Millennium’s edge: What will the world of today look like?

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It’s always fun as a writer to look back over your prognostications and howl at how you got so much so very, very wrong. Take a swig from the old caraffe of humble wine and chuckle at your own naivete.

That’s almost preferable to the kind of scary feeling you get when you look back and see how close to the mark your predictions hit.

Here’s some excerpts from a keynote I delivered in Melbourne to the Australian Unix User Group in 1999. This was a time when  Mambo No.5 by Lou Bega was at the top of the charts, Australia was about to deploy INTERFET troops to Indonesia and John Howard was PM (so not much changed, after all). And the biggest IT story was the pending cyberpocalypse of the Millennium Bug – a damp squib that took out a few cash registers and not much else.

Against this backdrop, I framed my keynote on what I saw as the big IT issues that were about to break – mobility, cloud services such as software-as-a-service, ubiquitous wireless communications, smartphones and “WebTablets” (yeah, the language was yet to be coined but the concepts were the same).

Mobility primer

The coming era of tablets, mobility and m-commerce. I’ll have to check those predicted dates but we’re certainly well beyond those figures now.

Fall and rise of the PC

The downfall of the PC. Actually, in the first quarter of this year, PC sales rebounded slightly. But the decline was a natural outgrowth of more and cheaper mobile devices.

SaaS and cloud

Software you rent as a service and its plain implications on the channel of resellers and stores who relied on this dying shrinkwrap product to stock their shelves. I still prefer “app-on-tap” to “software-as-a-service” but whatevs. And just a hint of the services that we now take for granted becoming ingrained into our daily lives.

Cloud and IaaS

The forerunner discussion to why companies such as Amazon have been so wildly popular for their infrastructure-as-a-service and the likes of SaaS provider Xero gaining such traction. And the precursor discussion for Microsoft’s Azure and Office365.


Written by natecochrane

August 7, 2014 at 12:31 pm

Reimagining how we will live in the 21st century

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Milsons Point high-rise apartments on Sydney Harbour

Australians will have to embrace higher-density housing if we’re to support a growing population but solutions must be tailored to changing generational preferences. Photo: Nate Cochrane

A couple of stories about the consequences of population growth today caught my eye. The first looks at the press of population as we hit 24 million people living in Australia next year. The other is on a related topic of development in Sydney and, by implication, elsewhere in Australia.

Growth in population is a given. Indeed, our economic models require population to grow if only to maintain our standard of living. But development is vexed by self-interest. Developers want deal flow, which is why they’re ripping into suburbs like marauders with no concern for residents. The banks want loan books. The State Government wants property taxes.

People just want a place to live that meets their needs.

What no one is discussing is how younger generations wisely have rejected the property ponzi scheme that ensnared their parents and older siblings. This “time-share generation” is delaying major rites of passage or bypassing them entirely, choosing collaborative consumption that values access over ownership. Younger Australians reaching maturity are less inclined to tie themselves down to a 30-year mortgage or even a 5-year car loan. They tend to car share, rather than own a vehicle (self-driving cars like Google’s reinforce this preference). Generations coming through prefer to share a house or rent than buy their first home. Many prefer to live in shared accommodation (with their folks or others) well into their 30s.

They are explorers, not settlers.

As a community we need to look for more sustainable economic solutions. For instance, high quality lodge-style accommodations with individual small living quarters supported by creative communal areas. Innovative bank loans to allow these sorts of developments to be built and traded. A removal of the 50sqm rule for getting bank loans. Replacing the antiquated and wasteful craft building industry with prefabricated, modular construction. And other ideas to house a growing population without destroying the amenity that attracts people to certain areas in the first place.

We need to focus on the enabling information infrastructure that looks holistically at what future generations want to achieve, including smart roads and utilities infrastructure, and not just transplant 1920s high-density or 1950s roads solutions for the 21st and 22nd century. If we are to revisit the past, then it should be to learn from concepts such as Buckminster Fuller’s Triton City.

We shouldn’t expect just more of the same if we’re to create a sustainable, liveable and desirable community fit for the 21st century.

Written by natecochrane

June 2, 2014 at 1:45 pm

iiNet: Hero’s epitaph glosses facts in favour of catchy headline

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Data cabling and modem

AFR columnist tied up in knots writing Michael Malone’s latest chapter. Photo: Nate Cochrane

Michael Malone did much to set Australia on the path to a connected future, but does he deserve all the credit?

