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Brislen on Tech

Paul Brislen, Editor. 24 February 2017, 3:34 pm

Sans Comic Sans

What a day.

NASA announced it was making a big announcement, which is usually a sign that Comic Sans would be involved, but this time it really was a big announcement.

What have they found? Only a solar system full of planets, close enough for us to observe directly and with more than one planet in the "goldilocks" region that enables liquid water to flow on the planet's surface.

Expectations are high that within the next decade we'll be able to gather a lot more information about these worlds and whether there is life on them, although to be frank that's a long shot. Think about it - trillions of stars, over billions of years - what are the odds of us being around at the same time as another species to within a 40 year window.

Still, I will not be deterred. Part of the reason I cover the tech sector is because I know ultimately it came from, and will deliver to, the space programme. I refuse to live in The Gap between humans leaving the planet and colonizing another world and while Trump's antics may well be the reason no time traveler from the future has come back to observe us (as the saying goes) this gives me great hope for the future.

After all, the reason the dinosaurs died out is because they didn't have a space programme.

Quote of the day goes to the unnamed commentator on the NASA feed this morning during the press conference who said, "Goldilocks has many sisters".


New Scientist - Seven Earth-size planets found around nearby star may have water

USA Today - NASA to tell us more about exoplanets

Gizmodo - These Seven Earth-Sized Exoplanets Have Everyone Freaking Out Over Alien Life


Samsung burns

Poor old Samsung.

The Korean company came so close to knocking Apple off its perch with the full welter of Android devices and yet close only counts with hand grenades. Mind you, given the exploding Galaxy Note 7 phones, you could be forgiven for thinking Samsung might have been onto something there.

However, it would appear that the public is not so forgiving and Samsung has slipped mightily in the public's gaze.

The Harris Poll rankings of the 100 most visible corporations has Samsung ranked 49th (down from 7th last year) in terms of reputation.

This is a shame because we the consumers really do need a strong, viable competitor to Apple's role as progenitor/overlord of all things smartphone related.

Sure, Apple invented this brave new touch-screen world and sure, its devices and applications have been top of the world for nearly a decade now, but without Samsung and Google to keep it honest and to keep the pressure on, I doubt we'd have quite the market we do have.

However, despite this set back I have faith that Samsung can rebound. The company generally does very well in terms of quality and its products (phones and others) have always served well. Sure, there are foibles but then that's true of every platform and if they can keep the combustion rate down I hope we'll see Samsung back in the game before too much longer.

Stuff - Samsung's reputation tanks after Note 7 fiasco

Tech Advisor - Samsung Galaxy S8 UK release date


Vodafone Sky

The Commerce Commission has roared and it's Vodafone's deal to buy Sky TV that has ended up dead in the water.

The deal, which would have seen Sky TV and Vodafone New Zealand merge into one combined entity, was knocked back in large part because Sky TV has a massive lock on the sport content in New Zealand and the ComCom felt that was too much to entrust to a vertically-integrated telco-content behemoth.

It's clearly too late for the deals the ComCom did sign off - supermarkets merging "to bring you more choice" and petrol stations buying each other have both been given the go ahead and we the consumer are worse off as a result - but the Commission is making a stand in the digital world and I think it's the right one.

Rugby rights are the jewel in the New Zealand content market. This is because we have a very good rugby team but also because we have very poor content creation in other sectors.

I love New Zealand television but at a time when the hour-long drama is in a golden age renaissance, New Zealand can barely muster enough shows to carry the coffin of public-service broadcasting.

Television in New Zealand, it would seem, must be delivered via an internationally-renowned format, include a chef or a garden (or a house) and be made as cheaply and as quickly as possible and damn the impact on our culture.

So we're left with rugby and if there's one thing that Kiwis love it's watching rugby live. Sky TV CEO John Fellet used to joke that he needed a warehouse to store all the decoders sent back at the end of every rugby season and he wasn't far wrong. Sky TV has little to offer other than rugby and in an era where Netflix comes up with new and original content regularly, that's just not good enough.

So the deal is off unless Sky TV wants to divest itself of its rugby and other sporting monopolies, which it probably won't.

Sky will have to find another way to disseminate its content to the masses and that should involve opening up its notoriously tight-fisted wholesale deals. TelstraClear head Allan Freeth used to complain bitterly that he'd like to offer Sky TV to his customers but wasn't able to also offer other channels that he'd like because Sky wouldn't let him.

The days of that kind of control are now over and Sky will have to find channels for its channels that it previously had shunned.

But I suspect the real solution will be to dump the channels as distribution models entirely and that's not a move Sky TV will make but rather one for the New Zealand Rugby Union.

Why it is they think selling exclusive content rights to Sky TV for a rumoured $70 million a year is a good deal is beyond me. They could make that and plenty more by selling direct to viewers the way other leagues around the world have done. Perhaps there's some legal barrier that I'm unaware of but I think it's probably not happened already because of NZRU's reluctance to embrace the brave new world of the internet. By the time the contract with Sky concludes I hope they'll have got their act together.

As for the NZME merger with Stuff, I'm going to call it now: no chance.

The Spin Off - Why the Vodafone-Sky merger is mostly about a funny shaped ball

NBR - Premium sports monopoly key to Sky-Vodafone merger rejection


Women in Technology

The first hacker I ever met was a woman. I went to the Compaq application development centre in Christchurch to talk about the work they were doing in the lead up to Y2K and was introduced to the number one code reviewer in the place.

A grandmother of two (from memory) in a twin set and pearls, she was hardly the stereotype of a hacker, but as she knitted booties (third grandchild on the way) she could pick out a date code error on a screen faster than anyone else.

Now, given most computers and telecommunications equipment are not penis operated, this begs the question: why aren't there more women in ICT.

I know where we can start. We can start with attitude and with culture.

Over the years I have been appalled by the attitude of some in the industry who seem to think ICT is a boy's club and act as if they were in the locker room with Donald Trump.

This is not the case.

But more pervasive, and to my mind even more damaging, is the culture that has grown like a fungal infection between the toes of the industry that encourages women to feel uncomfortable in the workplace and to look elsewhere for work.

That's if they even come to work in ICT In the first place.

It's the 21st century. We're starting to understand that men and women can work together in relative harmony just as left handers and right handers can, and red-haired people and bald people.

How about we just get over ourselves, welcome in anyone who wants to work, show them how it's done and encourage them to get on with it instead of finding excuses for why women don't want to join this industry.

If you haven't already read the links below I'd recommend you do so (Men, I'm talking to you here. Women, you're already far too familiar with these stories) and have a think about the culture you've created at work and what it would be like if the tables were turned.

Susan J Fowler - Reflecting On One Very, Very Strange Year At Uber

The Spin Off - Absolutely, delete Uber. Then go to work and start changing things there

Now sure, we all know US employment law is a farce at best. But this happens closer to home as well.

NZ Herald - Offensive joke sours Wellington tech conference Webstock

FastCoDesign - Stefan Sagmeister's Jokes Have Officially Gotten Old

And lest you think we haven't had this conversation before:

Computerworld - Preaching to the choir October 2006


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