Getting started with GIS

I have been asked a couple of times to write an article about using GIS systems because of my background in this area.

I had a lot of fun learning GIS and and exploring Spatial Analysis, it was a very interesting topic and a great break from the rest of my Public Policy and Management courses.

My concentration from my Master’s Degree (Masters of Public Administration from North Carolina State University) was in Geographical Information Systems, where I used ESRI ArcInfo, back around 1997 give or take a year.

In my previous position as the Product Development Manager for a technology firm making custom VHF, GPS and Satellite tracking equipment, I was heavily involved in managing the technology team for projects that created equipment that produced GPS location data.  In addition to managing the projects and team, I was responsible for overseeing the engineering design and testing to make sure we were producing information that could be analysed by scientists using GIS tools.

Along the way I designed and produced software that could export raw data to ArcInfo (and KML data for custom Google Earth maps) and tested our information outputs in ArcGIS to make sure it was working properly.  It was a lot of fun working with GIS maps of real world GPS data from migrating sea turtles helping to create maps of endangered animals like cheetahs and elephants.  Very rewarding stuff.

Anyway, that is my GIS background.  I will try and write a few blog posts over the next few months about the various GIS tools out there and how to use some of them.



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Is piracy really a Mega problem?

I was reading an article on the BBC site tonight about whether piracy was a MEGA problem obviously alluding to the new and wildly successful Mega website.  They seemed to focus on problems regarding piracy, such as:

Richard Atkinson, head of software company Adobe’s piracy unit, said that 55 million “illegal activations” of pirated versions of the photo-editing software had occurred in the last year.

Hollywood loses close to $20.5bn (£13bn) to movie piracy in a year, according to a report published by the US Institute for Policy Innovation.

But yet, a number of studies have debunked claims like this, saying:

Piracy may be the bane of the music industry but according to a new study, it may also be its engine. A report from the BI Norwegian School of Management has found that those who download music illegally are also 10 times more likely to pay for songs than those who don’t.


One of the most comprehensive studies into media sharing and consumption habits in the United States and Germany reveals that file-sharers buy 30% more music than their non-sharing counterparts. The result confirms that file-sharers are actually the music industry’s best customers. In addition, the research reveals that contrary to popular belief, offline “copying” is far more prevalent than online music piracy.

This is exactly the opposite of what the RIAA is promoting, where their claim is that file shares are causing them billions of dollars of lost income.

Besides which, this completely avoids the basic fact that users are flocking to simply because they do not want big brother snooping on them and having access to their personal files, not because they want to do illegal things.  The basic premise that users are innocent until proven guilty does not seem to hold water with the anti-privacy groups who want the NSA to have access to all our data that goes into the cloud and gets stored on non-encrypted services.  Luckily coes to the rescue with free file storage with encryption.

In any case, is and Kim Dotcom to blame?  Clearly not, as is shown by the fact that even though has over a million users, they have had only 150 copytight takedown notices compared with millions this month for google.

Having said that, the takedown process itself is just plain silly.  During the past month copyright holders asked Google to remove 12,045,130 webpages from its search. It goes without saying that not all of these requests are legitimate.

It will be interesting to see what happens in the USA with the new 6 strikes law, and whether the world will wake up to the reality that the claims the RIAA makes are not always the gospel.

Comments are welcome, or send me feedback on twitter

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Hot New Project

I have started a HOT new project.

My house is HOT when the weather heats up. Why?
Because house technology is a bit backwards here in New Zealand.

Imagine this:

  • The temperature goes up outside.
  • The temperature in the attic goes up to 45 degrees C (113 F).
  • Even though the house has roof insulation, the temperature still goes up in the house because the insulation cannot stop all the heat, and there are air gaps around every down light.
  • Everyone is hot, so we open the windows.
  • Because there are no screens on windows, bugs come in.
  • The kids are crying because they are hot and cannot sleep.


