When much of the world went into lockdown companies and schools sent employees and students home to work and study.

That triggered a surge in sales of laptops, large screen monitors, headphones and printers.

The first three items on that shopping list will make you more productive.

Laptops mean you can work on the kitchen table and clear the space away when it is time for dinner.

You need a desk and elbow room for a large screen monitor, but being able to work with side-by-side windows will help you do more in less time.

Headphones or ear buds let you take part in video conferences and other audio communications even if your home workspace is noisy.

You may not be able to avoid a printer

Printers are more of a security blanket that a serious aid to productivity. Yet for many people they are not optional.

Even if you don’t feel the urge to squirt ink onto dead trees in order to express yourself, others will insist on printed documents.

There is another way printers are not like other home office technology: They need feeding with ink cartridges.

And there is something very wrong with the way that market works.

One recent twist is modern home office printers can stop you printing if you don’t pay protection money.

Sorry, did I say “protection money”, I meant to say “pay over the odds for ultra expensive branded ink cartridges when there are perfectly adequate third-party options”.

It’s for your own good… yeah right

For years printer makers have warned users about the dangers of using third-party ink cartridges.

Campaigns had less to do with user education than with maintaining high profit margins.

When you buy the official ink from your printers’ manufacturer you can expect to pay two or three times as much as the cost of third-party ink.

It isn’t cheap.

Ink cartridges work out at around NZ$5000 per litre.

While that might be a dozen or so cents per printed page, if you print lots of pages it adds up fast.

Corrosive ink

A common scare campaign that started 20 years ago claims that third-party ink will ruin your printer’s print heads.

The implication was that third-party inks contain sulphuric acid or worse.

At one point a major printer company claimed that its print heads would be unusable after two cycles of third-party ink1.

My testing has showed the claim wasn’t true. Even after five cycles the printer works fine.

Cheaper option

Even if the claim was true, at the time of the campaign, a consumer would be financially better off buying a new printer, using the included starter cartridges, buying two cycles of third-party ink then throwing the printer away and starting again.

Life could not be less sustainable.

That’s because in the crazy world of ink cartridge economics, printer makers used to lose money selling the hardware.

They knew they’d make it all up later on the ink cartridge sales. It’s the famous ‘razor blade’ business model.

The subsidy

Printers were subsidised to the point where a new printer cost less than a set of cartridges.

It was at around this time printer makers stopped putting full-size starter cartridge packs in their consumer printer models.

Until then, a savvy consumer could come out ahead by buying a new printer every time the ink ran out.

It meant waiting for a retail promotion to buy the hardware at a discount, but if you timed it right you’d be better off. There were always retail promotions although it might mean shifting to another printer brand.

This wasn’t good for landfills or the planet, but, hey, economics.

These day printer makers charge more up front.

They say this will save you money in the long run.

Well… in the long run we’re all dead.

And anyway, they haven’t dropped the price of subsequent refills.

Third-party ink pitfalls

Another, let’s be generous and say, “user education” programme, from the industry tells us you get inferior results using third-party inks.

This can be true if you use an inkjet to print photographs. The best results need the official manufacturer ink cartridges and, if you think it worth the cost and effort, special expensive printer paper.

My own testing shows that is true for Canon and Epson printers. I haven’t tested HP but I suspect I’d find the same.

It’s a fair enough claim.

But if you restrict colour ink use to highlighting text, drawing graphs, Venn diagrams and pie-charts, then accurate colour fidelity is an indulgence.

In other words, none of the printer maker arguments stand up to sensible scrutiny.


  1. The obvious response to this would be to find another printer brand capable of making more durable hardware. ↩︎

In the 1980s I worked on a magazine feature about the paperless office of the future. We interviewed people who said it was close. Any day now.

We never got there.

Today the printer remains essential.

While there may be less paper in our lives than there was, we are a long way from zero paper.

The alluring myth of the paperless office

Paper is hard to eliminate.

Make that impossible to eliminate.

This week I had to return a review product. The courier firm handling the return sent a complex six page PDF document to print.

Two pages had to be handed to the courier. Four had to be attached to the box.

It was not optional. And no, the courier firm could not drop off or bring the paperwork to me.

The paperwork is worse if the box has to go overseas. It can include a battery warning page that must be printed in red ink.

Regular

In my life courier paperwork happens at least every other week.

Another regular occurrence is when companies demand a printed legal agreement with a handwritten signature before, say, sending out a review laptop or employing my services.

