Tech writer Juha Saarinen begins his new Herald blog with a look at the need for a government chief technology officer, the weirdness of Apple’s IBM hook-up and a smart new digital camera.

Xero's Rod Drury wants one, Labour's offering one, but National aren't so keen on a taxpayer funded chief technology officer or CTO for New Zealand.

Do we need one? Not really, nor is there much point in handing taxpayer money to startups, if New Zealand's to build a thriving technology business.

It is election year and all political parties are scrambling to come up with IT policies but it ends up being the usual drooling over whizzkids with gadgets, with a fundamental lack of understanding of the actual purpose of computing.

Setting aside the fact that IT is far from a weightless business, and comes with massive environmental and social issues, it's where money's made. We need the national economy running smoothly so what can we do to foster tech?


Read more:
Rod Drury: Why NZ needs a tech kingpin
Joyce Twitter debate reignites Drury tech kingpin idea

First, most tech startups keel over and die early on. This may seem a bit odd given the ubiquitous access to technology and very low barriers of entry in that field, but good ideas are rare and even if you do have one, chances are someone elsewhere thought of it first.

Funding IT failures in garages in the hope that a few will succeed when the money should be spent on improving infrastructure such as speeding up the glacial pace of the Ultra Fast Broadband fibre rollout isn't going to move us forward.

IT is not all about the profit motive. That's not what created the Internet, and the open source systems and open standards that run it - and which companies like Google and if you like, Xero, have built their businesses on.

That tells you spending money on researching various aspects of IT itself and building technology tools and networks for scientists makes sense rather than hiring bureaucrats to lobby for the private sector.

Having a strong academic base won't stop the poaching of New Zealand talent by overseas companies. It can however give Kiwis overseas something interesting to come back to, and encourage said overseas companies to set up shop here as well.

We've missed the boat badly on this in the past, and as a result, the overseas web giants have sales offices in New Zealand, nothing else - that is, if they're here at all.

Second, a CTO is unlikely to be vested with enough power and influence to effectively deal with what is at best described as an ambivalent attitude among politicians towards IT.

The past few years have seen a raft of tech hostile laws that impose real costs and burdens on businesses, such as the anti-file sharing amendment to the Copyright Act and the increasingly complex requirements for companies to give law enforcement access to customer data at any given time.

Sorting out that mess along with quickly building better IT infrastructure that isn't mis-regulated in favour anticompetitive incumbents would require going to war with existing agencies and Mandarins all over Wellington.

That's just not going to happen, not until the Prime Minister takes on the CTO role.
To give you an idea of where IT stands vis-a-vis the government, there is in fact a government CTO already, reporting to the government chief information officer or CIO.
Those two aren't dreaming up amazing policies to build a tech future for NZ. Instead, they're battling government agencies to upgrade from the obsolete Windows XP operating system years after it should've been done.

IBM + Apple = true

Image of Steve Jobs courtesy of Andy Hertzfeld on Google+

One out of the (Big) blue: Apple and IBM are joining forces to better service the enterprise market with iPads and iPhones, as well as i-apps with Big Data analytics fed into them.

Some observers say the partnership will blow Microsoft, SAP, Samsung, you name it out of the water. Others look at how difficult a time IBM is having to adjust with today's tech biz and go "what were you thinking, Apple?".

Read Apple Watch's detailed take on the deal but I'm not sure Steve Jobs would've approved of it.

Gear: Panasonic Lumix GH4

In the past, couldn't see the point of having a smaller than APS-C size sensor for digital cameras, but an all too short trial of Panasonic's GX7 micro four-thirds (MFT) format snapper earlier this year changed my mind.

The GX7 is small and unobtrusive, has an excellent range of lenses and I took some great pics with it walking around in Sydney. I was tempted to trade my chunky Canon EOS 7D for one, in fact.

Panasonic has now come out with a premium MFT camera, the GH4. This is a bit bigger than the GX7 but still nicely compact, very well made, and it ticks most of the boxes for enthusiasts and even pro-level photographers.

Image quality from the 16 megapixel sensor is great, although the JPEGs required a bit of in-camera tweaking to look their best. RAW images show a lot of detail, great colour and high dynamic range, and the GH4 is fast and responsive, with quick auto-focus that seldom fails to lock on.

The fast f/2.8 12-35mm zoom lens with optical image stabilisation that came with the GH4 is great and lets you take pictures with nicely blurred backgrounds ("bokeh" in photographer jargon).

Now, still images aren't actually the main draw card for the Panasonic GH4. Instead, it's 4K high-definition video. Shooting in twice the normal 1920 by 1080 resolution of HD TVs means an amazing amount of detail is captured - but it amplifies shaky hands holding the camera so a sturdy tripod is a must.

For what it can do, Panasonic's recommended pricing of two grand for the DH4 without a lens undercuts larger DSLR rivals by a good margin. For photo pros, it's probably a bargain although Panasonic lenses can be pricey.

The biggest issue I had with the GH4 was the vast amount of features it offers, accessible through a myriad of buttons and thumbwheels on the camera. Getting used to what thing does what takes time, and I found myself twiddling the wrong wheel and mis-pressing buttons on a regular basis, missing shots that way.

Other than that, if you're prepared to spend a bit on MFT format compatible lenses, the GH4 looks like winner.

See sample shots on Flickr here.