Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Moving to Sir Humphrey's

Yesterday I was invited to become a poster over at Sir Humphrey's which I have eagerly accepted. I'm excited by the move to a larger audience, and being able to focus on particular special interest topics.

I won't be making any more posts on this blog - as its only purpose is political. All my political postings will take place at SH from this point on. Thanks for reading!

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Dear Bernard...

I don't believe it! I got a reply to my email.

Dear Bernard Woolley

Thank you for your letter, via email, dated 21 June 2005 regarding your concerns over Telecom's network outage on 20 June 2005 and the relationship this has with the decision not to unbundle the local loop in 2004.

As Minister of Communications, I am replying on behalf of my colleague Hon Paul Swain.

New Zealand's telecommunications infrastructure is of crucial importance to our economy. I have stated publicly that I believe the Telecom network outage was a "freak occurrence" and not related in any way to the current industry regulatory structure, however I am concerned that this outage occurred at all, and have asked Officials to look at how Government can work with the industry to ensure that we maintain a robust as possible network.

Your statement that the unbundling of the local loop would have reduced the risk of this outage occurring is not accurate. Except in a general sense of potentially improving competition, the Local Loop Unbundling (LLU) decision would have had no effect upon the recent Telecom outage. LLU would not have provided incentives for operators to establish their own alternative backhaul network as your comment suggests, thereby avoiding the network outage.

The broader issue here is about industry participants, such as Telecom and Telstra being able to use each others networks in emergencies to ensure minimal disruption to the provision of telecommunications services for New Zealand. I am advised however that in some cases the two networks are either on the same fibre cable or that the cables run side by side. As such the cause of the outage may well still have the same impacts even if there was better co-ordination within the industry.

Local Loop Unbundling and Unbundled Bitstream Services (UBS) are much the same in the way they operate. The only difference is the DSLAM equipment in the exchange that enables the services to be provided. UBS allows other network operators to use the Telecom equipment. All the cables stay with the original owner.

The government remains committed to a regulated UBS, as it enables Telecom's competitors to develop and provide their own broadband services without reliance on resale of Telecom's Jetstream service.

You may also be aware that a review of the Telecommunications Act is underway at the moment, and this should bring further improvements for consumers. One of the key areas the review will look at is the development of competition within the broadband market (including the introduction of new telecommunication services). It will look at the speed that competitors take up the regulated services, monitoring of the industry, and enforcement practices around the regulations. The review is also considering ways to better address the resolution of users' telecommunication service complaints that cannot be resolved directly by the parties.

Yours sincerely

Hon David Cunliffe
Minister of Communications

I don't want to spend much time mulling it before bed - or writing a detailed reply. I submit that the Minister is probably correct on the LLU and UBS points. I will be writing a reply to discuss network robustness in more detail however, as I don't believe the event should be seen as a freak incident.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Some IT Questions for Govt

Someone asked me recently what pointed questions I'd ask the Government about IT and Communications if I had the chance. So, I'm using this post to scratch out some ideas, and solicit any others from those reading.