Not a bad piece by Peter Moon today in the Australian Financial Review (How Michael Malone kickstarted the Australian internet) on the iiNet co-founder’s resignation. But in shoehorning his narrative into a Campbellian Hero’s Journey, Moon’s piece suffers from over-simplification and revisionism I find frustrating – especially in the erroneous headline.

For instance, Dialix’s Jeff Johnson did more to kickstart the internet than iiNet by offering 1c/KB downloads when most network providers charged by the minute. Dialix, Australia’s first commercial ISP with a national footprint, enabled early net users, in theory, to maintain 24/7 uptime for pennies (plus the cost of a phone line). And this was three years before iiNet. Moon’s headline would have been more accurate were it to refer to iiNet as helping the internet get out of second gear rather than ‘kickstarting’ it.

But Moon’s most serious breach is how he liquid-papers out of existence Malone’s co-founder. By sticking to the MSM fascination with “One man against all odds”, Moon falls into the trap of ignoring Malone’s friend and uber-geek co-founder Michael O’Reilly. Those of us who were around in the mid-’90s would usually refer to “the two Michaels” whenever we spoke about iiNet, that’s how central O’Reilly was. In a similar vein to Apple – to carry forward the garage analogy that Moon deploys – Malone was Jobs to O’Reilly’s Woz. And in those early days, the two were inseparable on the public stage (although O’Reilly usually fielded the hard, technical questions).

Moon also glosses over Perth’s unique collegiate atmosphere in those early days before the web was mainstream c. 1995 without appreciating the impact it had on other elements he discusses. This shared approach to the emerging industry arose out of the hobbyist community where BBS operators collaborated with each other for mutual support and gain (especially against the vicissitudes of a ravenous Telecom). Malone and O’Reilly weren’t players in that earlier online community, however it was those BBS sysops who transformed into the nucleus of the WA ISP community into which the iiNet co-founders thrust their seed.

This played out in unexpected ways. For instance, in the creation of WAIA, Australia’s first ISP/IAP association formed in WA (the iiNet co-founders were there with me at the inaugural meeting). This relationship contributed to WA-IX, the first ISP data peering exchange in Australia that was the model for the rest of the industry. WA-IX lifted performance for users while keeping ISP costs under control. So when Moon says iiNet “probably wouldn’t have been sued (by AFACT acting for film studios) in the first place if its management had implemented a safe harbour” against copyright infringement, he ignores that this was culturally antithetical to a community founded on sharing. iiNet also had a strongly Libertarian view informed by the US EFF dating back to the earliest days (Perth lawyer Kim Heitman, formerly iiNet’s director of regulatory affairs and WAIA spokesman, helped to found the EFA that was modelled on the US cyber-rights association). And in my dealings with the two Michaels, I’ve found them to share similar pro-sharing beliefs. In any event, safe harbour laws for sharing weren’t even on the radar back then and iiNet – rightly on my view – preferenced customers’ needs over those of rent seekers.

Users transitioning from the BBSs of the day merged seamlessly on to the ‘information superhighway’ (as it was known back then) resulting in very quick growth for ISPs. This was a fertile hunting ground for iiNet, which merged with rival ISP Wantree just prior to its 1999 share float. Indeed, it was the prospect of shares in the listed entity that subsequently attracted many WA IAPs, who took over executive and technical positions at the listed company. Malone’s vision was complete, O’Reilly having sold to his partner the year before. But this extraordinary coalescing of interests couldn’t have happened were it not for the monthly BBS (then WAIA) beers at an inner-city pub, which allowed Perth’s IAPs to socialise and consolidate under iiNet’s banner in a way the more confrontational and suspicious east coast industry couldn’t manage.

Moon alludes to iiNet having form with creating networks, but fails to mention that when Telstra became overbearing, the upstart iiNet built its own broadband network – the first of its ilk to do so.

Moon isn’t short of praise for Malone and the ISP he founded but misses milestones, failing to credit how iiNet developed its own consumer access and networking devices, wrote key software, instituted pre-pay and bundling, and contributed to the Linux kernel – vital infrastructure for the early internet industry globally.

Malone always put innovation and transformation at the core of the little ISP and it will be interesting to see how he puts these tenets to use where he lands next.

Postscript 16 May 2014: Over beers with Malone earlier this week, he raised that Dialix was using UUCP, a system that was internet-like, on its own network before iiNet launched. Although Dialix had many of the features of the internet and gateways into it, iiNet was the first commercial ISP to offer unfettered access to the net, Dialix following a year or so afterwards.