Or imagine this:

  • The temperature goes up outside.
  • A thermostat detects the temperature change.
  • Flaps opens to allow air to move, and fans turn on.
  • Hot air rises out of the attic, through multiple roof vents, and the temp in the attic does not rise.
  • Temperatures do not go up in the house.
  • No need to open the windows.
  • Everyone is happy. Peace.

Which sounds better?

We have started a new project to develop an thermostatic multi-zone roof venting system to control attic temperatures.  I have now gotten the central controller, and am selecting the remote temperature sensors.


I can’t give away a lot more details at this stage but I will share the progress as we go.




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Mega vs Dropbox (vs the others) which is the best?


BitTorrent on Thursday unveiled a new service, dubbed Sync, that will let users synchronize personal files across multiple devices.  The system uses peer-to-peer technology to sync files between devices. Details are scant, but a BitTorrent spokesman explained that Sync will allow direct synchronization between machines without any cloud caching via native apps for Mac OS, Windows, and Linux, as well as native NAS integration. Files will be encrypted, as well.


Kim Dotcom’s recently launched Mega file locker website has been climbing the ranks of the world’s biggest sites very quickly indeed. Just yesterday it had become the biggest site in New Zealand and today it’s managed to eclipse not only Rapidshare, but DropBox as well.

This was announced by Kim Dotcom on his regularly updated twitter account, with the simple message “141.” This is because while’s three month ranking is still somewhere in the low thousands, in-fact the site’s daily rank has show to 141, ranking it in the top 150 websites in the world. Considering it was only launched on Friday, that’s a tremendous achievement.


Dropbox is a file hosting service operated by Dropbox, Inc., that offers cloud storage, file synchronization, and client software. Dropbox allows users to create a special folder on each of their computers, which Dropbox then synchronises so that it appears to be the same folder (with the same contents) regardless of which computer is used to view it. Files placed in this folder also are accessible through a website and mobile phone applications.


I looked at google drive, but this turned me off:

“Google may make and publicize derivative works of your uploaded content for the operation, promotion, or improvement of its services, and may store its own copies of your content even after you stop using its services”

How do I choose?

Clearly they are all different beasts.  How do you choose which one is best?

I looked on wikipedia: and but mega is not there.   So lets compare them here instead.  Unfortunately BitTorrent is not ready yet so it is not included.




Free Storage

50 GB

2 GB (up to 18GB via Referrals)

Paid Storage (basic)

500 GB

100 GB

Monthly Cost (basic)

9.99 Euros

9.99 Dollars

Undelete Function


Yes (Paid @ 39.99$/Year)




Drive Mapping?

No*  (on the way)


It is really simple.  If you require drive mapping (copy files from once device to another) then drop box wins for the moment.

If you require privacy (encryption), or volume (big files) then Mega is the king.

You decide.  I will publish updates later as the coming features start pouring in.

Follow me on twitter for more updates:

Posted in security | Comments Off on Mega vs Dropbox (vs the others) which is the best?

Knomee – Initial reactions

Well, the online New Zealand online auction site business just got a bit more crowded, with the addition of Knomee.

Initial reactions?   I’m not overly impressed.

What needs work?

  1. Listing fees – too high.   Not much different than trademe.  (The lowest fee is 40 cents, compared to 50 cents for trademe.)  Their justification is that this stops people from listing junk.   I think it is just a profit earner.  I would prefer a zero cost listing fee, but then a success fee, instead of an upfront fee, followed by no success fee, because as an online seller, it is in my best interest to list multiple items, but that costs too much if they are not selling (and knomee does not have the volume/traffic to ensure much exposure and sales.)
  2. Disorganised – trying to sell an iphone cover last night, the option was to list it under: Phones > iPhone.  On trademe, that would be:  Mobile phones > Accessories > Cases & covers > iPhone.
  3. Navigation – notice in my previous point that the trademe “breadcrumb” (the list of where you are) has links that you can click on to move up categories.  Knomee does not have links in their breadcrumbs, hard to move from one category to another.
  4. Layout – I do not find the web page layout very well designed.  Some parts take up way too much space (the badges, endorsements, contact details and offer boxes take up 1.3 of the page.  Make that stuff much smaller, and give more room to the product I am looking at).
  5. Listing details – limited information for a product listing. I like trademe’s selling features such as shipping details, automated payment instructions, and product management (automatic reselling, inventory control, etc).  This may be something they can add over time.

