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Overseas tech skillsOverseas readers wanted to know how New Zealand is filling its tech industry vacancies. Here is my story published earlier this year in London-based Computer Weekly. 

Wellington is as far as you can fly from Heathrow before you start coming back. New Zealand’s capital is almost 19,000km and at least 24 hours away. The city is small by European standards, with only 200,000 people calling it home.

And yet Wellington is a regional technology hub. It is the nation’s biggest technology user and the government is based there. Wellington is also home to Weta Workshop, established by director Peter Jackson to create computer graphics for The Lord of the Rings movies. It is where New Zealand technology entrepreneur Rod Drury began Xero, the small business accounting software-as-a-service market leader. Dozens of small tech startups inhabit buildings all over the small South Pacific city.

Read more in New Zealand calls for tech specialists at Computer Weekly

Computer Forensics managing director Brian Eardley-Wilmot says his business has seen a rise in computer crime over the last year.

His company is often called in to investigate data theft and other intellectual property crimes. He says there are now more than 100 data crimes each day in New Zealand.

Cybercrimes committed by outsiders are headline news. The media loves images of masked hackers hunched over darkened keyboards. Yet the reality is that inside jobs are more common, often more serious and usually committed in broad daylight.

Insiders have trusted access. They have more idea of what to look for. They know where they might find it.

It is often hard to know when someone inside your organisation compromises your systems. Often the first sign is when you find money is missing or when your best clients switch their business to a new company set up by your former employee.

Client lists and pricing information are among the most commonly stolen data. Computer crime is mainly about intellectual property theft, but it can include any unauthorised computer use.

Insiders who steal intellectual property usually store files on a USB memory stick. In most cases they leave a trail.

That’s where Computer Forensics can help. After 17 years of following those trails, Eardley-Wilmot and his team know where to find evidence of  data crimes.

He says: “Companies frequently know when they have a problem – people’s instincts are usually correct. But managers are loathe to undertake a full investigation before they feel quite sure, because of the cost and disruption.”

To get around this reluctance, Computer Forensics has come up with a new service called CheckIT.

If, say, a manager or business owner suspects someone has committed a crime, they can ask for an exploratory examination of a computer, hard drive or device.

They tell Computer Forensics what they think might be going on. Investigators then poke around looking for clues.

Eardley-Willmot says: “We come back with indicative information that essentially says yes, you’re right and you should move to a full investigation, or no, there isn’t a problem”.

“If there is no sign of any wrongdoing, then the company has saved the cost of a formal forensic investigation and can be confident that no offence has occurred.

“If we are instructed to conduct a full forensic investigation, to provide incontestable evidence, we are forearmed with the knowledge that the investigation will be successful.”

Eardley-Wilmot says there are four areas where CheckIT can be used – to both reveal and deter cybercrime:
* When a key employee resigns and you have concerns
* When incontestable evidence of misconduct is needed
* When an employee is specifically suspected of wrongdoing
* When a random audit of computers and mobile devices can discourage cyber-crime.

No plan to prepare for digital age

Xero managing director Anna Curzon writes in for Stuff:

“It’s about time digital technology was recognised as an important topic of education because it’s crucial we prepare our next generation for tomorrow’s world.”

Someone could have written the same words any time in the last 40 years. It’s not a new idea. People said the same when I was at school in the 1970s. We ran similar comments when I edited The Dominion’s Computer Pages in the 1980s.

The idea is no more crucial today than it was before. Imagine how many Xeros, Vends and Orions we could have now if government listened then.

The difference is that we now have a vibrant home-grown technology sector to show the benefits technology-savvy citizens can bring.

Role models

We also now have successful role models; articulate industry leaders able to argue the case for technology. Curzon is one of them.

They run companies that bring in valuable export dollars. Their contribution to the economy is more reliable than the bust-boom cycles from, say, the dairy industry.

That alone should get them a hearing.

It’s chilling that after the effort industry leaders and others have put into explaining this, the Minister of Education and her officials ignored them.

There’s always a danger when industries push sector-based education agenda. It would be a disaster if, say, dairy leaders talked schools into adding dairy-farming to the curriculum.

Yet digital technology is hardly special pleading. It is as fundamental to the 21st century as reading, writing and arithmetic. These days digital technology is reading, writing and arithmetic.

Facebook MessengerIf you need to contact someone in a hurry, don’t use Facebook or other social media. That is, unless you know the person is happy getting messages that way. Many do, many do not.

Facebook is huge. It has 1.6 billion users. Facebook and its assorted apps account for about 30 percent of all US internet use.

Given those numbers, your message stands a good chance of getting through.

With a billion people spending 20 minutes a day on the site, statistics say your message should reach its target sooner rather than later.

Yet not every person is on Social media. Not even in the world’s rich countries . Not all the people with Facebook accounts are frequent site visitors. Many users are, to use the popular jargon, not engaged.

So unless you know your target will read your message before too long, social media is not the best way to send important messages. It can be hit and miss.

It looks odd, but the Truly Ergonomic Mechanical Keyboard delivers on its promise of pain-free typing

The keyboard has its frustrations, but it works.

It’s now several weeks since I took on the Tek, and, yes, I can report it keeps RSI at bay — just as it promises.

I have minor RSI problems and, although I still find the Tek’s unusual layout strange, my arms and fingers feel much less stressed.

The Truly Ergonomic Keyboard, to give it its full name, has a couple of ergonomic things going for it — it’s strange, but effective layout and the fact it is a mechanical keyboard.