Written by natecochrane

March 31, 2014 at 5:37 pm

Hockey says age of entitlement is over, and Peter Hartcher agrees

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Today, the Sydney Morning Herald is running a column by Peter Hartcher lauding Federal Treasurer Joe Hockey’s reaffirming of his Age of Entitlement speech. This manifesto says that Aussies are basically on their own if they fall on hard times and this boils down to, “Suck it up, Princess!

What Hartcher and Hockey don’t tell us is how our own Treasurer’s entitlements (what he claims from taxpayers over and above his salary for doing his job) have exploded in the past year. I blogged on Hockey’s previous claims.

The Herald might like to probe Hockey’s own expenses claims before it starts rallying to his side. How to square what Hockey says about entitlements when in just six months from 1 January 2013 he racked up $278,687.48 in expenses (up from $195,177.01 in the six months beforehand and $43,479.00 in the period before that).

According to Expenditure on Entitlements paid by the Department of Finance and Deregulation, this included:
Home Base $14,662.00
Overseas Travel $21,964.77
Car Costs $22,601.24
Office Facilities $119,076.88
Office Fit Outs $153.64
Office Administrative Costs $83,796.55
Telecommunications $7,872.02
Family Travel Costs $8,560.38

Hockey gets a ‘dedicated data line’ in his home that costs ~$1560 a year paid for by the taxpayer where the Coalition insists if citizens want the NBN, they have to pay for it themselves. The $119,077 in Hockey’s office facilities is a single line item without further details.

But the really big blow-out in Hockey’s entitlements were in office administrative costs, which exploded from $12,789 to nearly $84,000 in the six months covering the election campaign. Family travel costs grew over three successive periods from nothing to nearly $4000 to $8560 by the middle of last year.

Hockey’s entitlements claim notes ‘adjustments’ for parliamentary travel to Melbourne on 16 July 2012 (-$160), family plane tickets (-$1250.04) and Comcar (-$81.81). As Treasurer, Hockey earns $365,868 a year salary, plus super and other entitlements.

There is no suggestion that Hockey was not entitled to make any of these claims or that he has done anything wrong in doing so.

But a bit of balance in the discussion, especially when thousands of workers are losing their jobs and drought threatens farmers’ livelihoods wouldn’t go astray, either. 

Written by natecochrane

February 4, 2014 at 11:12 am

#payElena: Help this Russian mum get paid for her photos

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Update: Elena says she has licenced the images to syndication service Caters News and that many sites have asked her for permission to republish the images. However, she’s still unsure if she will be paid. Here’s hoping the “cheque’s in the mail”.

There’s a good chance that in the past few days you saw the amazing photos Russian photographer Elena Shumilova made of her children in winter.

You may have marvelled at her delicate use of light, her tender vision or just the cuteness of little boys playing with tiny animals.

You may have left a comment to the effect that these are rapturous images full of love that explore the beauty of childhood and how they made your day. You probably also shared these images with your friends.

Sadly, the publishers of these websites never asked for Shumilova permission to use her photos, which they put on their websites to drive up web traffic (Update: see above note). And none of them has paid Elena for the privilege (Update: Yet!).

So, if you really love the images, and want to encourage Elena to make more, tell the publishers to do the right thing and: Pay. The. Photographer.

Finally, encourage your friends with whom you shared these images to do the same.

Where you will find these images:


Huffington Post


Daily Mail

Design Taxi

Today Show

Metro (UK)

Yahoo! (New Zealand)

Express (UK)


RP Online (Germany)

Vanity Fair (Italy)

The PhoBlogger

Written by natecochrane

January 23, 2014 at 11:29 am

#NYE2013 in photos

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Sydney put on its usual fireworks show, owing to the rotation of the Earth and an historical accident of cartography, the first one of a major city each year.

Here are my (copyrighted) images from last night, using the same techniques I outlined in this earlier blog post on how to shoot fireworks. I wish you all a healthy and prosperous 2014.

Matt Hall Racing gives a few loop-the-loops for an appreciative audience, New Year's Eve 2013.

Matt Hall Racing gives a few loop-the-loops for an appreciative Milsons Point audience, New Year’s Eve 2013. Photo: Nate Cochrane

Preparing for the big night, the crowd gathers at Lavender Bay on Sydney's north side.

