Green politician Sue Kedgeley apparently said no to an electricity smartmeter because she was worried about privacy and electromagnetic radiation.

That's a pity, because the radiation worry is just silly and will detract from the very real privacy issues that smartmeters bring, and which I see the Office of the Privacy Commissioner's has latched onto.

I've got a Singapore-made smartmeter and was prepared to overlook the privacy concerns as I was curious to see if it would bring any real smarts in terms of insights on how I use power. After a few years of smartmeter use, I have to say there's very little benefit for customers in having them.

Read also: Sue Kedgley: Smart power meters a threat to health and liberty


Yes, the readings every half hour does provide a fine grained view of when power is used in your household and it can be of some use.

Do I want to share that with my power company though, and possibly other parties that I don't know about? No, I'd rather not have that information transmitted to electricity retailers via a mobile telco's M2M network which I know nothing about and have no guarantees as to how secure it is.

Smartmeter concerns have been around for quite some time now, and yes, they can be hacked.

Besides individual smartmeters being vulnerable, intruders getting inside electricity companies and helping themselves to customer data en masse is another thing to consider.

A paper written by renowned security engineering researcher Ross Anderson and PhD student Shailendra Fuloria at the University of Cambridge in 2011 on occasion of Europe's smartmeter rollout project is illuminating.

The paper points out the actual drivers for smartmeter deployments. As you can imagine, none provide much benefit for customers like cheaper electricity, easier to understand retail plans and more choice.

Instead, its power companies wanting to be able to switch customers to prepay electricity automatically without having to send out technicians to install new meters that seems to be the main reason.

Other reasons for smartmeters include governments wanting to reduce overall electricity consumption (this is something power companies are less keen on for obvious reasons), and retailers wanting to reduce peak demand to cut wholesale losses during high use periods.

That and the potential for customer lock-in through power companies having a detailed view of electricity usage sound messy enough, but Anderson and Fuloria's paper goes further and looks at the security of smartmeters that are networked.

The salient point here is that without electricity, our society mostly ceases to function. An enemy that can disconnect the power supply for the opposing side has an enormous advantage. This is why during wartime power generation plants are attacked early on.

Bombing defended power plants is dangerous and not guaranteed to work compared to disconnecting electricity remotely through networked smartmeters, or simply "bricking" them so they stop working and have to be replaced.

It doesn't even have to be a war, misguided hacktivists or bored kids might want to have a go to score a point, or for thrills.

I'm not saying any of this will happen, and maybe smartmeters in New Zealand are hardened, secure and the data they collect is kept totally safe wherever it's stored, for however long it is kept as well.

But, if you're worried about smartmeters the electromagnetic radiation angle is probably the weakest one to take, Sue.

Gear: Google Chromecast

If you want proof as to just how annoying geoblocking of Internet content is and how it spoils a fairly good device, just look at Google's Chromecast media player.

When the little Chromecast stick arrived, I had high hopes for the little device that's easy to install and use via your Android or iOS phone, tablets and computers to display content and to watch free and paid for video in 1080p high definition. There's even an app ecosystem for Chromecast.

Actually, calling it little isn't quite right. Looking at the promotional material, you might think the 34 gram Chromecast is the size of a USB memory stick or similar and that's all you'll need to start watching video on demand. Wrong.

Chromecast needs to be plugged into an HDMI port on the TV, and you may have to do so via an extension cord to get better Wi-Fi reception. Furthermore, the stick needs 5 volt power via an AC adapter to a USB connector on the Chromecast which means even more cable clutter.

And Google: try to add 5GHz Wi-Fi in the next version of Chromecast, please, as the 2.4GHz band is so crowded.

Out of the box, Chromecast supports Quickflix video and Pandora streaming music, YouTubes, as well as Google Play Music and Movies. Of the paid providers supported, the Google services have the largest catalogues. Google Play Movies is pricey though at $15 to $18 for buying high-definition movies for instance.

Getting Netflix to work with the Chromecast is possible, but not easy. The stick has Google's domain name system (DNS) servers hard-coded into it. DNS is the phone book of the internet so to speak, and using Google's servers tell Netflix that you're in New Zealand and therefore geoblocked from the service.

Using some network trickery to block traffic to Google's DNS servers makes Netflix appear but there's another geoblock hurdle to overcome: while you can play back Netflix movies using the Chromecast extension to the Google Chrome web browser, it works really badly with lots of lag.

The free Apple iOS or Google Android Netflix apps work well on the other hand. To get them, you once again have to pretend not to be in New Zealand and set up Apple or Google accounts with a US address.

After that frankly ridiculous amount of trouble to give Netflix your money, you're good to go and can start watching videos with Chromecast.

Until the geoblocking is lifted, Chromecast is too crippled to recommend for Kiwis despite the low price. A more configurable media player like the Amazon Fire TV is a better choice at least until March when Netflix comes to town.