But I think the biggest hurdle for Knomee will be getting sales volume.  Until they get customers, sellers will not want to risk paying for product listings.   But unless they have sellers (and products to sell) customers will not want to visit.  It is the classic chicken and egg problem.

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The NZ selling market is a mess. What is going to happen?

We all know about Trademe.  They have recently raised their rates,  Trade Me said the fee for selling an item valued at $50 – about its average trade – would rise from $3.75 to $3.95, an increase of 5.3%.  The highest rise would be for items priced at $1500, for which success fees will increase by 8.1% to $79.50. There will be lower increases on higher-priced items and no change to the maximum $149 success fee.

Some users reported indignation as a couple months ago Trade Me reported an 8.4% jump in its annual profit to $75.6 million.    But it is hard for rivals to offer much competition as they lack a critical mass of buyers.

Who are the players in this market?


I will start with Trademe because they are the biggest player in the New Zealand market.

Looking today, they have:

  • 61,481 cars
  • 121,502 properties and houses
  • 11,000 jobs
  • 60,996 People online right now
  • 3,069,281 active members
  • 2,218,319 current listings

So, clearly they have good volume.  It is fair to say their volume is bigger than everyone else combined.

What are their fees like?

  • Basic listing     Free
  • Gallery     55c (25c for books and CDs)

Then if you sell, they charge a success fee:

  • Up to $200     7.9% of sale price (50c minimum)
  • $200 – $1500     $15.80 + 4.9% of sale price over $200
  • Over $1500     $79.50 + 1.9% of sale price over $1500 (max fee = $149)

This is the major area of contention for users and competitors, as most competitors starting up new businesses are advertising lower fees or no fees.

Sella: has a web page that lists the pros and cons, comparing them with trademe but obviously some of this may be marketing hype.  The primary difference is Sella is free of commissions or success fees.  Their description is:

Pure and simple, it’s free to buy or list. Our business model is to make money selling advertising on the site as well as offering featured listings, where for a small fee, users can buy priority ranking (ie: display their listings above others).

Having said that, while the listing may be free, the volume is a lot lower than trademe.  Here are their stats:

  • 550,000 members
  • 480,000 listings
  • 415,000 users per month


Mainfreight co-founder and Rich-Lister Neil Graham is taking on Trade Me with a new online auction and classified site,  Wheedle promises to be a lower cost alternative to trademe.

But after opening, and trading for a couple of days, Wheedle announced it woud close its online marketplace while it carries out a ”thorough update” of its systems and processes.   Managing director Carl Rees did not give an indication of how long that might take.

He said Wheedle would not reopen until its management team were ”completely confident its performance and processes meet the standards expected by New Zealand consumers”.   Wheedle’s website went offline after a blogger identified a fault that let people change the reserve price of other members’ auctions.

Asked in October when the site would reopen, general manager Carl Rees told NBR,

“At this point in time I have no idea. Hopefully before Christmas but it could be the New Year.”  “The fixes are minimal compared to the size of our entire source code and development. We identified the areas where we had problems and we have engaged an independent company to do the fixes … for peace of mind.”

It is not clear what fee if any will apply for under $20. Sellers won’t like a fee if it does not sell at all. But the fees are a lot cheaper than Trade Me. However the major factor is price. Say your item sells for $50. Then it is $1 on Wheedle and $3.95 on Trade Me making it a net $49 vs $46.25.

Knomee promises to be another alternative, with free listings. is the only information at the moment until their site goes live.  Today is the day it is supposed to happen but no sign of life yet.  Sounds like it is supposed to happen at noon.

Knomee charges no commission on sales and no success fee.


The elephant in the room that nobody is talking about is Ebay.  Your guess is as good as mine why they do not have a presence here.