Apple will accept an emailed “I accept your terms” for review products. One or two enlightened companies do the same.

The majority insist on a paper document.

It’s possible to fake this. I could scan my signature and overlay using what looks like blue ballpoint pen ink, then send through the mocked up document. I once suggested this to a PR company who reacted in horror as if I were planning a bank heist. They told me it would be a crime. I’m certain that is not the case.

Events

Then there are the printed tickets for events. There are no events at the moment. When we come out of lockdown they will return. You can’t show the QR code on your phone, only a paper ticket will do.

Again, this is not optional.

In other words you have to have a printer. Or at least access to a printer. In non-lockdown times that could mean a trip to the local library or a large stationary shop with print stations.

There’s no getting out of this. But this is not the worst thing about printers. We’ll get to that in the next post.

Gartner says 84.1 million PC were shipped in the third quarter of 2021. That’s up one percent on the same period a year earlier. Which doesn’t sound much, but last year saw the most buoyant PC activity in almost a decade.

There was a shortage of suitable laptop chips during the quarter which acted as a brake on sales. Business desktop PC sales were strong.

Chromebook sales fell 17 percent in the quarter – the biggest drop Chromebooks have seen to date.

“As many schools worldwide reopened, there was no longer an immediate need for PCs and Chromebooks to support at-home education”.

Mikako Kitagawa, Gartner research Director

Gartner now counts Chromebooks in its PC shipments.

Lenovo remains the top selling PC brand. The company’s shipments grew slightly faster than the market at 1.8 percent, but ended a run of five quarters of double digit growth. Lenovo suffered from component shortages.

HP shipments fell 5.8 percent. Poor US demand for Chromebooks was partly behind this. It too faces supply chain issues.

Dell saw strong growth. Gartner puts this down to the company being stronger in business PCs than in consumer models. This was were there was more demand.

Apple grew 7.4 percent. Gartner says the company’s M1 based models have been well received by the market. It says an expected product refresh – which will be announced next week – means some Apple customers put purchases on hold.

Worldwide PC vendor unit shipment estimates for 3Q21 (thousands of units)

Company


3Q21 Shipments


3Q21 Market Share (%)


3Q20 Shipments


3Q20 Market Share (%)


3Q21-3Q20 Growth (%)


Lenovo


19,945


23.7


19,601


23.5


1.8


HP Inc.


17,624


20.9


18,718


22.5


-5.8


Dell


15,242


18.1


12,048


14.5


26.5


Apple


7,222


8.6


6,725


8.1


7.4


Acer Group


6,036


7.2


6,327


7.6


-4.6


ASUS


6,028


7.2


5,714


6.9


5.5


Others


 12,049


14.3


14,153


17.0


-14.9


Total


84,147


100.0


83,286


100.0


1.0


Source: Gartner (October 2021)

Microsoft is now rolling out Windows 11. Gartner says this will have limited impact on business sales as large buyers tend to be conservative with software upgrades. The research company forecasts a weak fourth quarter with demand driven more by replacements than new buyers.

Laura Bell has raised $2.2m to expand her online security training platform SafeStack Academy, with Jelix Ventures leading a raft of local investors in the round.

 

Australia’s AFR reports the news: NAB among backers as ‘moral hacker’ gets $2.2m to teach techies her tricks.

Natasha Gillezeau writes:

SafeStack Academy was born of a pandemic pivot after Ms Bell’s consultancy, SafeStack, suffered a 94 percent drop in revenue as many of her small business and start-up customers halted their spending on security because of economic uncertainty.

On SafeStack Academy, software developers and regular employees can learn how to build good security culture and measures into their products, software and processes.

That’s good to hear. Bell’s consultancy had an interesting, enlightened take on cyber security.

Upending the fear driven security pitch

Security companies often work hard to scare customers into parting with money for services or products that only go part way to making them safe.

They may share raw information about threats, but often in ways that limit the transfer of useful knowledge to customers.

Fear may work as a sales pitch. But savvy customers want more from a security partner.

Educate, inform and protect

Safestack took the opposite approach. Bell and her team worked to educate the people and businesses who are most vulnerable to attack. That’s usually small businesses and organisations. She makes an effort to take fear out of the conversation and replace that with the knowledge people need to be confident about dealing with threats in a sensible way.

Bell clearly loves her speciality.