Mechanical keys

But let’s start with first impressions. While it wasn’t love at first sight — it’s not a very pretty keyboard — I immediately took to the Tek’s mechanical keys. You get a satisfying tactile feedback when you strike them.

It is like using a typewriter. I also like the Tek’s small footprint. It compares well with that of the Microsoft ergonomic keyboard I had been using. A big beast, it dominated my desk. The Tek is 60 percent the size of Microsoft’s keyboard. I really noticed the difference — much more desk working space.

The other first impression concerned the weirdness of the keyboard’s layout, which does, however, start to make sense after a while. For instance, the Enter/Return key is in the middle of the keyboard, rather than on the outer right (which requires you have to use your weak pinkie to strike it). I have always found this forced use-of-the-pinkie nonsensical.

Using one’s much stronger thumb, to strike the Enter key when it is placed in the middle of the keyboard makes a lot more sense. The only problem is getting used to a different keyboard layout, especially if you still use other keyboards.

I haven’t been able to touch-type properly on the Tek during my several weeks of use and still find myself having to look at the keys. But the increased comfort of use and the lessening of my mild but sometimes painful RSI symptoms make it worth it. Having to switch between keyboards is the main issue for me.

However, the need for ergonomic keyboards is not going to go away. We now have a generation of children growing up who are using keyboards from their earliest days and will likely use them for decades. And touch pads and voice recognition software are unlikely to replace keyboards completely.

Split_Symmetrical_Ergonomic_Keyboard_227 Staggered_ergonomic_keyboards

What we liked

The Tek keyboard’s pluses are that it is a mechanical keyboard and that it has an unusual and symmetrical layout (see images). Commonly used keys, like the Enter, Delete, Backspace and Dash keys, are placed in the middle of the keyboard, so you use your stronger thumbs – or, in my case, index fingers – to strike them. No stretching delicate pinkies to the far reaches of the keyboard. However, there is a second Backspace key in the top right-hand corner, which I found useful.

The standard QWERTY keyboard has been in use since the 1860s. It requires you to splay your elbows and twist your wrists out slightly too, causing strain. The Tek seeks to overcome this and keep your arms and wrists straight by placing the commonly used keys in the middle of the keyboard. This makes for more width in the keyboard overall (despite the smaller footprint) so you do, indeed, hold your arms straighter, as it makes the keys symmetrical – see image. The only problem is your fingers don’t know quite where to go if you’re used to touch-typing on a conventional keyboard, and especially if you use both.

This symmetrical key alignment is the Tek’s big point of difference – it’s not the only mechanical keyboard out there. And it’s a valuable difference as it cuts back on hand and arm strain when typing.

Less tiring

But the Tek’s mechanical action is also important. Keyboards that use mechanical switches require less effort to press down the keys, so are less tiring on the hands. I found this to be true.

The clicking sound and tactile feel of the dish-shaped keys also help you not press too hard. Ideally, says the Tek brochure, you should “float” your hands above the keyboard for maximum comfort. But getting to this nirvana is hard if you are accustomed to the kind of membrane keyboards used on laptops and tablets, and still need to use them. These keyboards give much less physical feedback, so you tend to hit the keys harder. It seems necessary too. I want to “float” with the Tek because it really does cut back on finger and hand strain. But I’m not there yet.

As a check, I did a conscious comparison of the Tek with my excellent Logitech iPad keyboard and I definitely found I had to hit the Logitech’s flat membrane keys harder. My Mac PowerBook laptop proved better but still not as good as the Tek, especially for prolonged typing.

Using the Tek got me thinking about that other ergonomic problem – the mouse. Stretching for the mouse also causes strain. There is still some stretch with the Tek keyboard, so I went googling and found the Roller mouse. This could sit well with the Tek if mouse fatigue is also an issue.

What’s not so good

It’s noisy – all that clicking. Lots of people like the sound, including me, but it could annoy others if you share office space.

The Caps-lock position. The key for this is above the number keys, which is a bit odd, although I can live with it.

There is also a Gmail problem – the two space bar keys (another unusual Tek feature) seem to get stuck sometimes and either won’t work at all or you need to click the mouse to activate them. Alternatively, they act as the ‘Enter’ key and take you to the next line in the email. Again, clicking on the mouse sorts this out, although it’s not ideal. This is a Gmail issue, not a Tek one though.

Re-programmable keys are another special aspect of the Tek. This sounds good, but we are getting into seriously geeky territory here. I’m not sure many people want to play with their keys this way. However, it makes sense if you have an IT department, or just like tinkering. It means the keys can be optimised for other languages, for example. Also, one keyboard reviewer complained about thumb strain, so re-mapping some keys could make sense for some users.

Cost – there have been some complaints about the cost – US$249. However, mechanical keyboards tend to have a long life and other mechanical keyboards are also pricey. Much cheaper is my Microsoft ‘natural’ ergonomic keyboard, at about NZ$60 nowadays, but it comes with cheap membrane keys.


Yes, the Tek is worth it. It’s not very pretty, but it is comfortable and non-pain inducing to use. I won’t be able to touch-type properly on it so long as I continue to use other keyboards, but I can live with this because of the other benefits.

Keyboard strain issues tend not to be taken as seriously as other industrial injuries, but they are quite as real. So it’s good to see an effective keyboard that doesn’t look like an ugly medical device – announcing your problem to the world – or doesn’t take over your desk it’s so big.

USEFUL EXTRA: Researching this article took me to some useful places. This website on RSI and keyboard issues might be helpful for some as it features some anti-RSI exercises – stretches are known to help.

Bill Bennett writes: I asked Johanna to review the Truly Ergonomic Keyboard as she has experienced RSI pains with everyday keyboards.