My assumption is that the market is just too small for them to care.  If they do try and gain a foothold here, I believe they will have an easier time (at stealing market share from trademe) than the other new players, because they have a proven website, and there will be no growing pains.  But until then, we need to pick from trademe or one of the newer alternatives.
Which do you prefer?

Posted in Misc | Comments Off on The NZ selling market is a mess. What is going to happen?

The best-selling smartphone in the world is no longer an iPhone.

The best-selling smartphone in the world is no longer an iPhone.

New data released on Thursday by market research firm Strategy Analytics finds that Samsung’s Galaxy S III was the world’s top-selling smartphone model in the third quarter this year, displacing Apple’s iPhone for the first time in years.

Samsung announced earlier this week that cumulative Galaxy S III channel sales reached the 30 million unit milestone and according to Strategy Analytics, 18 million of those were shipped in Q3 2012. During the same period, Apple shipped an estimated 16.2 million iPhone 4S handsets, slipping into the No.2 spot for the quarter.

Best Selling Smartphone 2012


“Samsung’s Galaxy S3 smartphone model shipped 18.0 million units worldwide during the third quarter of 2012,” said Strategy Analytics analyst Neil Shah. “The Galaxy S3 captured an impressive 11 percent share of all smartphones shipped globally and it has become the world’s best-selling smartphone model for the first time ever. A large touchscreen design, extensive distribution across dozens of countries, and generous operator subsidies have been among the main causes of the Galaxy S3’s success. Apple shipped an estimated 16.2 million iPhone 4S units worldwide for second place, as consumers temporarily held off purchases in anticipation of a widely expected iPhone 5 upgrade at the end of the quarter.”

Samsung’s time at the top will be short-lived however, as Apple’s iPhone 5 is expected to regain the title to top-selling smartphone in the December quarter. ”Samsung’s Galaxy S3 has proven wildly popular with consumers and operators across North America, Europe and Asia,” Shah’s colleague Neil Mawtson stated. “However, the Galaxy S3’s position as the world’s best-selling smartphone model is likely to be short-lived. The Apple iPhone 5 has gotten off to a solid start already with an estimated 6.0 million units shipped globally during Q3 2012. We expect the new iPhone 5 to out-ship Samsung’s Galaxy S3 in the coming fourth quarter of 2012 and Apple should soon reclaim the title of the world’s most popular smartphone model.”

Posted in Apple, Google, Mobile | Comments Off on The best-selling smartphone in the world is no longer an iPhone.

Triumph of the Nerds, Math and Modern Political Polling: Nate Silver Wins in 99 out of the last 100 States

Barack Obama may have comfortably won re-election in the electoral college, and squeaked a victory in the popular vote. But here is the absolute, undoubted winner of this election: Nate Silver and big data.

The analyst, despite being pilloried by the pundits, outdid even his 2008 prediction. In that year, his mathematical model correctly called 49 out of 50 states, missing only Indiana (which went to Obama by 0.1%.)

This year, according to all projections, Silver’s model has correctly predicted 50 out of 50 states. A last-minute flip for Florida, which finally went blue in Silver’s prediction on Monday night, helped him to a perfect game.

What does this victory mean? That mathematical models can no longer be derided by “gut-feeling” pundits. That Silver’s contention — TV pundits are generally no more accurate than a coin toss — must now be given wider credence.

The great thing about a model like Silver’s (and that of similarly winning math nerds, such as Sam Wang of the Princeton Election Consortium) is that it takes all that myopic human bias out of the equation. The ever-present temptation to cherry-pick polls is subverted.

You set your parameters at the start, deciding how much weight and accuracy you’re going to give to each poll based purely on their historical accuracy. You feed in whatever other conditions you think will matter to the result. Then, you sit back and let the algorithm do the work.

Silver may be a registered Democrat, but he learned back when he was doing baseball analysis that he’d never get anywhere if his models weren’t absolutely neutral, straight down the line between feuding teams.