When I spoke to her earlier this year she said: “Security is really exciting once you get past the doom and gloom. It has some of the fastest paced technology challenges you can find.

“…I wanted to support all of these tiny companies who, from New Zealand want to build their own little digital cathedrals and they want to do securely without breaking the bank.

“I get to look at their legacies and think; yeah, I did a little towards making things better for New Zealand or better for those people, or in the case of helping charities and non-profits, better for that group of people who would never be able to afford security normally.”

Along the way Bell has been responsible for hundreds of New Zealanders choosing cyber security as a career. The Safestack Academy will take that leadership role further and help spread a more intelligent security mind set.

At the Guardian Siddique writes Home computing pioneer Sir Clive Sinclair dies aged 81

Sir Clive Sinclair, the inventor and entrepreneur who was instrumental in bringing home computers to the masses, has died at the age of 81.

His daughter, Belinda, said he died at home in London on Thursday morning after a long illness. Sinclair invented the pocket calculator but was best known for popularising the home computer, bringing it to British high-street stores at relatively affordable prices.

Many modern-day titans of the games industry got their start on one of his ZX models. For a certain generation of gamer, the computer of choice was either the ZX Spectrum 48K or its rival, the Commodore 64.”

My first brush with Sinclair was as an A-level student in the UK. Before he made computers, Sinclair designed a low-cost programmable calculator.

It fascinated me and, thanks to a well-paid part-time job, I managed to buy one. From memory it could only handle a few programmable steps, but it was enough to make complex calculations.

My second job after university was working as a reporter for Practical Computing magazine. I started in January 1980 and became familiar with the original Sinclair ZX80 computer.

Later that year I went to the launch of the ZX81 and met Sinclair for the first time. Over the next few years he became a familiar face.

That modest, clunky ZX81 computer changed everything. Before 1981 was out, the publishing company I worked for started Your Computer magazine which focused on small, low-cost home computers. For the first few issues I was staff reporter on both titles.

The next two years were a wild roller coaster ride. An entire industry emerged and I was in the centre of it.

For me, Sinclair’s most important product was the ZX Spectrum. It was flawed in many ways, but it could do enough to spawn a generation of entrepreneurs and get thousands of young people into computing. I still have one in my attic.

By the time the later Sinclair QL appeared, low-cost computers with decent keyboards and storage were pushing out the minimal, low-cost options Sinclair specialised in

By now Sinclair was Sir Clive. My last brush with his business was the ill-fated C5 battery powered vehicle. It failed and Sinclair faded from sight, later the remnants of his computer business were picked up by Amstrad.

My main memories of Sinclair were his enthusiasm and his ambitions to build devices that anyone, regardless of budget, could afford.

New Zealand’s Privacy Commissioner issued its first compliance notice to the Reserve Bank.

The notice follows an online attack on the bank’s systems in December 2020.

While the notice makes sense, a press release from the Commissioner’s office reads more bureaucratic procedure than a public shaming.

The Reserve Bank breach happened when software which claims to be secure enough to move confidential information between banks was compromised.

Reports suggest other organisations caught up in the same attack paid ransoms to the attackers. We don’t know if the Reserve Bank paid up.

Systemic weakness

The attack breached the Reserve Bank’s security systems. As John Edwards, the Privacy Commissioner says, it “raised the possibility of systemic weakness in the Bank’s systems and processes for protecting personal information.”

A review of the Bank’s systems uncovered many areas where it has not complied with the Privacy Act’s Principal 5. This says agencies that hold personal information must have reasonable safeguards in place to protect personal privacy.

Yet, the press release from the Privacy Commissioner quotes Edwards saying: “We are heartened by the speed and thoroughness of the Bank’s response. We were notified as soon as the cyber-attack was identified, and they have been constructive and open throughout the compliance investigation process. We are pleased to see the positive way they’ve dealt with the aftermath of the attack.”

In other words, it was sloppy but ended up doing the right thing.

The press release quotes Reserve Bank governor Adrian Orr attempting unconvincing damage limitation.

Yet the whole point of the Act is to pre-empt online attacks. Organisations like the Reserve Bank should have robust protections in place before any private information is put at risk.

While the notice is real enough, this first one is something of a practice run for dealing with future compliance failures.

Writing at Newsroom, Catalyst co-founder Don Christie says technological sovereignty could be a defining issue of the decade.

“Large multinationals arrive in the country, contribute nothing in the way of paying local taxes, and exfiltrate value and data (“the new oil” as it was unironically christened by The Economist). It is essentially digital colonialism.”