  • The decision a year ago not to unbundle the local loop has proved ineffective at reducing the countries reliance on one DSL vendor as was evidenced in the recent Telecom fibre failures. With UBS, all retailers are affected if the sole wholesaler fails. What will you consider doing to ensure this doesn't happen in the future? Will you consider unbundling the local loop to create a more resilient national telecommunications infrastructure by creating an environment that is more conducive to investing in communications infrastructure?
  • How much money does the New Zealand Government pay to Microsoft every year as part of the G licences? (G2000, G2003, G2006)? It is my understanding that contractual arrangements within the undisclosed Microsoft Government Licence completely restrict the products and services that some New Zealand vendors are trying to provide to the New Zealand Government. Is the Government aware that the licence it has signed is preventing New Zealand business doing business with the Government, to the benefit of an American company?
  • To the State Service Commission's credit, they have recognised that it is fast becoming untenable to store the nations documents in proprietary document formats. In May, the new OASIS open document standards were approved providing an alternative, and increasingly supported, document format. What is the Government doing to ensure that they use open and unencumbered electronic document formats?
  • The market for open source software has grown significantly in recent years. How much money does the Government contribute to Open Source projects in New Zealand annually? Are there plans to increase this amount in the future?
  • Project Probe, whilst technically being able to deliver broadband to remote communities, is proving to be financially unsustainable for schools because of ongoing operational costs - particularly bandwidth. What is going to be done to ensure that bandwidth costs are reduced to make the services viable?
  • Cheap broadband within New Zealand has the potential to reduce the costs of doing business, and reducing our greenhouse gas emissions by enabling some forms of travel to be replaced by voice and video-conferencing via IP. Yet Telecom is resisting introducing pricing plans that will provide realistic options for utilising these IP applications - in particular businesses need some way of limiting costs on national IP traffic. What does the Government propose to ensure that IP bandwidth is made available to consumers and business at truely affordable and practical plans to encourage adoption of these new applications?
  • Given that core key applications (internet, email, word processing, spreadsheets, presentation software etc) can be provided on a wide range of platforms, including open source platforms using software such as Linux and, what is stopping the adoption of such a platform for certain applications within Government organisations? If the Microsoft Government Licence is holding back adoption of certain types of software, is the expense of the licence truely worth the restrictions that come with it?

Thats it for now, I'll post back some more when they come to mind.

It IS a muslim responsibility

This recent post over at Humphrey's got me thinking about terrorism again - who is most able to stop the fundamentalists. Not long after I read about attacks on Mosques in Auckland over the past couple of days in retaliation for the London attacks (which I have not wanted to comment on yet), I had read the following comment: -

"Inside each country [the authorities must] control the communities that might be connected [to terrorism]. A the end of the day, not all Muslims are terrorists but most terrorists are Muslims,"

And this would appear to partially explain the retaliatory attacks. The muslim community in New Zealand is to us, the most closely associated community to the cause of the attacks - rightly or wrongly. The attacks on the mosques in Auckland are a clear message to Muslims that whilst we know that the majority of you are not terrorists, we know that most terrorists are muslim fundamentalists, use Islam as a cover, and/or hide in muslim communities.

It is no longer enough for you to express outrage at attacks and carry on as if nothing happened: -

Javed Khan says the New Zealand Islamic community has already condemned the British attacks as despicable.

Well, tough. Condemning attacks is not enough. Muslim communities have to become much more proactive in excluding and shunning these hard-core elements from their religious and geographical communities. Do not let them hide within you. Throw them out and give them no place to hide. Then exposed they will be picked off and disposed of. Actions please, words are no longer enough.

Update - upon rereading this, I thought I would clarify something. I am not saying that revenge against muslims as evidenced in Auckland is appropriate it is not. But it is perhaps symptomatic of a desire to see Muslims do more about their own. Its a bit like Africa really - at some stage, Africa has to stand up and start looking after its own countries, a bit like the current Zimbabwe/Mugabe issue.

Midday Newsbits

A couple of quick points from this mornings news: -

  • And more proof that the nation of "cheese eating surrender monkeys" were lead by a wanker right from the top. Murderering French git.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Buzz The Marketeers

I don't know about you, but phone marketeers and surveyers piss me off. It riles me when they almost expect it is their right to be able to ask you a few questions. Rather than hang up immediately, for a year or so now, I ask them what is in it for me. They usually say you get to go in to a draw for a prize, and I reply I want a guaranteed reward for my time. Unsuprisingly, they won't offer that, so I decline and hang up. Turns out I can't have been the only one.

I received some spam in the past couple of days from an outfit called BuzzThePeople.

Help shape your future PLUS have the chance to win!

Buzz.ThePeople is a new online way for you to have your say on lots of different topics. Many people are joining Buzz.ThePeople because they want their views considered by NZ decision makers (e.g. political pollsters, the media, marketers and market researchers). Others are joining because there are going to be great prizes and even opportunities to earn cash.

