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Where does NZ rank in the Global Innovation Index 2013? aimee whitcroft Oct 09

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How innovative would you say New Zealand is, comparatively? Well, we have an answer, according to the Global Innovation Index 2013 – produced (since 2007) by economists from Cornell University, INSEAD and WIPO (the World Intellectual Property Organization.

This year, the report looks at 142 countries from Zimbabwe to Switzerland. Together, these countries represent almost 95% of the world’s population, and over 98% of its GDP. From Scientific American:

This year’s big-picture findings: R&D spending has rebounded around the world after suffering in the wake of the global financial crisis. The same high-income usual suspects—the wealthiest European countries in particular—dominate the top of the list. The BRIC nations—Brazil, the Russian Federation, India and China—all slipped in this year’s rankings. R&D spending is growing more quickly in emerging markets than in rich countries. And unexpected players such as Costa Rica, Uganda and Moldova are doing impressively well with comparatively little.

The diagram below shows how each of the 142 countries ranks according to GDP per capita and the Global Innovation Index score. If you’re looking for NZ, we’re in the blue bubble (underneath ‘leaders’), but disappointingly (if not surprisingly), we’re ‘Inefficient Innovators’, with an innovation ratio below the median. Not that we’re in bad company, of course :)

Image courtesy of Scientific American – the version it’s based on can be found on page 24 of the report. Click to enlarge.

Image courtesy of Scientific American – the version it’s based on can be found on page 24 of the report. Click to enlarge.

 

But that’s not the full story. We also rank 17th overall in the index (and third in our region), with a score of 54.46.

Global Innovation Index rankings 2013

From the Global Innovation Index 2013, pg xx. Click to enlarge.

 

So, I guess the question is: is that good enough? Should we do be doing better? If so, CAN we? And if then…how? What do we need to do in the next 5 and 10 years to become more efficient innovators, and to move up those rankings? One useful pointer, perhaps, comes not only from the writings of people like Shaun Hendy*, but also the report itself: connectivity.

In every aspect of these endeavours there is an underlying theme: connectivity. Connectivity lays the groundwork for empowerment and the framework for innovation.

- Osman Sultan

Myself? I think we can and should do better. Hell, we’re ranked first in ease of starting a business, and our small size gives us, to my mind, a number of advantages in terms of ease of access to people and talent, networks and so forth. Also, we have excellent beer and coffee, and that helps EVERYTHING :P

Yes, there are numerous disadvantages too, but I think the weightless economy would, if we focused on it the way we do our primary sector, allow us to leapfrog many or most of those.

Anyhoo, have a read and feel free to comment below! The full report is available online and as a download here.

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Sidenote: I found this interesting (if depressing) statistic in the report:

One disturbing reality that our research has turned up is a major fault line at the front end of innovation. Booz & Company’s most recent Global Innovation 1000 study revealed that just 43% of senior innovation executives and chief technology officers at nearly 700 companies believe their organizations are highly effective at generating new ideas, and only 36% believe they are highly effective at converting ideas to product development projects. Still fewer—one-quarter of respondents— indicate that their organizations are highly effective at both.

- Cesare R. Mainardi

On the other hand, what an opportunity! There’s got to be some lovely ripe low-hanging fruit in there, right?

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* Be nice to Shaun, Auckland. Otherwise those of us who’re sad he left Wellington will have to come up and Have A Chat With You, Mkay?

 

Lots of land still up for grabs on largest LEGO set aimee whitcroft Oct 04

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In around June this year, LEGO and Google Australia (who do the maps) released Build, a WebGL LEGO simulator.

Touting itself as the world’s largest LEGO set, it allows you to build, using Lego bricks, anything you want on a Google map.The map’s been divided up into small squares, and plots are a 32×32 grid.

Currently, only New Zealand and Australia have been opened up, but I imagine that more global space will be should there be enough interest.

Build on New Zealand. Notice all that empty space…

All you need is the Chrome browser, and a Google account. And the willingness to build.

There’s still tonnes and tonnes of space available in both New Zealand and Australia, and because space is allocated on a first come first served basis, New Zealanders could occupy Australia!

