Thursday, December 22, 2005

Bah Humbug

Only three sleeps to Xmas!

I'm just so over the whole thing already. It's going to rain solidly until the 9th January, when it will become scorchio for the rest of the month.

In fact, I question whether we need public holidays at all. New Zealanders get 15 days mandatory holiday a year (rising to 20 at some vanishingly distant point in the future) and unlike other countries, that's all most people get. In addition, we get ten days of public holidays - so we get 15 days of our own choice and 10 at the same time as everyone else.

Also, most employers *make* their employees take 3-6 days over Christmas and New Years - reducing freely chosen holidays to 9 days - not long enough for a fortnight's break.

Why not just make it 25 (rising to 30) days of the employee's choice with compulsory leave banned? Then I could choose to work through till January, then take some holiday when it's all quietened down - or just take a 3 day weekend overy other week.

Friday, December 02, 2005


I've decided to declare this site a Canadian Politics Free Zone (CPFZ) for the duration of our great neighbour to the Northeast's election, maybe longer.

Canadians are cool people, but there's something about their politics that brings on the snore factor. If the Quebecois were to engage in violent succession and threaten the US with nuclear attack, then things might get more exciting - I find this unlikely though..

Would anyone like to join me in ths effort - I could design a logo.

For those who are interested, here is a link to an explanation of Canadian electoral law, translated into French by Google.

Up the

I drive past this apartment block in Auckland on my way to work.

It's called Cittá - this is the Italian word for city, only with the accent the wrong way round, it should be Città.

While they were changing the accents to help the graphic design, I wonder if they considered using a French-style cedilla accent, as in: Çitta. That would be pronounced - Shitter.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Theoretically cheap

The Herald reports today on the MIT Media Lab's OLPC scheme to produce an USD100 (NZD150) laptop for schoolchildren in developing countries.

Reading the website in more detail, one thing I notice is that the $100 is a manufacturing cost (and they are actually finding quotes closer to $110). I worked on a consumer device project a while ago, and we reckoned on a sale price of four times the factory cost. You might think that excessive, but there are a lot of costs in getting a design into a factory and getting units to end users (R&D, purchasing, distribution, cost of capital, retailers margin, advertising, support, etc...)

Now the first thing you'd say is that OLPC aren't evil capitalists out to make a profit, so that will reduce the price substantially? Won't it? Well the largest maker of "cheap for a reason" PCs, Dell, made a 6% profit last year. Most mutuals (like Southern Cross or the Uk's Nationwide Building Society) don't sell their products much cheaper than profit making competitors - they usually reckon to aim to make a surplus and pass it back to customers in later years - aiming at break-even is just too risky. You'd probably expect OLPC to target a 10% surplus in the early stages just to cover contingencies - so their margins will need to be *more* than the commercial competition.

They also plan a rather different supply chain to the rest of the industry. They intend to sell in minimum quantities of a million units directly to developing country governments. For cash. Won't that cut out all the distribution costs? Well... The devices will still need to be boxed, shipped, distributed to the schools or whatever. The teachers (at least) will need to be trained. They will need a helpdesk, as well as some means of getting faulty units fixed. They'll need upgrades. The machines will need to be localised (unless part of the plan is to impose the English language on everyone). The governments themselves will need to fund the purchase of the machines - probably a good year ahead of any actual deliveries.

If the assumption is that the governments are going to receive bulk shipments of hardware and find everything else themselves, then the $100 price isn't real - they'd need to buy the laptops *and* set up a whole infrastructure to support them.

It's also not reasonable to assume that just because the sales are negotiated with governments, there won't be any sales costs. Even honest governments will take quite a lot of negotiating before they will fork out $100 million (plus possibly the same again in support costs, as we saw above). They might reasonably want OLPC to set up a back-to-back aid deal to finance the purchase. Also, many developing countries have rather corrupt governments and will probably want substantial bribes - all of which is going to send OLPC's overheads up.

So this $100 laptop is starting to look at having an effective retail price not far short of $400.
How does that compare with Evil Capitalism? Dell are offering a laptop for $499 with the usual 30G hard disk, 256 measly megabytes of RAM, Celeron, Windows XP, etc.

It does strike me that the OLPC could just go to tender for five million bog standard laptops loaded with Linux (or persuade MSFT to donate Windows licenses), drop-shipped to various third world airports. Add in a bit of subsidy from their public spirited backers (Google etc) and the total cost once the boxes reach the schoolroom will probably be a whole lot less than Negroponte's neat green and yellow boxes.

Final cynical point - this is a pretty major product development project - how many of the people on the OLPC board have experience in mass market product design and production. Answer: none of them!

The picture looks cool though!

Thursday, November 17, 2005


Five internet entities that are less real than A J Chesswas:
1. Craig Ranapia
Maori National supporter I can believe, gay National supporter I can just about believe, but gay Maori National supporter?
2. The women variously featured on David Farrar's blog.
3. Ms Vilefile
Has to be a bloke.. All apparently desirable chicks on the Net are.
4. The about-towners.
They sound like socialists but they hold office in the Labour party?
5. Rich
The product of a buggy experimental auto-comment generator seeded with a database of new Zealand media.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Green Challenge

Nandor has confirmed that he'll be back in parliament. While it's really tragic how this has occurred, I think it's great to have him back.

A lot of people in and around the Green Party seem to disagree however, to judge from these comments on frogblog.

(As I commented on the blog) I think these people are very misguided.

To me the challenge for the Greens is to build support amongst their natural constituency - young people. Youth is very badly represented in NZ politics - I don't know if it's Māori or old-English concepts of elders being betters, but we have an extremely grey parliament. Even in the Green Party, all but Nandor and Metiria are over 50.

The Greens lost votes at the last election - next time, 6% of the voting population will be first time voters (today's 15-18 year olds). The challenge for the Green Party, IMHO, is to engage with those people. Getting even 20% of their vote would give the Greens a 1% increase overall - and I can't see this is hard - if you polled a bunch of teenagers their opinions would, I suggest, engage very closely with the Green Party's policies.

Nandor needs to be part of this - and yes, it *is* important that to many young people that they don't risk a criminal record merely through choosing to ingest certain substances.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Broadcasting finances

Jordan commented on public broadcasting a few days ago, suggesting that it would be a good idea to make TVNZ a wholly state funded public service broadcaster.

Broadly I'd agree with this idea, but I thought it would be interesting to look at the figures. The table1 shows a (rough) comparison between public service broadcasting spend in NZ, Australia and the UK.

As you can see we spend less than Australia and a lot less, even after PPP adjustment, than the UK. In some ways we get better value for money - the BBC makes a lot of purely commercial programmes that simply compete with advertising and subscription funded broadcasters for ratings.

A difference between Aus and UK is that the latter, as most of you know, has a license fee - e.g. a compulsory subscription for BBC content. Australia funds the ABC out of general taxation.

What would it cost to have an advert-free, public service TV1 (and a fully commercial TV2)? Let's assume the $470mln revenues of TVNZ split $270mln to TV1 and $200mln to TV2. We'd be looking at $270mln to fund TV1 as it stands. However, given they would no longer need to chase ad revenue, they could cut their costs quite substantially - we could maybe have a watchable quality broadcaster for $120mln.

It would also be reasonable to assume that the pot of ad spending in NZ is constant - which would mean that if TV1 stopped taking ads, all the other broadcasters (including TV2) would be able to hike their rates - resulting in a revenue windfall.
So one option for additional TV funding would be a tax on ad revenue - if this raised $80mln, then taking $30mln out of NZ On Air would, with the TVNZ Charter money, neatly cover the costs of an ad-free TV1.

Now those on the right will no doubt argue that this would be a horrible confiscation of private funding - personally, I'd see it as a very reasonable amount to preserve our unique culture.

1. Recent spending on public service broadcasting (NZ$)

Total Per capita Adj for PPP2
New Zealand
TVNZ Charter 133
NZ on air 97
Total 110 28 28
ABC 890 44 39
BBC 7350 123 55

2. PPP adjustment based on the Penn World Table

3. The TVNZ charter amount is a notional figure from the annual report. In physical terms, I think this represents profit foregone by the New Zealand people that would otherwise have been made if TVNZ worked on a purely commercial basis.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Poo fireworks

I'm not sure quite what they were trying to say here...

Monday, October 31, 2005

Couldn't run a whelk stall..

The Pack and Pedal chain of bike and camping shops has gone into liquidation owing millions of dollars.

It was owned by Barry Coleman, the publisher of the National Business Review and someone who is always very keen to put forward his views on how New Zealand should be run.

