Friday, 22 February 2008

February in NZ Tech - KiwiFoo, Webstock, Amazon...

So I'm both late and lazy getting around to my writeups!

KiwiFoo was awesome! So many interesting people, and everyone was open for sharing and discussing - the corporate walls were down for a couple of days. I was involved in some great sessions - both issues I'm passionate about - open government data, student internships, IE8, developing OSS communities; and stuff that was just plain interesting - Meraki, getting Internet to Puhoi library, blog ads. There was a bit of linux-ness (Toby trying to use my Macbook for his 3D augmented reality demo didn't go as smoothly as we'd hoped), and hundreds of chats with like-minded and interesting folk. The weather was great (even a bit of cricket on Saturday night), and the venue and food was top notch. Nat may have gotten us there, but Jenine made everything work, and we appreciate it!

Last week was Webstock, and 3 of us took the trip to Wellington. Simon Willison's session on OpenID was great - particularly how Sun has OpenID identities for each of its 34K employees. For SaaS applications, especially cross-company collaborative ones, this is fantastic. The authentication stays inside each person's 'home' company, but any service anywhere can easily utilise it, and thats just the first benefit. Microsoft: add an OpenID provider to Windows Server!

Lots of other memorable stuff, but Nigel Parker's 5 minutes on online privacy in social networks had lots of peoples eyebrows climbing up their foreheads. And as he said, for his daughter he's making decisions about whether and where she'll be online before she knows what online is. It's standard for me to drop names of people into Google to see what comes up and what I can find out about their backgrounds and involvements - and not just job applicants, but any business or personal contact.

Heading down to the Brewery Bar on the waterfront on Thursday evening for a few beers outside was great, especially with the background sounds of Phoenix Foundation's gig up the road. Thanks again to Mike, Tash, Siggy and the others for your hard work! And to the ProjectX and PlanHQ folks for hanging with us visitors :)

This morning I was at Mike Culver's presentation on Amazon Web Services put on by the UoA Centre for Software Innovation. A good mix of people who quickly grasped the issues. AWS makes it so easy for US businesses to get off the ground without investing huge amounts in infrastructure and the ops to make it work. The problem from this (and other) ends of the world is international bandwidth costs. As far as I'm concerned, the NZ government should be bending over backwards to get the likes of Amazon to set up here to help our software startups get up and running and growing (as should every other government, but they're not mine). Mike's talk in Wellington went well too, so at least he knows we're all enthusiastic.

Only downside: another mention from an international guest of how NZs broadband is sucky and expensive. As Rod said, this is our national reputation to global influencers. Not good.

Children, Lego, OLPC, and IP

So, I stumbled across an absolutely fascinating article care of Nat's Radar roundup: Why We Banned Legos

Now, I grew up in a Lego-mad house. It's probably one reason why both my brother Mikey and I are working in engineering-related fields. For years and years we had Lego structures and contraptions erected around the house, and one of my very first memories is playing with Lego with my cousin Hamish. Mikey and I had wars about lots of stuff as we grew up, but and I'm sure more than one was about Lego - I'll have to ask Mum.

I read this article just after reading Tom Coates' review of OLPC, and that sparked some thoughts. The Legotown issues are about access to physical property - Lego bricks. I'd say western society in general feels that physical property is commonly understood with similar attitudes. Intellectual property (patents, trademarks, copyright, ownership of ideas & discoveries, the whole shebang...) is a whole different kettle of fish, and I'd say society as a whole barely grasps the concepts, is only starting to get to grips with it, let alone has common understanding and agreement.

OLPC is all about giving knowledge and the capability to learn to kids around the world. Great. But this is physical property (a cool green high-tech laptop) combined with intellectual property (information and access). If I was a kid I'd be pretty disenfranchised if the kid down the road knew everything about everything because she had an OLPC and I didn't. Much more so than if she had a cool toy and I didn't (hey, everyone grows up like that right?).

we were struck by the ways the children had come face-to-face with the frustration, anger, and hopelessness that come with being on the outside of power and privilege.
Francis Bacon once said "Knowledge is power", and he was right. Magnitudes more powerful than controlling physical property. Normally kids don't need to deal with IP issues, but they learn about physical property early. I think the OLPC will change that, especially if only a handful of kids in a community have one. And I suspect the frustration and anger will be bigger.

Now, don't get me wrong, I think OLPC is a fantastic scheme, I'm a supporter, and I've had plenty of lively discussions around it over the past couple of years. And was lucky enough to have a play with one in San Francisco in October!

But just something to ponder :)