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Brislen on Tech

Paul Brislen, Editor. 06 December 2019, 4:00 pm

If you google Google does it tear a hole in space-time?

It seems like Google has always been part of our lives in many respects but it's a relatively recent phenomenon.

Before Google came along searching for stuff online was ... well it was a tad hit and miss. Alta Vista might turn up 1.9 million results for a search for "All Blacks" but if the rugby team was on the front page it was by luck more than anything else.

Those of us with l33t skillz would use Dogpile and generate search results from four different search engines none of which would come close to being described as 'useful'.

But then along came Google with its oh-so simple interface. One box and two buttons. My god, what were they thinking?

Clearly they were thinking they'd take over the world and sure enough they did. Co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin turned a search engine into the hub of a tech powerhouse that today builds phones, makes software, dominates online advertising (along with Facebook of course), has destroyed publishing as we knew it but opened up the world of information and knowledge to a planet full of people who couldn't break down that barrier until now.

Did I mention killing off publishing? Because that's something that could have been avoided but sadly the newspapers and publishers of the early 2000s were not able to navigate their way through the move to digital despite the warnings (often quite vehement ones) from junior reporters who shall remain nameless. Cassandra, I think her name was.

Google didn't so much kill off news as pick up the scraps when news exploded into a blithering pile of rendered parts but even so it has a role to answer for and I still grumble about it.

However, putting that aside (and of course the company's brief foray into social media, some odd hiring decisions, and its military robot division) the benefits of Google's existence have mostly outweighed the negatives.

Now, the two founders are stepping down as operational leaders and will retain their roles on the board as majority shareholders. Neither of them is 50 years old yet. Not that I'm bitter - I don't think they've enjoyed their journey as much as I've enjoyed mine, although I would like to own my own jet. But that's another column entirely.

Now that Google has turned 21 and is going out into the world on its own (albeit with mum and dad hovering over one shoulder) it'll be interesting to see how the company fares. Sundar Pichai has long been handling the day-to-day management of the company and now gets the big seat for his very own. Whether the company does become a classic corporate entity remains to be seen.

Google Blog - A letter from Larry and Sergey

NY Times - Era Ends for Google as Founders Step Aside From a Pillar of Tech

The Verge - The rise, disappearance and retirement of Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin

Stuff - Google co-founders step aside as US Government scrutiny heats up

 

Cyber-security

The team at CERT really have a good handle on social media, using the medium well to communicate their messages. I was particularly taken with the tweet used to point readers to the latest quarterly report on cyber-security breaches in New Zealand. It featured an orangutan riding a bus.

Somehow that seemed quite fitting for a report into just how many of us are duped, conned, grifted, taken for a ride, made into patsies and all the rest of the cyber-crime collection of greatest hits.

The numbers would suggest New Zealanders are both taking cyber-security more seriously but also getting attacked more frequently.

Phishing attacks are up 27% from the previous quarter, vulnerability reports have doubled in three months and we've lost $3.8 million to the scam artists.

There is good news though - over 65s are getting better at not falling for scams. This year alone there has been a 60% decrease in the number of financial losses reported, which is good news all round. Hopefully if they continue to carry on like this we'll see fewer losses next quarter and maybe even a few of the retirees agreeing that climate change is a real problem. (ED: skating on thin ice there, you whipper snapper).

CERT's awareness campaigns have continued all year long and it seems not a month goes by without some kind of campaign or activity is out there, reminding us all to be careful. They're doing a great job and hopefully we won't make a monkey out of them (ED: orangutans aren't monkeys, they're apes).

CERT NZ - Quarter Three Report 2019

TechBlog - Cyber-attacks on the rise: CERT NZ

NZ Herald - Cyber security incidents reported to CERT NZ at all-time high

 

Protest Signs

Soup Tasty Voting

What3Words is an interesting approach to mapping. Instead of a set of GPS coordinates or a street address (neither of which are always that easy to remember), W3W gives each square on a map three random words and users can remember them by telling themselves a story.  Some location apps are using the system to help users call for help when the car breaks down or similar.

It's a trick a friend taught me to remember people's names (I'm notoriously bad at it. It's why I only work for people who have the same name as me) and it works well with locations as well.

Soup Tasty Voting is the centre of the Spark head office building in Auckland and now when I think about Spark I'll think about tasty soup and how "I'll vote for that". The building does have tasty sushi but I haven't tried the miso so I must next time I'm in that part of town.

Why am I telling you this? It's so I can delay writing about the 5G protest that took place outside and where a protestor's sign carried the words "Evil. Bad. Sick" which made me laugh and think of W3W.