I mean, really! Many bike shops are run by hippies and they keep running succesfully for years and years - sell bikes, fix bikes, collect money - it's hardly rocket science!

Maybe Mr Coleman's next venture will be a mobile edible mollusc retail outlet...

Thursday, October 20, 2005

It wasn't me guv!

The following defences are apparently being considered by Saddam Hussein's legal team:
1. Mistaken identity. "I'm not Saddam Hussein, I'm his cuzzie, Dave Hussein".
2. The policeman wasn't wearing his hat.
3. Becoming a Christian. "Show me where in the bible it says you aren't allowed to murder entire villages?"
4. Self-defence - he might get a redneck jury after all.
5. "It was the 'P', your honour.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Final National party billboard

I think that says it all.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Barely tolerated serfies...

I've been reading Che Tibby's series of "Metics" posts on Public Address with interest, but also with some bewilderment at what he is driving at. Is it an attempt to construct a theoretical basis for NZ First? (I'm sure it can't be...)

I do have a specific disagreement with his latest post, and since Public Address is above having a comments section, I thought I'd discuss it here:

Che states:
"Without nation-building, the differences of the myriad persons introduced to migrant nation-states would eventually result in social collapse, and nationalism is the ideology that underpins the process."
I don't believe this is the case.

I'd point out in passing that there are very few non-migrant nation states - to my knowledge only Iceland and some of the smaller Pacific islands are populated near-exclusively by their first settlers - everywhere else has experienced multiple waves of immigration.

There are a range of multi-national states (Britain, Spain) and even more multi-lingual ones (Switzerland, Canada, South Africa). These states have had social problems of various degrees, but these have generally been the result of a dominant culture trying to impose homogeneity. The acceptance of multiple identities has tended to result in a reasonable degree of stability (Scotland, Catalonia).

I don't see that this is any different for "migrant" states - if a subgroup of people want to live differently, but without harming others, then why should this lead to social collapse? There are powerful factors (underpinned by the fact that people are basically the same) that tend to result in cultural merging over a few generations. Where is the imperative for government-forced "nation building"?

Secondly Che states:
"There is a group called 'New Zealanders', who are citizens of New Zealand and therefore nationals. But within this all-encompassing group is another group, one that holds the right to govern, and the right to determine who is, and who is not, a 'real' New Zealander."

I'm a permanent resident, and went and voted 10 days ago. Is Che saying that when they heard my pommie accent, they gave me a special marked voting paper that got later stuffed in the bin? I don't think so - I voted, and hence participated in "governing". And quite a lot of the NZ population is foreign born - 20% at the last census (33% of Aucklanders, incidentally). If we all voted together we'd have quite a lot of influence - we don't because we don't all agree - that's part of diversity.

I doubt I'd personally get far in NZ politics, but that's mainly because I hold views that are socially liberal to the point of near-anarchism, and unfortunately many Kiwis just don't think that way. I have no doubt however that Jordan Carter, an immigrant from Canada, has a glowing future in the Labour Party, just as a for instance.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

New model

Chanel have fired Kate Moss from her modelling contract as a result of her predeliction for Bolivian Marching Powder.

Finding a replacement free from such unsavoury habits has not been easy - however they have finally found their new "face" and Observationz is able to bring you an exclusive photo:

UPDATE: it seems hard to get a consistent nun image - the one I had went unobtainable.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Divided nation?

There has been a lot of comment, for instance, here in the Herald and on Campbell last night, concerning the political division between urban and rural areas of NZ.

It was pretty noticable on the various trips I took out of town (skiing mainly) in the weeks leading up to the election that the towns (small and large) had mostly Labour and Maori party posters, while the bush had National and Act ones (including the huge, and questionably legal, ones on SH1 near Te Kauwhata). I saw only one rural Labour poster - I assumed this must have been Helen Clark's parents' farm?

No big surprise that - how many left wing farmers are there?

I think Labour's loss of seats in places like Napier is quite easily understood as well. Outside the big cities, New Zealand doesn't exactly brim with opportunities for young people. There are no large "knowledge-based" employers outside the university towns and the three main cities (as far as I know - feel free to prove me wrong!) - this means that a lot of young people with aspirations take off to college and don't return. At the same time, the property boom has left a lot of older people with money and time on their hands - and they've tended to migrate to coastal towns with a nice climate (Tauranga being the prime example). So in place of the mixed population these cities would have had years ago, they now have a preponderance of wealthy, conservative, retired and semi-retired people. Who vote National.

I'm not sure what can be done about this. It would possibly be a good plan to take some of the larger public bodies and move them to provincial towns. Maybe expanding the number of universities would help as well, together with some form of incentive to move businesses there (most other countries do this in some form).

I don't think it's a sign of some major national rift though...

Friday, September 16, 2005

Different kinds of terrorist

The UK government has introduced new anti-terrorist legislation, which, amongst other things, introduces the "thoughtcrime" of "glorifying terrorism" and allows up to six months arbitrary detention.

It is interesting that there has been no mention of applying these draconian measures in Northern Ireland, where insurrection has resurfaced in the past week. Arguably the situation in the Six Counties has come much closer to the ECHR test of a "public emergency threatening the life of the nation" than Islamist activity in mainland UK - the constitutional arrangements (and indeed the continued existence) of Northern Ireland over the past hundred years have largely been driven by actual and threatened violence by nationalist and unionist groups.

Why is the UK government not planning to charge the leader of the Orange Order with "glorifying terrorism"? Or to detain hundreds of loyalists without trial? Largely, I suspect because the situation *is* seen as serious. Such measures were tried in Ireland in the early 1970's and abandoned after they simply exacarbated the situation.

It seems that because Muslim extremists are to few in number to threaten "the life of the nation" the UK government believes that repressive measures can be introduced with no risk of a widening insurrection - we shall see.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Not mainstream

I got a letter yesterday. It was addressed to Mr R and Ms J Observationz (not really, but similar).

In common, I would think, with a lot of people, I live with my partner - we aren't married yet, and she certainly doesn't use my name. Most people would either write to us separately or to both of us by our individual surnames.

I can only guess that someone assumes that if two people of the opposite sex live together, they must be married, or brother and sister. Guess who that might be?

Not hard is it - the National Party!

Both of us might consider their kind offer to vote for them (or possibly they expect the male to cast both votes in some sort of Victorian/Exclusive Brethren style). However I think we both fail their test of mainstream-ness:

Me: Immigrant (not from Singapore), living in sin, no kids
My partner: Female, living in sin, no kids, under 40.

Possibly everyone should consider their compatibility with the "mainstream" before voting for Brash (aka Victorian Dad).

Monday, September 05, 2005

Polled out

I was all set to write a post slagging off TVNZ for this self selecting, unrepresentative, pay-to-vote "poll".

I even created this spoof poll in the previous post to compare it with.

Then I noticed - they aren't going to publish the result until *after* the election. Which seems a little pointless (and wasn't mentioned on the programme). I suspect their lawyers have been having a little word - which would be a good thing.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

New poll just in

The following exclusive Observationz poll rather paints a different picture of the election to those "scientific" polls in the mainstream media.

Destiny NZ 2.1%
Act 34.0%
National 14.9%
Libz 4.3%
NZ First 2.1%
United Future 6.4%
Labour 14.9%
Progs 2.1%
Alliance 8.5%
CWG 4.3%
Greens 6.4%

On this basis, I expect that ACT will be able to lead a government with the support of National - which I'm sure Don will give to the victorious Rodney - he will probably get Treasurer, or maybe Deputy PM. A few more votes could see the Libertarianz joining in though.

[Sample details: the sample of 47 was taken from Span's analysis here and is based on a self-selecting sample of those who have bothered to create a blog and declare their preference - but hey - in the words of Susan Wood it "Makes you wonder".]

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Green Box

Twice in recent days we've had a mysterious box on the letter-box. The first one was red - the latest one is green - as seen below:

I'm curious as to what they are? It's been suggested something to do with orienteering. In London I think this would invite a controlled explosion....

I took the box apart - after all being on my letter box makes it mine, right?

The parts can be seen below:

It looks to me like it detects a flash or IR beam and starts the led flashing - no sounding device and no RF-like components, so it probably isn't a transmitter or receiver. I tried flashing a bright light at it, but nothing happened.

Anyone know? There was nothing marked on the PCB that I could find on Google.

I thought maybe ACT have some fiendish device to measure who reads their bogus election messages...

Saturday, August 27, 2005

On anonymity

I noticed a mild election related spat by two (more or less) left-wing bloggers. One outed the other as a list candidate for a political party and gave their list position - which wasn't appreciated.

