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Brislen on Tech

Paul Brislen, Editor. 27 July 2018, 3:00 pm

On telcos and time travel

Data centres. Big fat juicy data centres, serving up the world's content, from right here in New Zealand.

You need a few things to make that a reality. You need cheap and relatively green electricity. You need cheap real estate. You need a stable democracy that won't suddenly go "you know what, we're going to read all of your content and cut you off from the internet". You need cool weather so you don't have to chill all those racks. You need a tech savvy population in order to service said data centres, and you need cheap and diverse lines of communication out to the world.

As of this week, New Zealand has all of that. Our electricity is mostly produced by hydro schemes. Our land is cheap by Californian standards. Our democracy isn't likely to produce a toxic avenger any time soon (no, seriously now) and we are irreducibly pluvial, so we're unlikely to need a lot of power for cooling. We can swap out a hard drive with the best of them and we now have the Southern Cross Cable network, the Tasman Global Access network and now Hawaiki Cable connecting us with North America.

Sadly, we are far too late to establish New Zealand as a home for any of this because if any content provider was setting up in this part of the world they've already done so and they're in Sydney.

Sydney sucks, insofar as a data hub goes. It's hot, it's costly and it's not terribly central, but unless we invent time travel and go back several years and get Pacific Fibre off the ground, we're pretty much stuck.

Still, it's nice to see connectivity finally arrive on our shores because while we might not be the chosen host for content for the region (which wouldn't have provided that many jobs directly) we now have the internal infrastructure and the external connectivity to deliver something the world really does want: solid technology delivered sustainably and at a cost effective price.

Now to nurture that tech industry to deliver on the promise.

Techblog - Hawaiki goes live - brings diversity and capacity to market

Techblog - OECD broadband stats - how NZ compares

NZ Herald - Hawaiki Submarine Cable begins commercial operations

Stuff - $445m NZ internet cable opens for traffic


Not Invented Here syndrome need not apply

Speaking of inventiveness, I've spent a few days this week helping to judge the local end of the James Dyson Award for 2018.

Dyson, for those who don't know, invented a new way to build a vacuum cleaner and was rejected by a whole bunch of fools who didn't see that his new device was going to sweep (arf arf) all before it. So he built his own company and changed the market entirely.

From there he went on to build a multinational company that is taking innovation and new ways to do old things like vacuuming or cooling, or drying, to the world.

Along the way James decided to host a series of innovation awards, to encourage inventors and inventiveness. Open to students and recent graduates, applicants have to identify a problem and go about solving it.

This, it seems, is harder than you would think, but the end results are quite awesome.

Past winners have designed sustainable fishing nets, clothes that expand as the child grows, extremely fast and cheap ways to identify melanomas, disposable bicycle helmets made out of paper for those bike rental operations and an inflatable portable incubator for use in refugee camps, among dozens of others.

I've promised not to reveal my favourites or talk about the Kiwi entries from this year so you'll just have to go and have a look yourselves, but past finalists include a vein-finding device to help patients and nurses draw blood without too much anguish; a concussion management system that provides real time data about head injuries; an electronic log drum that really must be seen to be believed (trust me, it's astonishingly cool); a prosthetic limb for swimmers that allows them to walk to the pool under their own steam and then fold down the flipper for swimming activity, and so much more.

The finalists get passed up to the international judging panel where they'll compete against entries from more than 20 countries and go on to compete for international honours. Having seen what this year's crop have done, I have high hopes for them and even if they don't get the top spot I am sure we'll see more than one or two of them in market under their own steam in the years ahead.

The finalists are announced later in the year so stay tuned.

James Dyson Award 2018 - Dyson Award (click on the flag to change countries, or use the filters if you want to see past winners from around the world)

NZ Herald - Award yourself an opportunity

Idealog - Paul Brislen on why design and innovation are crucial to New Zealand's future success (sorry about the headline)


Phar Lap, Pavlova and proper record keeping

Australia might be the chosen country but I wouldn't chose it to produce a coherent digital plan, just quietly.

The country is in turmoil (that is, the twitter communities of Australia that I follow are in turmoil) following the hamfisted launch of the health data initiative that is supposed to provide a digital platform for all Australians to use for their medical records.

To say they haven't full appreciated the need for simplicity, security, privacy and several other key factors (not least of which is accessibility) is an understatement, and the peasants are revolting.

This is a shame because digital medical records are essential if we're to continue being a migratory species that moves around a lot.

As it stands, if you move overseas even getting the apps on your devices to work properly is going to be difficult as both Apple and Google have struggled with people who move from one copyright region (formerly known as "country") to another.

But medical records are in a league of their own. Being able to supply a new medical practitioner with detailed medical notes is essential for ongoing healthcare and unfortunately this news out of Australia is likely to simply fuel the "not on my watch" brigade who already think we should all go back to reading books and watching the telly.

We have to get these things right and in a fit of tying all three of these stories together might I just say we apply some Kiwi inventiveness, our problem solving and our rational thought to the problems and perhaps become a home for data that's just too important to stuff up?

Techblog - Fallout from health IT projects continues

The Guardian - Parliamentary library deletes post confirming police can access My Health Record

NZ Doctor - Australia: What could a My Health Record data breach look like?

ABC - My Health Record undermines teens' right to medical privacy, critics fear


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Graham Harris 27 July 2018, 5:23 pm

I was in Shenzhen recently and saw a whole floor of a large office block filled with stalls each filled with Xeon CPUs, RAM, graphics cards etc pulled from ex-servers, for resale by the kilo.

It struck me at the time, we could get some bright engineer to build a modern server board that could use some specific generation of those components, and use it (and them) to create a compute farm in sunny Invercargill. It could take power on the existing lines from Manapouri, and feed its waste heat into either the aluminium smelter or the local hospital etc. It really would not matter that the power efficiency was a bit below current world standards because of the cheap chips, cheap power and especially cheap cooling.

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