The protestors, there were about 25 from what I could see, are angry that Spark is deploying an untested technology that has been proven to have health impacts and which nobody has asked for.

I think I've got that right.

Unfortunately for the protestors, 5G has been tested, there are have been no links found between cellphone use and any kind of health impacts (except of course for the obvious hunched shoulder/thumb tendon damage inflicted on teenagers) and there's huge demand for coverage both within New Zealand and around the world.

But still, I like a good protest and I wholeheartedly endorse everyone's right to stand up for what they believe in.

Only… perhaps I've been in media too long but someone might want to point out that standing around using cellphones at a protest about cellphones really sends the wrong message. It says "I don't know what I'm talking about and I'm really mad".

But maybe that's just me.

This week the PM's science advisor's office released a new 5G fact pack in the form of a website loaded with questions, answers and links.

It's full of useful information and valuable insights but sadly it's best described as dull but worthy.

When Facebook and YouTube are full of angry community groups protesting about something and posting videos on an almost daily basis, it pays to have something visual, something detailed and something that can be deployed over a period of weeks if not months. You've got to take the information to the worried parties and push back every time someone posts a tin-foil hat video.

Having all the information on one page is great, but that's only the start of the campaign and unfortunately I think for the PM's science advisory team, they think their job is done. Sadly, this is just the beginning and already there are sites sharing videos reporting that the advisor has been duped. No, I'm not linking to them here.

In Australia parliament's standing committee on communications and the arts is holding an inquiry into 5G in Australia and the submissions are available online should you chose to read them.

Submissions on such matters are always a bit … well, a bit special. I know one telco public affairs manager who will remain nameless who gets his team to print them all out and put them in two binders - one which he will read and one which ultimately get handed around the company for amusement as much as anything else.

This is no exception with around 400 submissions, most of which should be avoided unless you have a drink in hand.

The other submissions fall into three camps - telcos saying they need some relief if they're to roll out 5G services; regional government agencies demanding that any 5G deployment include their remote neck of the woods in case anyone thought they'd not bother; and radiation experts saying "it's OK, 5G won't kill you."

Unfortunately the vast bulk of submissions come from individuals who have been terrified by friends posting on Facebook or the like and who really don't understand what they're saying.

In some parts of the world, they've held sway and forced really poor outcomes on local body authorities.

The Australian mobile industry association submission reports that the World Health Organisation (WHO) suggests not extending EMF limits beyond the globally agreed levels as it creates confusion and slows down deployment of services that are hugely needed.

Brussels is often held up as a beacon of enlightenment by the anti-5G brigade because it introduced a maximum limit roughly 400 times lower than international guidelines, produced by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) dictate.

"It was not possible to deploy 4G in Brussels under these restrictive limits and in 2014 the Brussels Environment Minister relaxed the limits (to about 100 times less than ICNIRP) to allow 4G to proceed although much delayed. A 2018 report by the Federal Belgian Institute for Postal Services and Telecommunications (BIPT) concluded that the present Brussels limits negatively impact current 4G indoor coverage and would need to be at least relaxed by a factor of two to allow the deployment of 5G."

That kind of delay would have devastating impacts on rural life and on regional economic development if it were introduced in New Zealand so it's just as well we have a national standard that is based on Ministry of Health data, gathered at cellsites around the country.

The latest measurements (links are below) show just how low powered our cellsites are. The limit is 1% of the power required to increase the temperature by 1 degree Celsius. You would need to surround yourself with 100 cellsites operating at full power to increase your temperature by 1 degree C, yet most sites operate at only 2% of that limit - meaning you would need to build 5,000 sites all pointing at you to get a one degree rise in temperature. Then of course, you'd step to your left and the temperature would return to normal.

What's good for the protestors is that 5G is even lower powered than 4G and because of the higher frequency range the ability of the waves to penetrate even the thinnest of materials is reduced - 5G won't get through skin, so as long as you have a dermal layer you're OK.

But don't take my word for it - it's all on the advisory site below. And remember, if you see someone at a 5G protest using a cellphone, send them a link to the website.

Office of the PM's Chief Science Advisor - 5G in Aotearoa New Zealand

NZ Herald - PM's chief science advisor weighs in on 5G controversy

Parliament of Australia select committee - Submissions to 5G inquiry (also a great example of how to hide submissions and make it difficult to review en masse)

Scientific American Blog - Don't Fall Prey to Scaremongering about 5G

Ministry of Health - Monitoring of Vodafone cellsites: annual summary 2019

Newshub - Spark refusing to halt 5G rollout, despite protest

What3Words - Spark's head office


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