I'd agree this would be unethical if the "outer" knew the "outees" identity from personal discussion or by knowing them offline, etc.

However, the person being outed announces in their profile the city they live in. They've also announced that they are a list-only candidate. And they've repeatedly mentioned their gender.
The thing is, their party has only one list-only candidate of that gender from the city they live in. This isn't difficult to find out from the parties website.

I guess it's harder than one thinks to be anonymous...

(This post would be a lot more fluent if I revealed the identities and blogs of those concerned - but I wouldn't be that nasty).

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ

Actually I'm about 3000km from there, but same country, anyway.

10 Good Things about the US:

  1. Wireless broadband in hotels - I can listen to George, bFM and Twisted (but not Radio NZ).
  2. Dance record stores like these guys - open until 10pm allegedly. Yup - I know the market in AKL is probably too thin to justify opening late, but it would be good for those of us who have day jobs - e.g. everyone except Greg Churchill (I suspect).
  3. Home Depot - every kind of home and garden tool you might want - and quality kit not 10c crap like the Warehouse.
  4. American Beer - yes I am not kidding you - our friends here now produce some excellent brews - and quite a lot cheaper than NZ.
  5. Being able to listen to the air traffic control on the inflight audio (on internal flights). Makes the flight much more interesting - also you know when and why you're running late (I guess). That's probably why Air NZ doesn't offer this!
  6. It's summer!
  7. Not being constrained by NZ court orders forbidding naming the drug case accused. All I can say is 'Pinetree' - really, who would have thought it.
  8. People go to the pub on school nights - actually I'm not sure whether NZ has the same percentage of hardened drinkers who go boozing on a Monday as elsewhere, but our population is too small to make a quorum, or that our salary/beer price ratio is too low to make midweek drinking affordable so everyone gets pissed at home.
  9. Most people seem to drive their automobiles like A-B machines rather than as in some sort of Kaikohe Demolition reenactment.
  10. Only four more years of Bush!

And 10 less good things:

  1. Absurd security at immigration. Particularly dumb is that when flying on Air NZ from AKL-LHR, you have to check into the USA. This is actually insecurity - if you are a dodgy character with no valid reason to enter the US, no cash, nowhere to stay, etc, you can front up with an onward ticket to London, get "admitted", wander off into LA, sell the ticket and become a wetback.
  2. Having to queue for nearly an hour for car rental while people quibble over the kind of waivers and options they need, the agents try and upsell them, five types of id get checked and copied into the computer.
  3. Getting a free *upgrade* to a full-size. There's one of me - why do I need a four door gas guzzler (GM product, natch) with such retro features as a pedal footbrake, three on the tree gearchange, bench front seats and doors that lock when you get in! Why can't they rent out Toyotas (actually seeing the price of USD23k I do see some logic).
  4. American radio and TV - but at least I don't need to listen to the former much..
  5. The power leads are subtly different and I forgot to get an adaptor *before* leaving Auckland.
  6. Being in the back of nowhere with a choice of one pub.
  7. I'm missing the skiing - just as it's turned good.
  8. Too much beer, to much food, not enough exercise.
  9. Four-way stops. Just *who* has right of way? Ok - it's first to arrive, first to go - like that'd work in NZ!
  10. Four more years of Bush, then Arnie if they pass the Equal Opportunity to Govern Amendment.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Escaping the election

I'm off to the USA for the next two weeks. Yay! Yay!

Boondocks of freaking nowhere, however, but at least one can more or less guarantee that neither Don Brash or the regrettable Mr Peters will be on the telly.

Might post updates if I come across anything of interest..

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Funding education

The removal of interest on student loans - as promised by Labour - would, I think, be a good thing. Former students won't be burdened by debt, new students won't be put off and the public purse will be more likely to collect on the principal of the loan, which we won't if people disappear overseas and never return.

How can education funding be improved for *new* students? I'd suggest the following:

- A two year, full time (48 week) standard degree. This would be able to cover the same ground academically as the current standard of three short years. It would cost roughly 80% of the fees for a three year degree. It would save students a lot of money in subsistence costs, due to only spending two years in college. It would also get people into the graduate workforce quicker, which would be good for the students *and* the overall economy.

- An entitlement for everyone to have the (cost) equivalent of five years post-18 training - this could be anything from a degree to subsidised workplace training.

- Every tertiary institution being required to move towards zero-fee courses. If Southland Tech can manage it, why can't others?

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Gee! Mail!

I just signed up for a gmail account - to use for blog communication and so forth. Gmail is wierd - it's been on beta now for over a year - they must have ironed the technical bugs out.

But you have to jump through a small hoop to get an account - there's no "sign up here" page - instead, you need to go to something like and get an invite. Apparently, they used to be sought after and sold - now, people just donate unwanted invites to a pool.

Why is this? Possibly Google lose money on each account - 2G of disk space costs a few dollars a year to maintain and if gmail accounts are mostly secondary emails, then ad traffic might not be enough to cover this.

Ultimate geek toy

I got one of these for my birthday!

It's a binary LED watch. You have to read it by pressing the button and then converting the led pattern from binary to decimal. Possibly the most outstandingly geeky device ever! Thank you sis!

Now, should I buy myself an Oakley Thump or wait for the next generation of MP3 player sunnies with built in WiFi?

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Small Town Big River

Apparently Dargaville has conceded its epic battle with Balclutha for the title of Big River Town and the use of the eponymous web address.

I now forsee a battle between Dargaville and Tokoroa for the address - currently untouched and available.

(wikipedia links for our international readership - who may possibly not have heard of any of these places).

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Outrageously tame

TV3's new NZ comedy/drama, Outrageous Fortune, follows the lives and mishaps of a family of Westie criminals trying to go straight. In the blurb, TV3 honcho Caterina De Nave is quoted as stating "This is a bold story. We’ve not seen anything like it on our televisions before".

Well, actually, we have. Quite a lot of it - from Minder to Lock, Stock... And about ten years ago Tarantino set a standard for blackly humorous drama with Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. In more recent years, we've seen comedy/dramas like Footballers' Wives set a standard for outrageousness (ex-wife arranges to have a baby at the same moment as current floozie, switches babies, one is eaten by dog, replacement nanny is disguised former "hostess" seeking revenge for her rape by entire team... You get the picture - that's *bold*).

None of the characters in Outrageous Fortune are in any way scary enough - they look more like property spivs (the older ones) or bFM presenters (the younger ones) than desperate crims from the ghettos of Henderson.

For instance, in the first episode wayward son Van burgles some Chinese people who are, it is suggested, Triad members. Now in the tradition of cop drama, crossing the Triads tends to wind a character up having his fingers cut off and served up as sweet and sour. On a good day. These guys intimidate the mother by sitting next to her in a car. After the son fails to return the priceless heirloom, smashing it to find that it *doesn't* contain a kilo of smack, they make him clean their swimming pool. What *is* this - Heartbeat?

Even in the Guardian

The Guardian has an article discussing the role of websites in encouraging "terrorists".

It states that: "Among the sites causing concern is Jihadunspun (JUS), a highly professional website which claims to present "a clear view of war on terror". It has been widely criticised in the US by agencies including the state department. "

The site Googles easily - it's at Apart from some really appalling poetry, it doesn't seem to me to contain any incitement to violence, just a radical leftist/islamic point of view on the "war against terror". There's probably more dangerous information on wikipedia, particularly if you look at the article history where stuff has been expunged (like here).

It strikes me as going pretty far to try and suppress sites just because they contain "thoughtcrime". The Guardian seems to be joining in this - they don't include a link to this or any sites - admittedly this one can be easily Googled, but I think that if a journalist bases an article on a web link, they should tell us what it is so we can make up our own minds.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Anywhere but London

In the very unlikely event that any IOC members are reading this - please don't vote for London hosting the Olympics.

London's infrastructure barely copes with the people that have to live and work there - adding the Olympics is just going to lead to chaos. The tube isn't going to get rebuilt by 2012 - the only way to rebuild it properly is to do what the French have done in Paris and build alternative high speed lines. It recently took longer to replace an escalator than it took to construct the entire Central line with picks and shovels.

My other objection is that the Olympics will drive Britain even further along the path to a police state. The need to avoid a terrorist attack on the Olympics will give the government every excuse to add even more repressive measures (they already have detention without trial and want to bring in ID cards).

At least New Zealand is too small to credibly bid for the Olympics.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Royal wealth

The Guardian (or at least the PA) reports that Prince Charles' income from the Duchy of Cornwall exceeded NZ$30mln last year. In doing so, it repeats the common assertion that the Duchy is the private property of the Prince of Wales and that he receives no income from the state.

