and distill them into actions that will benefit all of us. That they fail to do so regularly would suggest the system is flawed and as we know, the internet loves to take a flawed model and bend it to breaking point.

These days we really don't need to choose someone to represent a large chunk of the population in a three year cycle. We could do it daily, or monthly. We could do away with elections and randomly pick people to do it, or we could do away with representatives altogether and do it ourselves.

I tend to abrogate my responsibility for understanding things that bore me to the experts at the Commerce Commission or Consumer or whoever makes enough sense to me on the day. I don't want to know any more about the cryptography that allows the internet to run than I already do (that is: nothing) but I do trust people like Peter Gutmann who have demonstrated that they know and care about such things. Peter can have cryptography - if he says "this is a bad idea and won't work" I trust him. I'd hire him to represent men on cryptographic issues any day of the week, but I'd probably pick someone else to be my rep when it comes to other issues, and for a scant handful I'd want to represent myself and vote directly.

There's nothing in our political system that is difficult to automate if we really want to and frankly, I suspect the time is rapidly approaching where the desire for change will make that a reality.

And so it is I enjoyed reading the link below in which Google founder Eric Schmidt says not only was he wrong to say Artificial Intelligence's potential was limited because of the difficulty of it all, but that instead it is now a key plank to the company (and possible to all of our) future.

Many years ago Google dispatched an earnest young man to New Zealand to tell us all about Google's then newly launched hardware devices. Don't bother with an intranet, he told us, just plug this box into your network and it will "Google" your entire network (including the hard drive on your laptops).

Over lunch at the restaurant on top of the Sky Tower we began poking and prodding the yellow box he'd brought along to show us, only to discover it was empty.

"Oh yes," he said nervously, "We didn't bring the real thing, just a blank chassis to show you." Why do this, we asked. Because of the weight, he told us.

We didn't take that lying down. You brought an empty box because there IS no secret machine you can plug into a server, is there? we demanded. Google, we declared, was now sentient and no longer needed devices like this - it was all a con!

The young fellow was by this stage quite nervous and started muttering about future-looking statements and his inability to comment on things beyond his pay grade but not once did he deny the charge. Not once did he suggest Google wasn't already a living being.

Fortune - Alphabet's Eric Schmidt: 'I Was Proven Completely Wrong' About Artificial Intelligence


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