There’s also, obviously, lots of space in our surrounding EEZ, although some zooming-in suggests people have been having a bit of fun building boats and islands and whatnot. Still, oodles and oodles of space.

In order to choose a plot, one has a couple of choices.

Firstly, you can just hit the ‘Build’ button you’ll see on the homepage, and it’ll just assign you a plot. Currently, the default appears to be somewhere on Australia’s Eastern coast, or in the surrounding waters.

If, however, you’d rather choose your spot, you can either zoom in until you find the right place and hit ‘build here’, or you can actually type in the address on which you’d like to build, and start from there.

There are a few house rules, mostly around the fact that creations should be one’s own and one shouldn’t be an arse, or preachy, or gross, or anything like that. Summed up, basically, as ‘don’t be a d**k’. Totally sensible, I think.

What Building looks like.

There are 10 colours to build with already, but should you be one for mods, a hack exists which allows you to build with dayglo pink bricks (awesome). You also get 12 shapes with which to play, which makes for 132 blocks (including pink) with which to go wild.

Creations include a giant banana, medieval castle, dinosaur, Pacman ghost and much, much more – there are already thousands of these built or under construction.

The area around the Franz Josef glacier is actually pretty built up…

Why the Minecraft Masses have glommed onto this, I don’t know, but they should. They _totally_ should. As well as everyone else, of course :)

Let the land grabs begin!

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UPDATE: Sadly, the pieces provided do not allow me to build a bear :(

Further update: Below, a video showing the construction of a T-Rex (the vid previously posted here didn’t want to work)

YouTube Preview Image

Furthest update: My first build

TOSP Episode 22: February 27th 2012 aimee whitcroft Feb 28

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Hello, and welcome to a very watery TOSP :)

This week, Elf and aimee talk of things watery — watery planets, flying squid and plankton blooms — as well as new FTL neutrino info (what may have gone wrong), genius computer software, bioscience’s contribution to NZ’s economy, plus a new brilliant site for science-based ebooks and apps, and the tree of diversification!

PODCAST HERE

…..

You can read the rest of this entry on the Sciblogs The Official Sciblogs Podcast site

Reprise: “Drone meets nerd, drinks beer and talks” aimee whitcroft Oct 28

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About 18 months ago I was approached to write an article for the Waikato-focussed Scope magazine.  Something about science, maybe, and business.  I figured it might be good fun to talk about jargon.

So below, with kind permission from Scope, is my article as it first appeared in Scope Winter 2010 (the latest edition, Summer 11, is here).

Credit: Scope Magazine, Winter 2010

Credit: Scope Magazine, Winter 2010

The word is out, and on the lips of Kiwi politicians, scientists and entrepreneurs: We need to improve our innovation activity if we’re to prevent New Zealand sliding any further down the OECD productivity rankings.

There are a number of good reasons why we’re not as innovative as other small countries like Finland and Singapore. Lack of private investment, for example. To some extent, New Zealand’s small population size and density also has an impact — critical mass generally needs, well, mass.

We also suffer from poor communication, particularly our fondness for jargon. Don’t get me wrong: within a field, jargon is extremely useful for sharing discrete and often complicated concepts. Indeed, Condillac (a philosopher) observed over 300 years ago that ’every science requires a special language because every science has its own ideas’. It’s also a brilliant form of linguistic tribalism.

Problems arise, however, when it is used out of context. Particularly with people not of the ‘tribe’. At best, it’s irritating; at worst, patronising and alienating. And it can cement stereotypes which are, frankly, not useful. Most entrepreneurs aren’t ‘corporate drones in suits who don’t get it’; most scientists aren’t ‘nerdy, cut off from reality and difficult to deal with’. Such stereotypes can have negative results, including missed opportunities and even conflict.

So, what do we do? To my business friends, may I suggest that ‘actioning’ and other such terms be some of the first phrasing to go. To my scientist friends: it is possible to use plain language to explain what you do. Sciblogs, a New-Zealand-based science blogging network, demonstrates clearly how engaging scientists can be when given the chance and encouragement. To both: take the time to listen to each other.