I did some analysis of this - the Duchy was founded in 1337 by the Black Prince. In those days, the monarchy equalled the nation state - personal and national possessions were not differentiated. Since then Britain has become a constitutional monarchy, and there is a clear distinction between national property (e.g. Hyde Park) and personal possessions (e.g. Prince Harry's paycheque from the Army).

Which does the Duchy fall into?

When founded, it was part of the combined national/royal assets. In 1760, most of the royal assets were accepted as national property (and the state agreed to provide monarchs with an income, the Civil List). The Duchy of Cornwall was not included in this - I don't have any background on why? It was certainly not (like Harry's salary or his inheritance from Diana) the result of personal, as opposed to public, endeavors.

The Duchy is also not like a normal asset - it is not passed automatically to the holders heirs, and it can be held in abeyance for several years. (most recently from 1936-1952). Being Duke goes with being the oldest son of the monarch - if no such person exists, then there is no dukedom and the income from the Duchy goes to the state.

Hence, I would conclude that the money from the Duchy, rather than being private wealth, represents an income from the nation for being the monarchs eldest son. This being so, one must ask whether it represents a good deal for the UK taxpayer?

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Sharing opportunity

Big Music have won a legal case against Grokster in the US Supreme Court, allowing companies that operate file sharing services to be sued.

I'd suggest that this creates an opportunity for New Zealand. Some countries operate a system where a tax on blank media funds a "right to copy". We could do a similar thing with a small levy on bandwidth allowing a right to share files. The proceeds could be distributed to New Zealand musicians and other artists.

Having adopted such a scheme, we could pass laws sheltering NZ based companies from US and other litigation - this would be an economic boost as file sharing and other companies relocated here - we'd become a "data haven".

Monday, June 27, 2005

Reactions to restriction

A few things I've noticed recently:

- Auckland City Council is consulting on plans to limit bar opening hours to 3am (rather than 24hr in many cases as at present).

- Some Italians, annoyed by a smoking ban in restuarants, are organizing "private trattorias" in rented villas, outside the normal regulatory system.

- A kid got badly beaten up after a private after-ball party in a Grey Lynn warehouse.

What's the connection? It seems to me that if restrictions are increased on "legitimate" bars and clubs, then people are going to party in venues outside the licensing system. This went on extensively in the USA of the 1920s (speakeasys) and more recently in South African townships (shebeens). Of course, illegal venues are not going to be sensible and controlled like legal ones.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Alternative partnership

It occurs to me that, if the next election leaves NZ First holding the balance of powers, that the two largest parties would do well to consider an alternative.

The economic policies of National and Labour (free trade, mixed economy, independent central bank) are broadly the same. They differ mainly in emphasis - National wants to cut taxes, Labour to improve services. I suspect that neither Brash or Key really want to wreck the NZ economy by driving the budget into deficit (as their advertised policies undoubtedly would) - should they win the election look out for a claim that Labour left a "hole" in the accounts making their tax cuts impossible for several years (!)

NZ First have rather different views - if they can be said to have an economic policy it's Muldoonism - attempted autarchy and "redistribution through inefficiency".

So a Labour/National coalition would make sense for both parties (of course I personally would prefer Labour/Green). I wonder if either major party has ruled out a coalition with the other?

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Chemical confusion

The Herald reports that the town of Takaka was evacuated after a fire at a dairy factory.

Nelson fire officer Rob Allan was reported as saying: "The focus was on keeping the fire away from the silos of caustic soda and sulphuric acid, If they do combine under a fire situation the gas that's produced is mustard gas" .

Not to doubt him or anything, but when I was at school H2SO4 + 2NaOH => Na2SO4 + 2H2O
Sodium sulphate is a mostly harmless salt and I think you know what H2O is..

To make mustard gas you actually need ethene (ethylene) and sulphur dichloride - I can't think of a good reason to have those in a dairy factory - unless they are making some very odd flavoured yogurt? The only chemicals you might have around that are nasty when combined would be Sodium Hypochlorite (bleach) and any acid, e.g: (2NaOCl + 4HCl => 4NaCl +2H2O + Cl2). (You can try this in your own dunny if you want to expire from Chlorine poisoning).

Warning to kids of all ages: don't try this at home.

UPDATE: This article in the Herald suggests that the fire service and/or Fonterra's Health & Safety people are somewhat embarrassed by their error. Could I suggest chemistry lessons?

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Go the desh!

As the Aussies lose to (last-ranked team) Bangladesh at one-day cricket, the news comes in that all-rounder Andrew Symonds has been suspended for going out on the piss.

As opposed to playing like a hungover wombat, presumably..

Friday, June 17, 2005

Health and power

I watched some of John Campbells pieces on power lines and cancer over the last couple of days. Not too much of them, as I find the attitude of those who don't know the difference between ionising radiation and electromagnetic fields, but are sure that they both cause cancer, rather irritating.

I will make the point however, that while power lines *might* have a rare health impact, not having electricity to warm our homes and refrigerate our food *will* have a real and immediate health impact!

Friday, June 10, 2005

Murdering truth

The increasingly irrelevant ACT party is unveiling its crime policies on the lawns of parliament with a collection of 131 white crosses on the lawns of Parliament, representing NZ's murder victims since the last election.

They are advocating California style "3 strikes and you're out" policies - which in that state have led to life imprisonment for stealing pizza from wastebins.

California is a safe, crime free haven then, where all the murderers and pizza thiefs are locked away? Not quite - California's last recorded murder rate was 6.8 per 1,000,000 - six times ours.

So in the unlikely event that ACT got elected, they'll need a bigger field for their next policy announcement to make room for all the crosses - perhaps they could book the Cake Tin?

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

This morning's Dilbert

I thought this morning's Dilbert deserved sharing. I am glad that people are beginning to understand that the British accent is not only sexy, but a sign of latent genius:

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Simple mobiles

Vodafone have come up with the idea of a "simple" mobile, intended presumably for those far off on the left hand side of the technology adoption bell curve (e.g. ones parents).

However, their idea of a simple mobile phone looks more like a 5 year old standard mobe than the elegant simple device you might have hoped for.

My concept for a simple phone would be:
- one line display for the number, big green light to indicate you have a signal.
- 12 buttons, 0-9 plus Send and Hangup
- no text, phone book (maybe make the phone out of some sort of wipe-clean material so you can write numbers on with a pencil)

Or even:
- no number display, tone feedback as you dial
- flip open to pickup/start dialing and hangup
- automated end of number detection, like a PSTN exchange does (I assume the data is there to know that a number starting 09 has 9 digits, 004420 has 14, etc)

Or even:
- no buttons, just a flip.
- on opening the phone you get connected to an operator, who asks who you want and puts you through

These phones could even become fogey fashion items through their elegant simplicity (not to mention small size...)

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Living in a shoebox

There's an article in today's Herald about small flats being built in Auckland's CBD.

I can't see what's wrong with small apartments if people are willing to buy/rent them. I owned a studio flat in London for a while - I can't remember the exact size, but I'd be very surprised if it was over 30m2. It was perfectly adequate for my needs at the time and it certainly wasn't a slum - like most of my neighbours, I was a young professional who was willing to trade off a shorter journey to work and a lively neighbourhood for the extra space I would have had in suburbia.

I suspect that a lot of Aucklanders are opting for a personal, if small, flat over a shared house, which is perfectly reasonable. I can't see why Auckland City is preventing people from making this choice by imposing size limits.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

TV on demand

The BBC is to offer a range of programmes via video on demand. The catch is that they are putting in a DRM system to restrict content to their UK license payers.

Thought 1: How they plan to identify license payers? Presumably they will allow you to register given your license number or similar. Of course there will be a whole lot of trading of credentials, not to mention trading of MPEGs (especially given that the BBC will be under political pressure to make its content available via an open source codec - such codes not being compatible with effective DRM).

Thought 2: Currently one of the BBCs revenue sources is program syndication (selling Top Gear to Prime for instance). If they are distributing programmes directly to the UK (and consequently having them ripped off around the world) then this is going to undermine the price they can get for those programmes. They may wind up being able to get more money by offering the shows free with built in advertising than through syndication.

Thought 3: The BBC license fee is a compulsory tax on all UK TV users, enforced by law. If the BBC begins to electronically "lock" its content, then it calls into question the need for their "tax raising powers". Given that the UK is moving to a digital platform for broadcast TV in the next 10 years, this is likely to become an interesting issue.

Monday, May 16, 2005


Various stories this morning in Computerworld and on TVNZ about Dick Hubbard's phone getting hacked.

