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Brislen on Tech

Paul Brislen, Editor. 02 June 2017, 3:18 pm

The dog Pedro

We can now accurately date the entire Copper Age in New Zealand.

It started in 1862 when the first telegraph line was laid between Christchurch and Lyttleton and it ended yesterday with the final decision on the review of the Telecommunications Act. Barring unforeseen advances in copper line technology, Chorus will be able to start pulling out copper lines from UFB areas in 2020.

Copper has served us well over the years. From the early telegraph days (with a speed of roughly 140 words per minute) to the halcyon days of 14.4kbit/s dial-up modems (supplanted by the blistering 33.6 modems) in the late 1990s, copper was the battleground on which telecommunications wars were fought for nearly two decades following the decision to liberalise the market by creating a monopoly and selling it to the Americans.

Such naivety. Such innocent times.

Telecom fought a rear guard action throughout the latter Copper Age, and even the decision to allow competitors to put their own equipment in Telecom's exchanges was met with a broadside of anti-competitive behavior. Unbundling, as it was known, meant Telecom lost control of the speeds, service quality and other aspects of the broadband service and so, having said they'd be delighted to allow Vodafone and iHug to unbundle the Ponsonby exchange, Telecom announced a blitzkrieg move away from exchanges to cabinets, starting with the Ponsonby exchange.

Good times. Many column inches died to bring you the news.

Now however we have the Ultra Fast broadband project (UFB) and with it the move to fibre to the home and while the Aussies are lamenting never being able to offer speeds in excess of about 70Mbit/s, our new mandated minimum service will be 100Mbit/s download speed.

And so we bid farewell to our expensive copper lines, grandfathered in the name of progress. Chorus will be able to increase or reduce the price of copper lines all it wants unhindered by regulation in the areas it has rolled out UFB but there isn't much it can do there except drive customers to fibre so it can switch the thing off and sell the lines for scrap.

The first telegram sent in New Zealand was to a Mr Oakes in Christchurch and read: "Mr Oakes coming round in schooner Colleen Baun with goods. Dog Pedro poisoned and is dead." Quite what the last message sent over copper will be is yet to be decided but I hope it's a service request for a gig connection.

MBIE - Review of the Telecommunications Act 2001

NBR - Final details of telco act overhaul a 'modest win' for Chorus

ZDNet - Average FttN line capable of 68Mbps but will never hit 1Gbps: NBN


Only good for gambling and s_x addicts

Fast internet access is proving to be essential in this new era of connectivity. The annual Internet Trends report from Mary Meeker, a US analyst, shows while smartphone sales are slowing (only 3% year on year presumably because we've all got at least one now and because the market is mature with little deviation from design to design), internet uptake grows by 10% year on year (slightly slower than previously) as new users come on stream all the time. This is doubly true in the developing nations, like India where uptake grew 28% last year.

My favourite stat so far (there are more than 350 slides) is this one: "60% of the most highly valued tech companies were founded by first- or second-generation Americans and are responsible for 1.5 million employees".

That's definitely one for Donald to consider and if he can't see the value in such migrants, perhaps our new economic policy post September's election should.

(The title comes from an interview I conducted with one of Telecom's original board members on his retirement. He had never used the internet and refused to connect up because…. See above. Sorry also for the censorship, but otherwise many of your mail filters would trash it as happened a couple of weeks ago!)

Mary Meeker - Internet Trends 2017

Recode - Mary Meeker's 2017 internet trends report: All the slides, plus analysis



Creating lifelong learners

I've served on a couple of school boards, been to many tech sessions designed to help teachers get more involved in the digital world and been cheerleader whenever government announces more funding to help digitize the classroom and all of this over the past 20 years or so.

Yet every year I get parents asking me if this is all really necessary, if this whole "digital classroom" thing isn't just some kind of con.

I've seen parents demand the school produce evidence that digital literacy and learning is important (evidence that should stretch back years of course) at the information evenings that are designed to introduce digital teaching to the school. I've heard parents complain that they've just bought their child's stationary pack and why do we have to introduce digital stuff this year, couldn't it wait?

I'm delighted to say that most, if not all the teachers I've dealt with have embraced digital learning as a fantastic new resource and are using it appropriately whenever they can.

That's not to say the children sit at their desk pushing a mouse around. Far from it. They research, they work collaboratively, they produce videos or slideshows, they work on shared Google Docs at such pace that it terrifies the innocent bystander (me) and they soak it all up like sponges. The teachers are sprinting to stay one step ahead but are all too aware that sometimes they can't and that that's OK because they're on a learning curve as well.

Years ago I was invited to speak to a cluster session in Wellington. These were a bunch of teachers who were giving up their free time to spend the weekend together talking about digital learning, the internet, the risks and rewards and all the rest. I was along for comic relief and to set the scene.

You know that dream you have about standing up to speak in front of the class and suddenly you find you can't remember anything and you're in the wrong exam and you're not wearing anything and all the desks are facing you and everyone there is a teacher and they have their arms crossed and are giving you their hardest "so impress me" look?

No? Just me?

Well it was just like that (apart from the no clothes bit). As I stood up to speak I suddenly realized I would be talking to a room full of hardened teachers who wouldn't be a friendly receptive audience and would critique my every utterance.

Thankfully that wasn't the case at all. They were great and asked fantastic questions and said it was of huge benefit to their upcoming sessions, which was interesting because what I talked about was the (then) imminent mobile revolution that would mean every student in every class would have a device in their pocket that could answer any question put to it and whisper the answer into the student's ear.

How will you teach when you literally aren't needed?

Of course, the answer is that you'll facilitate and the role of Keeper of All Knowledge will die in a ditch to be replaced by the Constructive Questioner, the person who asks those critical questions that helps the student to become (as my intermediate school principal says) lifelong learners.

The good news is that primary and intermediate schools have realized the benefits of digital learning and jumped in with both feet. My fear is that because of a demand for standardized testing, reporting cycles and employable skills based on a Victorian or at least mid-1950s school of thought about employability, high schools simply don't get it yet. They're starting to, which is good to see, but there should be a massive push from the Ministry of Education to get this right. Otherwise we're going to be turbo charging our kids at primary and intermediate, telling them to get back in their box for secondary school, and then letting them back out again for tertiary training and education.

Techblog - Teachers embrace digital learning technologies

Techblog - A different approach to digital technology in schools


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