But there’s more to it than this. Not only is the language itself important, but so is an understanding of the strictures and context of each field. Science is often uncertain, and can take decades to mature to commercialisation potential (while needing funding from the beginning). Business is generally fast-moving, and functions such as marketing and PR — often deeply mistrusted by scientists — are pivotal if the business is to succeed.

We need translators, as well — people who can straddle the divide between science/ research and business. People who understand the language and intricacies of each well enough to help those involved understand each other. Both research and business (particularly in a global context) are becoming increasingly complicated, and people with the talent and training to live with one foot in each camp will become increasingly valuable. We need to find them, train them, and provide career opportunities and growth to match their value.

Finally, we need to get researchers and entrepreneurs together. Physically. I might go so far as to suggest by force, if necessary. There’s nothing like being in the same room to help overcome some of the difficulties so easily encountered in less immediate circumstances. How? Through competitions like What’s Your Problem New Zealand. Through incubators. Through events. Through supporting promising industries (like high temperature superconductors) and sharing the stories of, and lessons from, their success. If necessary, bribe people with beer (or wine) and funding incentives. Do whatever it takes to get people together and talking to each other.

Not only because we need to improve our research commercialisation and innovation capabilities, but because we should want to. Imagine what the famous Number 8 wire mentality and Kiwi ingenuity could do if we only gave it a decent chance…

And finally: my apologies to Lewis Carroll for co-opting his poetry a little.

Aimée Whitcroft works with the Science Media Centre, and is the deputy editor/ admin/contributor at Sciblogs.co.nz (an SMC initiative). After studying science and entrepreneurship, she has worked in management/strategy consultancy, market research and science communication.

Ta-da!

New Zealand internet usage is on the up! aimee whitcroft Oct 14

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Internet usage in New Zealand is, not surprisingly, on the increase :)

Apparently, we’re choosing easier access to the internet, more data and faster access.  Huzzah! Statistics New Zealand has released the results of the 2011 Internet Service Provider Survey, saying the following:

A greater number of subscribers had access to faster upload speeds in 2011. The proportion of those with upload speeds of 1.5 megabits per second (Mbps) or more increased by over 70 percent in the year ended June 2011. The most common upload speeds remain between 256 kilobits per second (kbps) and 1.5Mbps, however, the number of subscribers using slower speeds is declining.

The number of subscribers using alternative technologies, such as cellular, cable, and satellite connections, increased by almost 50 percent between June 2010 and June 2011. Additionally, almost 2 million New Zealanders used a mobile phone to access the Internet in the three months prior to 30 June 2011. ’This reflects the developments in Internet-accessible devices such as tablets, pocket WiFi, and smartphones,’ ICT Statistics Manager, Jean Watt said.

The total number of broadband subscribers increased 14 percent since 2010 to almost 1.5 million subscribers. The number of broadband subscribers overtook the number of dial-up subscribers for the first time in 2007. Four years later broadband subscribers accounted for over 85 percent of the overall number of subscribers to the Internet.

The Internet Service Provider Survey covers all Internet service providers in New Zealand and is run annually.

And, if you’re wanting a quick digest of the full release, some quick facts below:

Key facts

  • The total number of broadband subscribers increased by 14 percent, to almost 1.5 million between June 2010 and June 2011.
  • The largest growth rate of all broadband connections was in cellular, cable, and satellite connections. When combined, these increased almost 50 percent since June 2010.
  • Almost 80 percent of broadband subscribers at June 2011 had a data cap of 5 gigabytes (GB) or more, with the most common cap between 5 and 20GB.
  • The number of subscribers with an upload speed of 1.5Mbps or more increased by almost three quarters since 2010.
  • The average subscriber consumed 9GB of data per month between June 2010 and June 2011.
  • In the three months prior to 30 June 2011, 1.9 million New Zealanders had active Internet subscriptions via a mobile phone.

The full results can be seen in PDF form below, or downloaded here.  You an also find the data tables here.