Preparing for the big night, the crowd gathers at Lavender Bay on Sydney’s north side. Photo: Nate Cochrane

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Fireworks over Sydney’s iconic Harbour Bridge viewed from Lavender Bay. New Year 2014. Photo: Nate Cochrane

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Written by natecochrane

January 1, 2014 at 5:49 pm

Tips for photographing New Year’s eve fireworks

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Fireworks NYE 2009

Fireworks light the night sky and Sydney Harbour Bridge in the first major light show of 2010 (note the spinning ferris wheel). Settings: ISO100, 65mm, f/8 @ 8s. Photo: Nate Cochrane

For those considering shooting the fireworks tonight, I prepared these tips for you.

You need to have a sturdy tripod – don’t even think about handheld shooting – shutter or cable release and, of course, a camera! You will be shooting at exposures of more than half a second, so it’s simply not possible to hand-hold the camera and keep the image sharp. Shutter releases can be bought for as little as $20 and there are even apps to do that such as the excellent Triggertrap Mobile (you’ll need the $35 dongle).

The exposure triangle

Always shoot in RAW mode. This will allow you to pull out more detail and give you more latitude when you get back to post-process the images. Don’t even think of shooting to JPEG because you will limit yourself too much and that photo that could have been great will just be average.

To get the best out of your fireworks images, shoot at a low ISO – 100 for Canon or 200 for Nikon. This will keep grain to a minimum in the darker areas of the shot.

For an f-stop (aperture), you want somewhere around f/8, which is the sweet spot of most lenses, anyway. This will help to ensure that you get those lovely fireworks streaks and blooms (apertures closed down by more than 2 stops will result in fireworks trail ‘scratches’ while those at f/4 or wider may result in lack of definition and over-exposure).

Your shutter speed is entirely up to you and is in some part dictated by the other two settings in the exposure triangle, but most cameras can manage the time up to 30 seconds. However, I prefer to set my camera to brief/bulb (‘B’ on the dial) and then just manually count the number of fireworks and try to visualise in my head what they will look like running together on the final exposure. This takes a fair bit of trial and error and some imagination. You can also hold a hat or some other covering over the lens in between explosions for a longer exposure if you don’t think you have what you need to make a satisfactory image (careful not to touch or rock the camera or tripod especially when removing the obstruction).

Taken together, a ‘typical’ (if you can call it that) exposure would be ISO 100, f/8 @ 5-15s. However, this will depend on your particular circumstances. What you don’t want is the final image to be missing fireworks or so badly over-exposed you can’t pull any detail out of them in post-processing. But between the two extremes, I’d tend towards perceived over-exposure in your mind.

Composition and other considerations

Some advocate taking the best images at the start of the show to avoid the build up of smoke, but that’s up to you. The best fireworks will be at the finale and smoke will be unavoidable, but consider that smoke also catches a lot of light, so you may need to expose for a shorter time or risk blowing out portions of the image.

Disney fireworks

The Magic Kingdom lights up on the ground with spectator smartphones and digital cameras as the show lights up the sky over Disney World. Settings ISO50, 21mm, f/11 @ 16s. Photo: Nate Cochrane

From a compositional perspective, including something recognisable like a crowd can be worthwhile for scale.

Ensure you shoot as wide as you can because you won’t always know where the explosion will top out and it would be a shame to spoil a great image because you gave the chrysanthemum a hair cut, for instance. I recommend a 16-35mm lens or thereabouts.

And you can see how this plays out in a failed example where I was too tight.

Silhouettes also work really well when in the foreground against fireworks, as does a background like city lights.

A very useful feature of many DSLRs is the mirror lockup. This reduces shake caused by the mirror flipping up and, while it takes a bit of getting used to because you have to double tap the shutter release, makes for much, much sharper images. It can be the difference between an image you can blow up and one that’s suitable only for the web. Check your camera’s instruction manual for details (and don’t forget to disable mirror lockup when you get home).

Other tricks include zooming halfway through the exposure, using an ND filter (but this will also create ‘scratchy’ fireworks trails and take much longer to expose and so limit the number of images, so best used when still light in the sky), and off-camera flash or light-painting of foreground objects such as the audience or a sculpture for added interest.

Please share below your tips for shooting fireworks and any links to images so we can all admire and enjoy.

Have a great New Year celebration and stay safe out there tonight.

Written by natecochrane

December 31, 2013 at 3:59 pm


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