The ugly face of what Christie calls ‘digital colonialism’ was on show at a recent industry event. A handful of companies had speaking slots.

Long-term focus

Local firms spoke about serving small business, building skills and capability. Their focus was longer-term.

Meanwhile two of the multinationals that got to speak made short term sales pitches. One even used the occasion to push its latest promotion.

“…there are other approaches. Ones that involve paying taxes that provide for schools and hospitals, keeping data onshore and respecting te ao Māori, acknowledging the value of New Zealanders’ privacy, and building a resilient digital sector that will provide fulfilling, high-value jobs for Kiwis for decades to come.”

Taxes

Paying local taxes for digital products is a sore point. Yet it is not unusual for countries to tax foreign resources firms like miners and oil explorers.

On that basis, it makes sense to treat the ‘new oil’ the same way.

Tax on digital profits is being addressed at the international level. The process will be slow and could be unsatisfactory. Yet a small country like New Zealand would do better to fall into line with other like-minded nations and not go it alone.

Jobs

Jobs are critical. We have low unemployment today. Indeed, a halt to immigration means we are desperately short of skilled workers.

Yet we may be a lockdown away from widespread company failure and layoffs.

While multinationals use locals, and in cases pay well, much of the work is in sales or administration. The high value-add work tends to take place close to corporate headquarters.

More high value jobs means building more capability. It would give young New Zealanders better career paths. And that would seed interest in tech related subjects in schools and tertiary institutions.

If we get this right, there will be more corporate headquarters in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. This would be better for the wider economy.

“…Rebuilding New Zealand’s economy in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, and under the shadow of climate change, is a challenge that we have not seen since the end of World War II. The decisions we collectively make now have the potential to impact, positively or negatively, generations of Kiwis to come.”

Priority

There are ministers and opposition politicians who get this. Building digital capability is low down the priority list at the moment. If more prominent industry personalities speak out, we can push it higher up the agenda.

“We should be planning for our own data management, cyber security, and artificial intelligence applications, and how these can be implemented across all of our sectors: agriculture, education, finance and others.

“Building and delivering value for the current and future generations, now that technology is interwoven into every aspect of our communities and our economy.”

It’s hard to disagree with any of this. A good place to start would be with government. Even now, government buyers appear to have a built-in reluctance to choose local technology. Fixing that would be the best place to start.

Ray Ban Stories Facebook Glasses

Facebook and Ray-Ban would love you to be excited about Ray-Ban Stories.

They are sunglasses with a smattering of unimpressive technology features.

Facebook’s marketing calls them smart-glasses.

Which is brave considering they are not even as smart as the now abandoned Google Glass.

Normal-looking

In effect, it is a pair of cameras, linked to your phone by Bluetooth, and carefully disguised in normal-looking sunglasses.

That’s about it.

The new Ray-Ban glasses have two cameras to capture video or photos. These sync with an app called Facebook View.

You can fire up the camera by hitting a physical button or say: “Hey Facebook, take a video”.

Speakers

While there is no display in the lens, there are Bluetooth speakers on the frame. This lets you play sound from your phone or make and receive calls. There is a physical volume control and a pause button.

Indicators let you know the device is charged or needs a charge.

A tiny white lamp illuminates what you are filming or capturing. It serves a double purpose. The idea is that when the light is on, people know they are being filmed.

Privacy dead zone

It’s a stretch to accept that everyone who sees the white light will know what it means. But then privacy and respect for people has never been a Facebook virtue.

Nick Heer suggests you can cover the light with tape for secret filming. He goes on to explain that this violates the terms of service. As if that means anything.

There’s something nasty about a product which, while pretending to be a smart device, is a voyeur’s wet dream.

Facebook might tell you the glasses make it easy to record precious family moments. It’s unlikely the company’s marketing will warn you the glasses make it easy for creeps to record your family.

Creepy

It didn’t take long for those wise to Google Glass to label the creeps wearing that device to coin the term glassholes. If the Facebook product takes off we may see that name return.

Google Glass was not a success. If anything it did the company’s reputation more harm than good. For many people, Facebook’s reputation is already in the gutter. Seeding a new generation of glassholes isn’t going to fix that.

Yesterday’s review of the Dynabook Satellite Pro says the laptop computer looks and feels dated next to modern MacBooks and Surfaces.

This was not a flippant remark.