How did this happen? Well, the default on mobile phone voicemail (Telecom & Vodafone) is that if you fetch voicemail from your own phone, you can access the service with no PIN. If you use another line (like a landline) you need to enter a PIN.

It makes the decision on whether it is "your" phone based on Caller ID. It would be reasonable to assume that this is a "telecoms grade" secure service - i.e. that without hacking a telephone exchange you can't fake a Caller ID.

Unfortunately this isn't the case - there are various dodgy companies in the US, such as the amusingly1 named Telespoof that will let you call out (for a small fee) with your choice of Caller ID. You can also apparently hack various mobiles to do this. The telcos have clearly allowed the generation/validation of caller ID to go rather too far down the food chain!

I guess what Telecom (and Vodafone) should now do is to get some software upgrades that either strip/reject caller ID from outside their network that claims to be from inside, and/or validate voicemail logins using the actual calling number. Having to enter a PIN every time I check voicemail is a real pain.

(Actually, I'd like my voicemail messages sent to me as an MMS, so I don't need to log in at all!)

1. "Spoof" is Kiwi slang for semen.

Friday, May 13, 2005

"Alternative" world map

I came across this map while looking for holiday flights.

I love their view of the world:
- Asia, in keeping with standard Kiwi practice, stops at Thailand. India and the Middle East have been entirely omitted.
- Former Yugoslavia has a land border with Israel - I think this would lead to yet more conflict..
- Mexico is now part of the USA
- The Balinese have conquered the rest of Indonesia
- Australia is the worlds largest landmass, closely followed by New Zealand

Saturday, May 07, 2005

If the UK had MMP

If the UK had an MMP system with a 5% threshold the seat allocations would be:
Labour 238
Conservative 218
Lib Dem 149
SNP 10
SinnFein 4
Plaid Cymru 4
Respect 2
Independents 2

Which would mean that a coalition of any two of the three largest parties would have been able to form a government. This would not look like much of a victory for Blair.

(This doesn't predict how people would actually vote under PR - a few smaller parties (Greens, UKIP for instance) would get 5% - the factions in the larger parties would probably be externalised as well).

Friday, May 06, 2005

Some small consolation

Tony Blair now has an overall majority - Labour are predicted to windup with a 60 seat majority.

The left-wing MP George Galloway, who was chucked out of Labour for allegedly cosying up to Saddam, has won Bethnal Green & Bow for the Respect party. I used to live in Bethnal Green (Shoreditch really - but it was in E2) but moved back to the country before I left the UK.

The Libs are headed for around 60 seats - consolidation, but I really think it's time they found a more charismatic leader. Paddy Ashdown was brilliant - unfortunately Chuckie seems to have been a bit of a retrograde step. Perhaps Ken Clarke could be persuaded to swap parties? Or a high profile figure from outside politics - like a musician or TV personality?

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

The Grauniad tells you to vote Labour

The Guardian is advising its (British) readers to vote Labour on Thursday.

Their argument seems to be that apart from the war, new Labour is doing many good things for the country and that a vote for the Lib Dems risks letting the Tories in.

On the first argument, I don't just oppose Labour because of the war - I oppose them for ASBOs (i.e. jailing people for being irritating), ID cards, detention without trial of foreigners, expanding selective education, pandering to xenophobia and racism and a bunch of other policies that mark them down as urbanised, modernised, Tories.

On the second argument, they claim that in only a "tiny handful of seats " can one vote Lib Dem without risking a Tory being elected. They point at this list showing marginal seats that can swing between the 3 parties. I'm sorry, but their list is bogus. My former home in NE Hampshire isn't on their list. It's a fairly safe Tory seat with a majority over 50% - so if the Tories stayed where they were and everyone else voted Lib Dem, or Labour, they would still win. If, as is possible, a bunch of Tories voted Lib Dem as well as protesting Labour voters, then the seat *could* go Lib Dem. It isn't going Labour - not ever. What will probably happen is that it will stay Tory - my Liberal vote will at least go to swell the national total, and if they make some inroads into the Tory majority it will help build a platform for next time.

I don't see any reason to vote for a right-wing party that I fundamentally disagree with in order to avoid an even more right-wing party being elected. To suggest otherwise is dishonest, and doesn't reflect any credit on the Guardian.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Causes of wars

With all this remembrance of WW1, it's interesting to look at why it happened and what lessons we can learn for today.

I would disagree with No Right Turn that it was a "House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha family squabble" - the various royal families had little in the way of personal disagreement and in Britain's case, relatively little influence on government.

The short version of the cause of WW1 is this:

Britain/France/Russia and Germany/Austro-Hungary/Turkey had formed competing alliances. They had various areas of conflict: notably the boundaries between France/Germany and the (still active) fault line between East and West in the Balkans.

These conflicts had been active for hundreds of years. Previous wars had been affairs of columns rather than fronts - two rival armies would march until they encountered each other and fought. This kind of war took time to start - troops had to be recruited, mobilised (on horseback) and brought to battle. The industrial revolution had facilitated a war of fronts - much larger numbers of troops could be mobilised by rail to enable rapid confrontation. Weapons had also evolved much more destructive power.

The key to success in modern warfare was seen as being to take the advantage and initiate a mobilisation plan for the enemy could resolve. For this reason, once one side began the march to war it could not be stopped. 1914 Europe also had few, if any, mechanisms to regulate international relations and prevent all out war.

After ww1 (and ww2) various such mechanisms *were* put in place, in the form of the League of Nations and, later and more succesfully, the UN. These were based on the idea that countries would obey various rules - most notably a self-imposed limit on their rights to initiate warfare.

These rules are now thought by some to be "inconvenient" or "quaint". The US/UK/Australian alliance has decided that it is reasonable to unilaterally attack countries that are considered objectionable, notwithstanding petty conditions of international legality. To me, the lessons of Gallipoli and the Somme are that we move down this path at our peril.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Reasons to be fascist...

Appropos of nothing much, here is a summary of why each of New Zealands political parties have authoritarian tendencies - even the ones you wouldn't expect to:

New Zealand First get their core support from grumpy old gits who feel that life has given them a raw deal and no-one else should have any fun.

National divide NZ into the worthy (white middle class males) and the unworthy (everyone else) and feel the best interests of the former are served by clamping down hard on the latter.

ACT were founded on the basis of liberal social policies and free market economics. However, they have never succeeded in convincing the poorer 90% of the populace that they wouldn't lose out big-time from an unfettered free market. As a result, they've dumped the "liberal" bit for a dose of good old-fashioned bigotry.

United Future take their ideology from God and "the man in the golf club". Both of whom have no time for gays and pinkos.

Labour, being mostly teachers and lecturers, see the rest of us as a bunch of naughty students. Plus, they are terrified that enough bigoted old gits will forget who keeps them in booze and fags and run off to vote for a right-wing party.

Jim Anderton is just anti-fun - hence that's the policy of his personal party, the Progressives.

The Greens are mostly pretty liberal - except that some of their aspirations, like banning motor cars, are not going to be popular with many people and will need a firm dose of the jackboot (is there such a thing as a jack sandal?) to implement.

And one that doesn't get MPs elected:
Libertarianz believe in personal freedom above all else. However, they also believe that unfettered use of private property is the highest personal freedom. Consequently, while they oppose state funded stormtroopers, they're perfectly happy for people and corporations to form their own private armies.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

1914 - What if we hadn't gone

What would have happened if New Zealand had declined to participate in WW1?

(I realize this was never an option at the time - Pakeha of that era thought of themselves as British in much the same way as NZ expats of today regard themselves as Kiwi).

Would the outcome of the war have changed?
Probably not. WW1 was predominantly a war of numbers as opposed to quality of troops. Not having New Zealand troops would have made very little difference - unlike the USA, whose belated intervention was one of the decisive factors. It is possible that the Gallipoli landings would not have gone ahead without NZ troops - this would probably have helped the Allied cause, although some believe that the Dardenelles operation ensured that Turkish troops could not be deployed on the Western front, preventing German conquest of France.

What would have happened to New Zealand?
NZ relations with Britain would undoubtedly have suffered in the short term. However, Britain maintained friendly relationships with numerous states that were neutral in WW1 (for instance: the Netherlands, Scandinavia and Spain). Conversely, two of the WW1 allies (Italy and Japan) were on the enemy side in WW2. Britain had a primitive agricultural industry that was depleted of labour by the war and thus needed New Zealand's exports both before and after WW1 - thus making friendly relations even more imperative.

Non-alignment would however have removed the sense of NZ as an offshore province of Britain. NZ may well have followed a path similar to Eire - as a country linked by family, language and commercial ties but politically fully separated).