NZ’s increasing academic shortage aimee whitcroft Sep 30

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I was most interested to read this article in the ODT today.
It talks about the University of Otago’s plans to futureproof (what a catchphrase) itself against what, apparently, is a steadily increasing shortage of tertiary academics in New Zealand as we head towards 2020.
The University says it’s already seen shortages in areas including medical research/teaching and accountancy.
This to some extent makes sense based on what I’ve heard anecdotally about academics finding NZ a tough country in which to work. However, speaking with other scientists I’ve also heard that many other countries are hardly easy, either. The article also says:
“The collaborative planning initiative, which involves all eight New Zealand universities, aimed to prevent a future staffing shortage throughout the country’s universities as traditional overseas sources for academic staff dried up at the same time as a large proportion of New Zealand’s current academic staff was retiring.

“The universities were all concerned that as New Zealand moved towards 2020, they would face significant difficulties in maintaining an effective and efficient academic workforce.”

So I guess my question is: is this something that people are seeing and if so, in which areas have you experienced it?
And what can be done?
And, indeed, is anyone involved in the Academic Workforce Planning – Towards 2020 (8 universities looking into how to combat the problem) project?

Google Transit aimee whitcroft Sep 01

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I was most exceedingly happy to hear about this yesterday. I am, after all, something of a Google fan.


My happiness, however, turned to ecstatic delight when I realised that Google Transit is far, far better than the Metlink website. A thorn in my side, I find the journey planner on Metlink’s website silly – it requires that one have the correct street number if it’s to find a bus stop, for crying out loud, rather than simply pick up up stops in the area of the one requested. in a move of quite stunningly bad programming, it’s more likely to try match street numbers than street names, leading to a great deal of gritted-teeth frustration…

Honestly, one would think the search and databasing advances of the last x years have never happened, with the required follow-up of ‘y’?

Transit, however, has Google cleverness built in. How absolutely tech-tasty, and a godsend for those of us stuck with crappy transport information systems. Now, of course, all we need is to be able to check bus times – my bus, for example, is 5-15 minutes late almost every day, but, well, I can’t exactly take it for granted, can I? Sod’s law always applies, and I’d rather wait for 10 minutes before hand than half an hour afterwards…

Aah, I miss TFL sometimes. OK, so it didn’t always get the shortest route right, but it did keep track of what was running late. Then again, I’ve heard that Wellington buses are beginning to have GPS trackers installed which should help the problem, although then again, possibly not – after all, it’s not just the data itself, but what’s done with it, that makes or breaks a system (see above paragraphs).

So yes – I’ll be waiting (inevitably, given the buses here) to see what happens, but in the meantime I’m glad that I can at least find bus routes without having to try magically figure out which street number will give me a result…

The value of knowledge economies aimee whitcroft Sep 01

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Rod Oram, of the Sunday Star Times, recently wrote this piece.

In it, he basically lays out why a knowledge-based (or at least heavily contributed to-) economy is something New Zealand should be striving for.


And I have to say I agree: this idea that one must make things in order to be a wealthy economy is, well, extremely outdated – certainly, it seems to have landed NZ in a bit of a pickle economically. I remember being told years ago, while studying business, that manufacturing and farming-based economies would contribute an ever-decreasing amount of wealth to the economy due to, well, a number of reasons really, including the ever downward pressure on commodity prices, manual labour, and, frankly, China.

Or, think of it using the internet vs print as a paradigm: the people who generate content (goods) are increasingly squeezed, while the people who can add value to the content, like coders and tech companies (services) find themselves doing increasingly well.

So yes, a knowledge economy it is! And it’s something other countries, including India and Singapore, cottoned on to some time ago.

The only thing is: how to get one (properly) going here? Of course, we need skilled people – not that they necessarily have to have degrees, mind you. But highly skilled, yes. And, and this is simply a perhaps (and one written from a non-kiwi point of view), perhaps we need more people? I know that the kiwi government makes it pretty difficult for people to come live here and while I can understand that attitude for minimally skilled people, I tihnk that they may want to consider loosening things up for young/older highly skilled people who can both contribute to the market, but also help increase the market size itself (a significant issue here).

And the industries themselves? Well, they’re likely to be in tech, design and science, predominantly (and, of course, in the intersections between the aforementioned) – these industries really do foster knowledge economies, and government investment in them is very important. Let’s hope the government realises that.

Gadgets, Games and Geeks 09: The Future of Innovation, Shatter, Weta and pizza aimee whitcroft Aug 26

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A couple of days ago (Monday evening, to be exact), I attended GGG09 – Gadgets, Games and Geeks 09 (note: a logo would be a good thing, guys).