Modern MacBook and Surfaces include smartphone technology. The M1 processor in today’s MacBooks derives from an Arm chip Apple developed for the iPhone.

Microsoft uses Arm in its latest Surface Pro models.

Power sipping Arm processors

Compared with the Intel processors used in more traditional laptops, Arm sips power. Computers made with Arm can go the best part of a day between charges. The M1 MacBook Air battery gets close to 24 hours.

Another company, Huawei, offers the MateBook which is a neat laptop containing technology developed for phones.

There are a handful of 2-in-1 and similar devices from HP or Lenovo. While they might not derive directly from phones and may include Intel processors, they have many phone-like characteristics.

Old-school computer

In contrast, Dynabook and the other more traditional computer designs descend from flip-lid laptops.

It’s a format that has been around since the mid-1980s. Yes, the Dynabook is slimmer than those models. It is way more powerful and its batteries last longer. It is better.

But its pedigree comes from the old breed. Not from the new phone lineage.

Blurred lines

Phones and personal computers have been on a converging path for at least twenty years.

For much of that time, computer sales were in decline while phone sales soared. Last year’s lockdowns saw a move to working from home that temporarily confused matters. Despite this, there are now many more phones in the wild than PCs.

The phone is the computer people use most often. That’s as true of people who own phones and computers as it is of those who have just a phone.

Computer tasks

Computers remain important for creative tasks. You could edit a movie or write a book on a phone. Yet who would want to when these jobs are easier with a big screen and a keyboard?

Phones and phone-derived devices are pushing into new areas all the time.

You can view tablet computers as big phones.

Apple makes iPads with slots for Sim cards, there are Android tablets that do the same. Technology doesn’t get much more phone-like than that.

While tablets are not designed for voice calls, that’s no longer a phone’s primary function.

Phoning it in

When 5G mobile is everywhere and wireless bandwidth is cheaper and plentiful, you might wonder how you ever computed without an ever-present internet connection.

Apple blurs the lines between device classes. It uses Arm processors everywhere. iPhones, iPads and MacBooks share a lot of common technology.

Microsoft has an issue running Windows apps on an Arm processor. Few developers have rewritten Windows app code for these devices. The next version of Windows should fix that.

Yet Windows 11 can now run Android applications. That is, apps that were made for phones. The convergence is underway. Likewise, Apple’s new Macs can run iPhone apps.

The next generation

Arm processors are at least a generation ahead of anything Intel has. The traditional chip maker is in a tailspin and does not have a plausible roadmap.

MacBooks and Surfaces sit at the high end of the portable computer market. Chromebooks live at the opposite end. They come from a different tradition, in effect, they are cloud computing terminals dressed up as laptops.

Chromebooks may be simple, but in their own way they are every bit as modern as MacBooks and Surfaces.

Always connected computer

There’s not much phone hardware in a Chromebook. Yet they share one important characteristic with phones. Both sets of devices need a constant internet connection to be any use.

You could work with a laptop on an internet-free desert island. A Chromebook is pointless without a connection.

Chromebooks, MacBooks, Surfaces, tablets feel like progress in a way an old-school Windows laptop can not. We’ve gone past an important turning point. In a few years we’ll look back and it will be obvious.

It turns out the Covid pandemic has been a golden age for the crooks targeting enterprise systems. Having people work from home has made it harder to contain security incidents.

Writing at ZDNet Charlie Osborne covers the annual IBM cost of a data breach report. It says a typical enterprise data breach costs the victim US$4.2 million per incident. That’s up 10 percent on a year earlier.

Typical data breaches are where 1000 to 100,000 records are involved. Higher up the scale, things are much worse. Companies where between 50 and 65 million records are exposed now face an average of US$400 million to resolve the incident.

Healthcare has been hit harder than any other sector.

There’s a real problem everywhere with a severe international shortage of skilled cybersecurity professionals. One report says there are 4 million unfilled security positions around the world. More than half of all large organisations say they don’t have the specialist security workers they need.

Yet that doesn’t meant this would be a good time for someone with tech skills to refocus on security. One of the reasons IBM identified for the security skills shortage is an unwillingness for employers to pay people the asking rate for their expertise. Going by the headline incident cost figures in the IBM report, paying for skills would be the cheaper option.

 

Average cost of an enterprise data breach

IBM research estimates that the average data breach now costs upward of $4 million.

Source: Enterprise data breach cost reached record high during COVID-19 pandemic | ZDNet