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Da book thingy

Joe Hendren passed me this...

1) You're stuck inside Fahrenheit 451 (explanation; plot) which book do you want to be?
We had it as a set book in English lit - which I came pretty close to failing. I'd recommend "The Fall of Berlin" by Anthony Beevor as a very readable description of what happened to a people who thought extreme nationalism was the answer to their problems.

2) Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?
Hayley from (UK radio soap) "the Archers" of course.. If we are talking about written fiction, then no-one springs to mind - there are quite a lot of characters that I identify with as a role model, notably Cameron Colley in Iain Banks "Complicity".

3) The last book you bought is:
John Keegan - "Intelligence in War" - I suspect that this is more an account of various military campaigns that Keegan is interested in, sexed up by the link to 21st Century intelligence failings. Not a bad read though - and quite strong on the effect of improved communication techniques on naval warfare (the effect of the telegraph and later electronic communication techniques on world history being something I take an interest in).

4) The last book you finished is?
Vikram Seth - "From Heaven Lake". An interesting account of an Indian student's journey across China and occupied Tibet.

5) What are you currently reading?
Jonathan Raban - "Hunting Mister Heartbreak". One of a series of books exploring the history and literature of US settlement in the form of a modern travellers journal.

6) Five Books you would take to a deserted island:
Donna Tartt - "My Secret History" - brilliant narrative and characterisation - a pity she has only produced one book of this calibre.
Iain Banks - "Espedair Street" - excellent and (in the end) cheering fiction, rooted, like all Banks' better novels, in the West of Scotland.
Richard Rhodes - "The Making Of The Atomic Bomb" - sets a standard in scientific history, as well as being a brilliant, detailed account of the most important Kiwi invention of the last 100 years.
Brian Thacker - "Rule No 5 (No Sex on the Bus)" - brilliantly funny account of what happens on the big OE. (all his other books are poo by comparison, BTW)
Lonely Planet - "Deserted Pacific Islands on a Shoestring" - an indispensable and occasionally accurate guide to where to find beer/chicks/airline offices - ideal for when I've read the print off the other four..

I would pass this on, but it would take soooo much research to find out which bloggers haven't done it or been sent it yet. If anyone wants to pick up and post some answers, feel free to comment..

Nothing to apologise for

Today's Star-Times carries a prominent apology from the editor over their SIS story last year. The inspector of intelligence services has "declared" their allegations to be unfounded.

I don't think any apology is called for. Maybe they were a bit over assertive about the veracity of the story, but the job of a newspaper is to bring information to readers. If they have information which is interesting and not demonstrably untrue (at the time), then they should print it and let the readers make their minds up. With personal stories (especially about people who neither seek public office or court publicity) they need to be more careful - but this wasn't such a story.

On the facts presented, the story was probably rubbish. However, if the SIS *did* decide to spy on non-violent political groups, they would undoubtedly do so in a fashion that made it as hard as possible to get found out. It's likely that the only way we'd found out would be if one peripheral figure were to blag to the media - exactly as was alleged to have happened in the case in question.

Newspapers aren't like judges or politicians - they shouldn't be accountable in the same way for what get's printed - that way lies a dull and compliant media.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Peerless hosting

No I'm not going on about the House of Lords!

I listened to Russell Brown interviewing Raymond O'Brien of Telstra Clear on the Wire today. (Update - audio here). He was attempting to justify their de-peering from the Wellington and Auckland internet exchanges.

It seems to me that as Russell suggested, and Raymond tried to rebut, that if this goes on many NZ sites will move to offshore hosting (like this and 90% of other NZ blogs, incidentally).
I am currently paying around NZD40 annually for a UK based hosting service with PHP,SQL, 10M of disk and 500M of bandwidth - the same service in NZ costs that every month! US hosting is even cheaper.

There are two reasons to use an NZ based host:
  1. Google base their country mapping on IP address, so that you need to be on an NZ address to be treated as an NZ site. Perhaps if more NZ sites migrate offshore, they will change this to use the domain suffix? Alternatively, I wonder if there is any way to have an NZ IP on a machine which is physically overseas? Perhaps someone will start a "virtual NZ ISP".
  2. If you are streaming in realtime, like a radio station, you probably need to have the server locally - I'm not sure if streaming software lets you "uplink" a single stream through a client connection and "downlink" multiple streams to the users? If you are streaming individual files, then unless you produce huge amounts of content this is not an issue.

I'm currently setting up an image intensive site (no not that sort of thing!!) and will be putting the text on an NZ server and images in the UK, avoiding the Google issue. Of course, if everyone does this users "offshore" traffic will increase, taking them closer to bandwidth caps - I suspect that once this happens ISPs will come under pressure to lift the caps rather than getting more dollars out of the end user.

Of course none of this would be necessary if we had a regulator who could say to the telcos: "you will peer appropriately if you want to continue offering services in New Zealand".

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Footballing members

The Guardian reports that "the typical MP is a football obsessive with a liking for middle of the road rock music and little interest in political ideology".

I feel this is what they feel will go down well with the electorate. The typical MP is actually a political geek with zero interest in sport, a liking for Billy Bragg (Labour) or the Spice Girls (Tory) and an obsessive interest in political gossip, if not ideology.

The have however been forced to memorise by rote the history of the local football team and to appear in the director's suite for all important matches. They also need to develop a taste for Coldplay.

(NZ MPs seem to be more honest about this - its pretty obvious that neither Don or Helen have the slightest interest in Rugby - at least Helen is genuinely into her skiing).

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Plumbing or philosophy

I heard John Morris, the principal of Auckland Grammar, talking on the Wire about scholarship exams and related topics. He expressed the common view that less students should go to university and more should train for trades (such as plumbing).

This all has the hallmark of someone who spends his time frightening recalcitrant children with tales of how, if they don't work harder, they'll wind up as dustmen. (Kids - if anyone tells you this it isn't true - there are a wide range of jobs open to slackers ranging from musician to company director).

I disagree that there should be an ability hurdle for higher education, other than the threshold knowledge and skills needed to usefully participate in a degree course. We need to be moving a a society with more knowledge workers, not least because that is the only way we can achieve economic growth in an increasingly competitive world.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Killer on the loose

The Herald reports that a convicted murderer has escaped from a minimum security prison farm in WA. Rather worryingly, he was in jail for killing a couple last time he escaped.

Obviously the high security jails in Oz are only for children and foreigners. Good old dinki-di Aussie psychopaths get minimum security. Isn't Australia wonderful!

UK Election

When is the UK election going to finally get called? It was supposed to be "after Easter" which I thought meant Tuesday.

I hope that my postal vote has time to get here and back. I don't hold up much hope of anything other than a 90-100 seat majority for Blair, but I would like to have my say..

Monday, March 21, 2005

Accidents waiting to happen

I noticed an article on Stuff about the poor credit risk that many New Zealand finance company bonds represent. These are the bonds you see advertised on TV and billboards promising interest rates of over 9%.

Generally, when something seems to good to be true, it is. Most global finance companies have access to an international capital market that enables them to borrow at rates substantially less than those being advertised. The fact that these smaller finance companies cannot certainly raises a "red flag" as Standard & Poors put it. Equally, most credit-worthy borrowers can borrow from banks at reasonable rates - the finance companies are lending to those who cannot. Some of this lending is to individuals with poor credit - more worryingly, quite a lot is funding building projects on the edge of viability.

Sooner or later one or more of these companies is going to collapse, and the government is going to be hauled over the coals for not protecting people. They should really do something now and stop highly unsuitable investments being marketed to naive retail investors.

(Oh and another tip - if anyone has a scheme to run cars on a fuel other than petrol don't lend them a cent!)

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Push polling

I did an opinion poll this morning.

I'm registered with YouGov a UK opinion poll service and get occassional polls sent to me - they have either a prize draw or a 50p (NSD1.45) bonus attached, as well as sometimes being quite interesting.

This one was in the latter category:

They started out by asking various questions on identity theft: had I been a victim of, were the banks/government/telcos doing enough to prevent it, did I feel confident with internet shopping, etc.

After about 5 questions of this nature, they had one similar to this:
Select one or more of the following:
- I think ID cards will help reduce identity theft
- I think ID cards will make banking more secure
- I think ID cards will help combat terrorism
- None of the above

Now, for those who don't know, one of the many illiberal measures being brought in by the UK government is a mandatory ID card scheme. I strongly suspect that the above poll was commissioned by the very same UK government. A poll like this is called a "push poll" - the idea is that the preceding questions put an initially undecided subject in a frame of mind to give the "right" answer - which in this case can be headlined as "XX% support ID cards - poll" where XX% is all those who didn't answer "None of the above".

