White hat hackers

Ethical hackers, a growing band of computer professionals, use their skills to work out of hours on projects benefitting society.

Don Christie, founder and director of Wellington’s largest open source service and cloud computing service provider Catalyst, is happy if developers and other IT professionals working for the firm moonlight as hackers.

Thanks to the media, hacker is a term usually associated with people who do bad things with computers. However, the word has taken on a more positive meaning in technology circles. In that world hacking is the art of taking things apart, then putting them back together in ways that are better or where they do something that was never the original designer’s intent.

Read the full story at the ANZ Bank’s Your World site: Meet the weekend ethical hackers.

Businesses in Australia and New Zealand are not getting the results they hoped for from big data projects. Less than one in eight report success with their strategies.

Among other issues, they have trouble finding people with the skills needed to make sense of the technology. They also struggle as poor communications mean company departments are unable to co-operate on the level needed to gather data for analysis.

The problems come to light in an Economist Intelligence Unit research paper sponsored by Hitachi Data Systems. The EIU reports a lack of in-house skills is the biggest barrier to adopting big data in Australia and New Zealand.

Companies also say a lack of suitable software and issues with over-complicated reports are problems.

The survey found nearly 40 percent of organisations don’t have a big data strategy because they can’t see a path around the skills and communications challenges.

Big data expectations

Despite the drawbacks, respondents think big data can improve their businesses.

The report says 92 percent of businesses rely on internal data, while 53 percent take data from third-party providers, 37 percent use social media sources for data insight.

Machine generated data is on the rise with 20 percent of companies using sensors, smart grid, RFID, network logs and telematics.

Helen Sword’s Wasteline Test is a great online writing improvement tool.

You cut and paste your writing into a box, hit the button and the software scans your words.

The Wasteline Test counts and highlights the weak verbs, abstract nouns, prepositions, adjectives, adverbs and waste words. It then gives you a ranking from lean, through fit and trim all the way up to heart attack.

New Zealand academic Sword designed her test to help university students improve their writing skills. She has also written a book, The Writer’s Diet.

The Test works just as well for most types of writing.

Marketing consultant Johnny Moore writes about “a creeping extension of the need for academic qualifications, the ability to write clever essays” in The Tyranny of the Explicit.

He says:

The intention is good, but the practical effect is to engulf people in explicit, complicated systems and reduce their freedom – based on an unconscious assumption that everyone is not to be trusted. We give ascendancy to people who are really great at theory and effectively degrade practice. I think its rooted in the idea that one person or a group of people can effectively oversee a system and control how it works with written instructions.

One aspect of this is the arse-covering qualifications provide. If, say, a marketing manager hires a copywriter with a degree in copy-writing, they feel they are not to blame if the writer fails to deliver.

There’s an incentive in most organisations to engage the best-qualified person for a task, not the most experienced, best skilled or highest performer.

The recession has seen Immigration New Zealand cut 44 occupations from its skill shortage list. The new Essential Skills in Demand list now features just 87 occupations. People in listed occupations can be fast-tracked through the migration process.

Many of the occupations taken off the skill shortage list are trades rather than positions filled by knowledge workers. On the other hand those remaining are mainly professional and knowledge-based roles.

Jobs no longer on New Zealand’s skills shortage list include:

  • Baker.
  • Bicycle mechanic.
  • Bricklayer.
  • Butcher.
  • Carpenter.
  • Dental assistant.
  • Motor mechanic.
  • Plasterer.
  • Scaffolder.
  • Screen printer.
  • Sommelier.

New Zealand’s Essential Skills in Demand Lists.