And yes, it was pretty interesting.

The highlight for me was Bill Reichert‘s talk, ‘The Future of Innovation: Entrepreneurship, Venture Capital and Emerging Technologies’ (if you’re interested, you can find the talk and accompanying slides on the SMC’s website, here). He’s a very engaging speaker, and had some great pieces of knowledge to impart.

Certainly it got me all inspired again about entrepreneurship – a subject close to my heart as it forms one of my qualifications. And, while much of it absolutely seemed like common sense, there were a couple of surprises, particularly the ‘change takes time’ point he makes (point 9 in his talk). Essentially, he says that we’ve talked ourselves into believing that the pace of change is accelerating, but that it simply is not the case. We simply need to look, he says, at how long it has actually taken us to get, for example, to high bandwidths and oodles of storage or, for that matter, electric cars which aren’t completely useless (or incredibly expensive). Other examples abound (really, have a look at his slides).

I also found his point about Twitter very interesting (towards the end of the session, in response to a question from the audience). He said that his issue with Twitter was simply that it gave entrepreneurs the wrong idea: that they could come up with a clever idea, get a few million ‘eyeballs’, and as a result make (lots of) money off it. After all, the jury is still out as to whether Twitter itself can make money, and how.

Having said that, it was definitely encouraging to hear that it’s not all doom and gloom – actually, a personal belief I’ve heard mirrored many times is that tough times actually enhance creativity by shocking everyone out of their bubbles. So we should have lots to look forward to.

(note: as usual, clicking on the logos will take you to the appropriate sites)

I also found Sidhe‘s talk very interesting (I have recorded it, and can put it up if requested – the slides can be found here). James Everett did a great job of explaining who Sidhe are, why they want more game developers in Wellington (amusingly, ‘because it’s difficult to poach from yourself’), and where they’re hoping to go in the future.

And I am definitely intrigued by there idea: shorten development times, shorten game lengths and bring down prices. Sounds like just my type of gaming. And Shatter really is very, very cool. Yes, it’s pong, but it’s new pong, and gosh is it pretty. If only it was available for PC…

Sadly, I found the talk by Tim Lauder of Weta Cave a little less thrilling than the previous two, although, as a lifelong fan of steampunk, I did enjoy the whole Dr Grodbert’s thang (I almost bought a lapel pin!)

I think my only real complaint was that I think there could have more exhibitors. I have some theories on why there weren’t (nothing I’ll air, of course), but it really would have been a wonderful way to showcase some more work. For example, I know a guy up in Palmerston North whose company, Unlimited Realities, has been developing Dell’s new touchscreen software

On the other hand, the enormous slices of pizza which rounded (haha) the evening off were brilliant.

So yes, here’s to GGG09, and hoping that GGG10 is even better!

Sunbed silliness aimee whitcroft Aug 18

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I will admit to being slightly biased on this one, having heard many, many years ago about the entirely legitimate concerns about the cancer risks through UV exposure associated with their use.


And it’s become a rather heated (haha) issue here in New Zealand, particularly as it’s now been confirmed that sunbeds are, well, synonymous with cancer causation. The IARC is behind the research and they tend to know what they’re talking about (in fact, they’re the WHO’s agency committed to looking into human cancer).

Some countries have legislated around this, either by banning their use altogether, or by requiring that it is confined to adult use. In other cases, they allow teenagers to use them, but only if there has been adult consent.

But in New Zealand, none of this is the case. The sunbed industry here operates under a voluntary code (generally code for ‘pays lip service to’), which precludes people under 18 using the service. In addition, a spokesperson has said that people are aware of the risks, but choose to use the treatments anyway.

Now, however, an article on Stuff has shown that this isn’t the case at all. The investigation carried out as part of the article showed that most of the sunbed operators looked into showed no signs of abiding by the voluntary code: they allowed underage clients to use them, and in many cases did not tell people about the associated health risks or even warn them to use the goggles provided.

Not OK, guys, not OK at all. After all, having your clients die is generally accepted, even in our gung-ho world, as bad (or at least unsustainable) business practice.

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