Interesting, so political pollsters, the media, marketeers and market researchers consider themselves NZ decision makers? Pu-lease.

To me, it sounds like enough people like myself have turned phone polling into a dead-end for the usual suspects mentioned above. They finally have realised this. I quote from their website: -

This type of research is getting more and more difficult. Lots of us have answering phones, lots of us use our mobiles more than landlines, lots of us are very busy and just don’t have time to take calls and answer 40 minutes of questions (as many of you will know).

Fortunately for our clients, the number of us who are regularly using emails and the Internet has grown very quickly. Many of us now prefer to talk to people online at a time that suits us.

Poor little sods. I have no sympathy with them whatever. Just because they have come up with a new means of surveying the populace, does not mean I'm going to help out. The website reeks of marketing-speak, so I thought I'd have a brief rant to draw attention to this site - and recommend avoidance if thats how you feel about being surveyed.

On a related note, I wonder if this shift in approach may explain why Labour has been caught off guard with the change in public sentiment - it may explain why Helen Clark's ugly mug is the first picture to appear on the web page. Its a pity they couldn't put the Bush and monkey pics next to each other though :)

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

iTunes 4.9 supports podcasts

This is great news. I downloaded 4.9 last night, moved my subscriptions over from iPodder and it works great. I haven't had time to play with some of the customisation yet, but this looks like a great opportunity to expand the reach of podcasts to the broader usage. I'll list some of the podcasts I'm currently subscribed to on the side panel in the near future. Mac users - just hit Software Update for podcasting goodness!

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

IT in Government

Here is a brief round-up of recent, interesting articles that make some interesting points about IT in Goverment, electronic dealings with citizens and others.

  • Norway is opening up - just like all governments should. There is no role for commercial and proprietary data formats being used to store important national information. Note that this doesn't mean open source software has to be used (although that is a good option as I've previously mentioned). I would much prefer to have open data formats than force governments to use open source software.
  • In the UK, firefighters are questioning 31 million pounds expenditure on IT consultants and suggest that the money would be better spend on more resourses - people and toys - to fight fires. Its a fair enough question too - just how many benefits do we actually see from IT? Especially when the overall cost of the UK project is near 1 BILLION pounds, and they only expect to make savings of around 42 million. Hmmm, 42 less 31 leaves not much...

I think I might put up a little list of questions that could be asked of government about IT in the not too distant future...

Monday, June 27, 2005

Bits between the teeth

Some quick newsbites for today

  • Green MP Sue Kedgley clearly is flogging a sensationalistic horse to get more attention for the Green Party - claiming that New Zealand is lagging behind developing a plan for dealing with Avian Influenza. A quick google for "New Zealand Pandemic Plan" identifies a number of plans in place, including a rather new Infectious Disease Plan. This must be part of a concerted effort to attempt to show that they are not a special interest party.
  • And Telecom is attracting more heat from the Communications Commissioner. Only problem here is that Telecom is being encouraged to become a wholesaler. As events last week show, if the wholesaler fails, they take all the retailers with them. Grow some balls Douglas and threaten Telecom with Local Loop Unbundling. We need competition in the backbone as well to avoid repeats of incidents like last week.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

The Future is Green

The title says it all, the future for all of us is green. Ironically, this will mean that the Green Party will become surplus to requirements - certainly in their current political form. Let me explain.

Nearly all of our current environmental troubles can be directly linked to the global population explosion - environmental damage is related to the demands placed by ever-increasing population. For example, more people leads to more cars, which leads to more use of petroleum-based products for combustion. Since the environmental problems are proportional to population, that implies that to manage or resolve most of these issues, we will require the majority of the worlds population to take responsibility for their actions. Governments can only play a part in this, and as events have unfolded with, say, Kyoto recently, even individual governments cannot come to agreement.