I wonder how many of the "impartial surveys", both in the UK and NZ, are in fact organised along these lines. (YouGov is regarded as a reputable source - although I and others have doubts about their methodology of taking a self-selecting minority of internet users and then adjusting the figures to correct for sample bias).

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Banks and fraud

(no not that one)

Westpac are claiming that their Internet banking system is "secure and had never been infiltrated by hackers".

While this is probably the case, in that it is unlikely that anyone has found a back door into the system without a password, it is not the whole story. It is, as has been pointed out in the media recently, very easy to install monitoring software on a PC that will store any logins and passwords used on that machine.

It has been suggested (by Russell Brown and the IT Minister, David Cunliffe) that the onus is on Internet cafes to improve security. Personally, I can't ever see an Internet cafe being a secure environment. Even if they run fully locked down consoles (and the trouble with these is they tend to restrict games - which seem to be the main source of revenue for most Internet cafes) there is still every opportunity for a dodgy employee to install keyloggers using their admin rights.

Personally, I think expecting end users to take responsibility for securing their Internet connection is ridiculous. The banks need to agree (or be forced by legislation) to limit user liability to cases of recklessness (like telling someone a password or writing it on a card). Doing that puts the onus on banks to either accept losses from fraud or do something about it - just as with VISA cards - if someone steals your card and fakes your signature, then it's the bank's (or possibly the merchant's) problem.

The Terminator replaced by the terminated

ACT had plans to have Arnold Schwarzenegger speak at their conference by video link. Unfortunately, he wasn't up for it - he was heard to say "vere is dis noo zeeland und vot is die Act Party".

So they've got defeated Auckland mayor John Banks - a case of replacing The Terminator by the terminated...

Friday, March 04, 2005

Mad for it

Apparently alleged psycho nutcase Antonie Dixon believes it was god, rather than P, that made him attack four people with a samurai sword.

Obviously Density Church and United Future have a lot to answer for.

(By the way, odds are now available on the next Pope - they aren't quoting any on Bishop Tamaki, but I wouldn't be surprised if he becomes Pope - at least in his own mind.)

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Lacking compassion

Prince Charlie reckons the public lacks compassion by being mean about him and Camilla.

I don't call a few rude comments a lack of compassion - this showed a lack of compassion!

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Legislating for Spam

The government is planning anti-spam legislation introducing swingeing fines for sending unwanted messages.

You could arge that this is unnecessary - the BrightMail filtering provided by Xtra passes very few spam messages through to my (old and spammy) mail accounts. The only stuff I seem to get are mailouts from companies I have used (and I guess subscribed to) and the odd individual message from some hopeful looking at my website and wanting a job.

If they do think legislation is needed, then possibly we need some that works. I have thought up a model for this in the past, roughly based on a similar principle to international banking (where banks are allowed into networks like Visa on condition that they play by the rules and (try to) only process genuine transactions).

Here's the scheme:
1. set up a regulatory body with the power to rule on whether a reported message is illegal (subject to appeal to the courts, obviously)
2. allow this body to issue fines and ban offenders from using the Internet for various periods
3. require all NZ ISPs to "know their customers" and be in a position to collect fines / enforce bans, e.g. by having a credit card on file
4. after a suitable grace period, require that NZ ISPs only peer with overseas ISPs that follow the same rules for their direct customers
5. after a further period, require that overseas ISP's peering with NZ in turn enforce "the rules" on their peers
6. Have an opt-out allowing those who need access to dodgy places to gain "whole internet" access (with the obvious caveat that they should expect spam)

So once the scheme is fully in place, anyone sending an unsolicited email can be tracked and fined/banned. We will probably be able to collect the fine and/or enforce the ban. There will be a blacked-out zone of the Internet invisible to NZ - and the spammy will presumably be able to get accounts there.

This would work better if the EU were to do it of course - many ISPs wouldn't worry about not being able to talk to NZ, but few would want to be blacked out from over 300 million people.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Fox gets away from Appeal Court

I blogged a couple of weeks ago about the attempt by fox-hunting interests to overturn the UK governments ban on their "sport" through court action.

The case has now been considered by the Appeal Court, and their judgment is here.

Contrary to my original thoughts, the case turned on whether the 1949 Parliament Act was "subordinate legislation" to the 1911 Act, and thus unable to amend the parent Act. The Appeal Court found that it *was* subordinate legislation, but that it was able to amend the parent - they drew on numerous colonial precedents for this. They did suggest suggest that there were circumstances where an Act introduced under the 1911 Act would *not* be able to amend the parent act, but this was not one of them.

Relevance to New Zealand? This kind of entanglement does raise questions about our abilities to review and amend our constitutional arrangements. I think in framing any new written constitution, the government of the day would need to take some very high-level legal advice.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Military problems

The Chief of the Defence Staff is in a bit of bother over writing letters trying to dissuade employees from giving evidence in an employment case.

It's interesting that there has been no comment on many NZ blogs - I guess the right don't want to criticise a military officer, and the left don't want to criticise a senior government employee.

Or is that too cynical..

Friday, February 11, 2005

I say Ginger, they're on your tail...

The Holmes show seems to have developed engine trouble and is struggling to make it back to the airfield..

One can usually tell how much of earner a show is for the TV station by the quality of the adverts - big budget beer and bank ads = lots of dollars. Ads for the local chippie produced in Powerpoint by the owners 12-year old = scraping the barrel. Prime tends to the latter..

(for those mystified by the headline - it's a quote from "Biggles flies undone")

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Holmes ratings

The Herald has the first ratings for Holmes new show on Prime. Homer Simpson did better - as I've mentioned before, the Simpsons offers more incisive political comment at 7pm than any of our "news" programmes are likely to..

The trouble with Holmes is that he is, undoubtedly, an excellent drawcard for the "old and cranky" segment of the population. Appealing to this group has a number of commercial drawbacks for Prime:
  • They'll be dead soon - a media outlet that targets oldies has to continually renew its audience
  • They're less attractive to advertisers who want to do long-term brand building
  • They watch a lot of telly - so advertisers have a lot of choice on how to reach them, and reruns of "the young and the restless" are a lot cheaper than primetime news
  • They don't spend as much or as frivolously as the youth
  • Many of them don't have UHF - those that do may well not have the tendency to watch "new" channels

I suppose Prime's motivation is that a "full service" TV station needs to get people watching at the start of the evening with a current affairs programme, in the expectation that they will stay with the channel. Given that, it's cheaper to pay Holmes to do a personality-driven show than to spend big dollars on news gathering.

Incidentally, regarding the "tree story" isn't it technically criminal damage to dig up someone elses land and plant a tree on it? And aren't broadcasters meant to refrain from instigating illegal activity?

Monday, February 07, 2005

More on UK detention

The Guardian reports that, following last years House Of Lords decision declaring that their detention without trial in Belmarsh prison contravened their human rights, some of the detainees are taking their case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

They are arguing that (as Lord Hoffman thought) Britain does not face an emergency "threatening the life of the nation", that being the test set down in the ECHR (article 15). Britain is the only signatory country to have made such a derogation.

Should the UK lose in Strasbourg on this point, they will have few options. The planned "house arrest" scheme would almost certainly fall foul of the same provisions. Repudiation of the ECHR would leave Britain the only EU country to have done so (and in breach of an condition that has been applied to all aspirant EU members). Perhaps it won't be until car factories start closing down that Blair realises that the UK has international as well as moral obligations to respect human rights.

Muldoon with Monetarism

This is a test...

I have discovered that if you create a webpage/posting containing a unique phrase, such as "Muldoon with Monetarism" and link to a site with a high Google rank, then this can result in Google associating the phrase with the linked site, so that searching for the aforementioned phrase leads to the National Party website at For instance, typing "swivel-eyed loons" takes you to the UK Independence Party site.

Hopefully, this will have the desired effect.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Hunting foxes through the House of Lords

I was going to write something on Brash and his attacks on welfare - but everyone else has and I don't want to give him any more of the oxygen of publicity.

So I thought I'd comment on the UK fox-hunting lobby's attempt to defeat the soon to be implemented ban on their sport through court action.