By 2016, if the networks are paying attention, don’t be surprised to see that the talking heads are all Nate Silver clones. Every media organization will now want its own state poll-based algorithm, especially given how much traffic Silver has driven to the New York Times‘ website. We’ll see more about that kind of model, and less stories about individual polls, which are almost always misleading unless you aggregate them.

Statistics, big data, neutral mathematical models — this, it turns out, is what people want. Who knew?

Well, we geeks knew, but we’re starting to get used to having the rest of the world follow our lead. We had the smartphones first, we read the fantasy books before they became blockbuster movies and TV shows, and now we can boast that we stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Nate Silver’s data before it was popular.

— repost of

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Exclusive: Microsoft Office for iPhone, iPad, and Android revealed

Office for iOS

Microsoft’s Office for iPad, iPhone, and Android is a reality. Although Office Mobile has been rumored and reportedly spotted in the wild, Microsoft has remained persistently quiet about its plans for the product.
Now it sounds like the company will release Office versions for Android and iOS in early 2013. Iosoffice_560

Office Mobile will debut in the form of free apps that allow Android and iOS users to view Microsoft Office documents on the move. Like the existing SkyDrive and OneNote apps, Office Mobile will require a Microsoft account. On first launch, a Microsoft account will provide access to the basic viewing functionality in the apps. Word, PowerPoint, and Excel documents will all be supported, and edit functionality can be enabled with an Office 365 subscription.

Microsoft will allow iOS users to purchase an Office 365 subscription within the app, or let organizations distribute codes to enable Office Mobile editing for users. The apps will allow for basic editing, but we’re told this won’t go very far in attempting to replace regular full use of a desktop Office version.

It’s real and it’s coming to iOS first

A recent Microsoft press release from the company’s Czech Republic subsidiary revealed that Office Mobile apps for Android and iOS would be made available from March 2013. We understand that Office Mobile for iOS will arrive first in late February or early March, with an Android version due in May.

We reached out to Microsoft for comment on this story and a company spokesperson says “Office will work across Windows Phone, iOS and Android.”

— reposted from

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Microsoft ditches Windows Messenger for Skype

Microsoft has announced it intends to “retire” its instant message chat tool and replace it with Skype’s messaging tool.

The news comes 18 months after the software giant announced it was paying $8.5bn (£5.3bn) for the communications software developer.

Microsoft said Windows Live Messenger (WLM) would be turned off by March 2013 worldwide, with the exception of China.

It reflects the firm’s determination to focus its efforts on Skype.

WLM launched in 1999 when it was known as MSN Messenger. Over time, photo delivery, video calls and games were added to the package’s text-based messages.

In 2009, the firm said it had 330 million active users.

Chat ‘cannibalisation’

According to internet analysis firm Comscore, WLM still had more than double the number of Skype’s instant messenger facility at the start of this year and was second only in popularity to Yahoo Messenger.

But the report suggested WLM’s US audience had fallen to 8.3 million unique users, representing a 48% drop year-on-year. By contrast, the number of people using Skype to instant message each other grew over the period.

“When a company has competing products that can result in cannibalisation it’s often better to focus on a single one,” said Brian Blau from the consultancy Gartner.

“Skype’s top-up services offer the chance to monetise its users and Microsoft is also looking towards opportunities in the living room.

Skype screenshot Skype is offering a tool to migrate users WLM contacts to its service

“Messenger doesn’t seem like an appropriate communications platform for TVs or the firm’s Xbox console – but Skype does.”

He also noted that the firm had opted to integrate Skype into its new Windows Phone 8 smartphone software, eclipsing the effort to integrate WLM into the message threads of the operating system’ previous version.

To ease the changeover, Microsoft is offering a tool to migrate WLM messenger contacts over.

The risk is that the move encourages users to switch instead to rival platforms such as WhatsApp Messenger, AIM or Google Talk.

But Microsoft is at least partially protected by its tie-up with Facebook last year. Skype video calls are now offered as an extra to the social network’s own instant messaging tool.

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