To start at the beginning:
  • In 1910, the Liberal government of HH Asquith was being thwarted in their attempts to introduce a number of measures, including Irish Home Rule and various taxes, by the veto power of the Tory dominated House of Lords (acting as a parliamentary chamber rather than a court).
  • The Liberals made the blocking power of the HoL an election issue. Following their re-election, they introduced what became the 1911 Parliament Act. Unsurprisingly, the Lords tried to block this - they finally passed the bill under threat of King George V creating a large number of Liberal peers to overturn the Tory majority. Interestingly, George V had been unwilling to do this prior to the 1910 election - it seems that in England 95 years ago, the King did not feel bound to always act on the advice of ministers.
  • The 1911 Parliament Act required that non-money bills could only be delayed for two years (and three parliamentary sessions) by the HoL. (Money bills could only be delayed by one month). In addition, a parliament could not pass a law to prolong itself without Lords approval.
  • The Labour government of Clement Attlee wished to reduce this to one year and two sessions. They introduced the 1949 Parliament Act to enact this. This Act was also opposed in the HoL and was passed under the provisions of the 1911 Act.
  • The Blair government was committed to a ban on fox-hunting at both the 1997 and 2001 elections. An Act to effect such a ban has been passed by the House of Commons but voted down in the HoL. The requisite time having elapsed, it has now been passed into law under the Parliament Act and is due to be implemented next month.

The fox-hunters are now taking action in the High Court, asserting that the 1949 Parliament Act was itself invalidly passed. Their justification for this is somewhat tenuous: they argue that the 1911 Act, in preventing a Parliament from prologing itself, also prevented the Act itself from being amended without consent of the HoL. Because Parliament did not entrench the ban on prolongation from repeal by the HoC alone, they made the ban ineffective against a Commons determined to repeal the ban and then prolong itself - the argument is that they would not reasonably do this and hence intended to make the entire 1911 Act entrenched from single-chamber amendment.

I doubt this will hold water, frankly. The case will no doubt move rapidly to the Appeal Court and House of Lords - in view of the emotions stirred up I assume that leave to appeal will be allowed. The fox-hunters also plan an appeal on Human Rights grounds - the exact nature of this will be interesting.

Reference: Wikipedia on Parliament Act
House of Commons Research Note on Parliament Act
George Dangerfield - The Strange Death of Liberal England

Monday, January 24, 2005

Alleged torturer

A former Peruvian policeman has won a review of the decision of the Refugee Status Authority to deport him. He had (apparently) previously admitted to torturing suspects when a policeman in the late 1980's, and left Peru after being attacked by Shining Path guerrillas.

Independently of his claim for asylum, which would seem to be well founded, there would seem to be a case for his prosecution under the Crimes Of Torture Act 1989. This obviously wouldn't apply if his (alleged) crimes were commited prior to the act coming into effect.

What should happen in this case? I'd argue that if appropriate the man should be prosecuted - otherwise we should be told why not. A judge could show clemency - the man may well have been coerced into his acts and one could argue that he has already suffered punishment by being injured and forced to leave his country. He should probably be allowed to remain here - sending him back would expose him to a serious risk of murder.

This is really where we are governed by two international obligations - to prosecute torturers and to provide asylum to victims - in this unusual case both obligations may well apply.

Big Day Out

Russell Brown went to Big Day Out (I didn't - I went to a very good gig by Carl Cox at the Met the night before, and will hopefully see Trinity Roots at Raglan in two weeks). The Streets turned out to be Not Very Good - I didn't think the whole Brummie geezer angst thing would work well live.

Russell used the fact that "there were two ambulance cases as a result of party pill overdoses" to suggest that "our binge culture is still with us". Two out of 38,000 doesn't sound that bad to me - I don't think you'd get many less in more sensible nations. (if you look at the overall NZ death rate, you would expect someone to peg out at BDO every couple of years - the crowd must be particularly young and healthy!)

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Brits read on..

We won the test match and lead South Africa 2:1 in the series.

Having got your attention, may I suggest reading Charles Kennedy's speech . A UK election is anticipated this year - while I don't hold out too much hope, it is vaguely possible that the Lib Dems may get enough seats to overturn Blair's majority. (No UK government has had a majority of the popular vote for many years, but FPP generally leads to large majorities regardless).

If you happen to be a UK expat, and haven't registered as an overseas voter, you can do so by sending a form to the local council where you last lived in the UK (see the Electoral Commission FAQ) for details, you can look your council up here. You need to get a fellow Brit to countersign the form.

If of course you support Blair, you need do nothing - your vote will be automatically registered (joke!).

Monday, January 17, 2005

Harry: "You wouldn't wanna shag my nana, wouldya"

That noted journal of record, the (London) News Of The World reports that "Prince" Harry has been making off-colour jokes again. To quote the vile remark:
"But it's a bit like being offered sex with the Queen—while one would be honoured, who would want to do it."
(Translation above)

Apparently the lad's behaviour has got to his Dad, who has "grounded" him from visiting his girlfriend (presumably some sort of Eva Braun figure) in Zimbabwe. Strikes me that if, as Johann Hari believes he has an independent fortune (left to him by Diana) things might be headed for a big breakup. Fortunately for the royals William seems to be resisting the temptations of a life of chicks, coke and Nazi uniforms, at least for the moment.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

A New Electoral System

Reading Brash's witterings and various comments on them inspired me to think up a new electoral system - you could call it "A La Carte" voting.

Basically each party gets allocated a number of seats "N" proportional to their vote.

How they allocate the seats is up to them, but it has to be a predetermined system.

For instance, party A could have a conventional ordered list and elect the top "N" people on the list.

Party B could count votes by electorate, and elect those of their candidates who "won" by the biggest margin in each electorate (or lost by the smallest margin).

Party C could list candidates by preference and let the voters decide on an STV basis.

I'm sure there are other ways I haven't thought of..

Wouldn't it be fun! NZ would always win any competition for the wierdest voting system.

If we can't win...

Don Brash has written this article in the Herald today where he advocates some changes to our constitutional arrangements. A cynic (like me) might consider that Mr Brash has come to an acceptance that National are not going to win an election anytime soon, and that he hopes to promote conservatism some other way.

Brash considers that MMP's only benefit is "improved ethnic and gender balance" - funny, I thought it was mainly to ensure that the composition of parliament reflected the way people voted. Brash is advocating a referendum on changing from MMP, either back to FPP or to a halfway house called SM (involving less list MPs, I'm not sure if this could be made fully proportional).

Brash also considers that the current government has "no mandate" on social change (like Civil Unions) and that such measures should be subject to referendum. Quite why this doesn't apply to economic measures also escapes me. If the people of NZ, taking everything as a whole, don't like the way they're governed, they can vote that government out. If they (or the talkback callers amongst them) dislike civil unions, but quite approve of employment rights and a decent welfare system, then it's quite reasonable that they end up with a package of all these things.

I hope no-one in Labour thinks they have to meet Brash halfway on this rubbish!

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Cause and effect

This article by Jared Diamond in the Guardian asserts that the problems of many of the world's troubles are caused by environmental factors. It lists "environmentally stressed or overpopulated countries" as including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Burundi, Haiti, Indonesia, Iraq, Rwanda, the Solomon Islands, and Somalia, plus others.

Let's examine a couple of these examples and compare them with countries that don't make the list:
Afghanistan (population density 43 people/sq km) is undoubtedly in a worse state than unlisted country Pakistan (204 p/sq km). They are similarly arid and have issues with water etc. Pakistan, however, has not been fought over by two superpowers and various crazed locals for the last 25 years.

Haiti (population 281/sq km) and Barbados (645/sq km) are similarly located in the Caribbean. Haiti should be better off than Barbados according to the "environmental stress" argument - it conspicuously isn't.

Come to think of it, there is a large country near here with a climate ranging from monsoon to arid, a variety of hostile wildlife, notably poor soil, a chronic water shortage, serious congestion and pollution problems in urban centres and regular bushfire damage caused by inappropriate development policies. You would expect an imminent descent into political anarchy by Mr Diamond's reckoning - actually the worst that's happened is the re-election of Howard.

(Update: I'll read the whole book before I totally condemn the theory - I suspect it may work out better in the long term than the short).

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Documenting history

The UK Cabinet Papers for 1974 have been released - this interesting year contained the aftermath of the Yom Kippur war, a miners strike which brought down the Heath government and the collapse of the Sunningdale power sharing agreement in Northern Ireland.

A summary of the latter is here - unfortunately only fragments of documents have been scanned - and I'm a long way from Kew to look at the originals. Some sort of public domain online archive of such documents would be very useful - I wonder if governments (who generally hold the copyrights, except in the USA) would cooperate.

The document summaries are still quite interesting - had the agreement succeeded, the Northern Irish troubles would probably have ended over 20 years earlier. It's hard to see how the then government could have stopped the (almost entirely Protestant) power industry workforce from striking - short of conscripting them into the army and forcing them back to work more or less at gunpoint.