The only way in which we, as the resident sentient beings on this planet can hope to reverse some of our impacts on the planet is for everyone to take responsibility for their actions (note that I don't necessarily accept various findings on climate change, but it is undeniable that increased population is having increased impacts on the planet).

In their current incarnation, the Green Party are filling a useful role to increase the awareness of local and global environmental issues. However, as long as environmental issues remain the domain of a special interest party - we, as a country, are not doing enough for the environment and for our future. My thought is this - we will only know that we are doing enough for environmental issues when consideration of environmental issues are infused throughout planning, decision-making, policy and all our individual actions. Funnily enough - I believe that the Green Party would serve a more useful purpose by getting into and working with the current general-purpose parties and working on environmental issues from the inside and collaborating with the other portfolio holders.

Of course, whilst planning and policy at a central government level is moderately important, the most important actions for us to take are our individual actions. I recently reverted to biking to work, which I haven't done since school. My reasons were twofold - it is better for the environment, and its better for me (especially for someone that leads a relatively sedentary lifestyle). Naturally, I can't bike to work every day, as there are always days that I require a car, but I am really trying to minimise my usage of it. I have also been making much greater use of public buses where possible. But I'm not going to suggest this as a solution for everyone. It is your own responsibility to look at your life and how you can take a more friendly approach to the environment.

No matter what the government does however, individuals will not change unless they want to. Even if people have to pay more tax on petrol to appease the Kyoto gods, they will pay it - just like people will keep paying higher prices on alcohol and tobacco as the levies and duties are increased. It is because of this, that we need the environmental ideas that the Green Party promotes to move out of a special interest party, and for the main parties at least to incorporate environmental thinking in their policy. This would actually be beneficial as the Green Party would no longer be the sole promoter of environmental ideas, and would produce greater competition and analysis of environmental policy.

No, this won't happen overnight, and it may take many years. But over time, I think it would be in the country's best environmental interest for the current Green Party personnel to either be subsumed into the mainstream political parties, and for them to create an environmental think-tank that provides research and guidance into international trends and development of environmental policy in New Zealand. The continuation of the Green Party in its current form will be all the evidence we need of our failure to take better care of the environment.

Friday, June 24, 2005

More on Telecom Blackouts...

Now this article is interesting.

It suggests that Telecom is going after the power company that caused one of the two failures to cover their losses. I've yet to find more details on what they are attempting. That seems a bit rich to me for two reasons.

Firstly, how exactly will they determine how much damage the power company caused? Surely the only cost that they could be charged for could be the repair costs. After all, if the rats had not damaged the cable in the Rimutaka's there would have been no major outage, and the only real cost would have been the direct costs associated with repairing the cable - so I don't see how the power company can be blamed for the major loss through their actions, as under most circumstances they would have only caused a relatively minor outage that the system could withstand.

Secondly, I find it ironic that Telecom stridently refuses to pay out for the losses suffered by their clients, whilst they want to recover costs themselves. I say Telecom can take the same bitter pill as the rest of us - its the only way they will make their network more robust, rather than investing just the bare minimum to keep the system going. It will be interesting to see where this one goes.

Life in the United States...

... must just be getting stranger and stranger. It sure appears that way from New Zealand.

News out of the US today shows a Surpeme Court ruling allowing private developers to take control over private property owners, because they refuse to sell out to the developers, and the proposed property development has significant public benefits - through Eminent Domain. What an absolute blow to private property rights in a country that has found pride in private property and the rights of citizens to own their land. Hang on, isn't that a bit like the current land grab the Labour Government is attempting from farmers?

Anyway, back to the US. There is one very interesting aspect of this decision in relation to Intellectual Property (IP). This sets a precedent whereby if the public benefit of intellectual property is greater than the private rights of ownership, then this will give legal basis to wholesale IP infringement.

If we are lucky, someone in the United States could start by claiming the source code for Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Office under Eminent Domain. I believe it would be trivial to demonstrate the public economic benefits to be gained from transferring that property to the public domain. Seriously. How much do you think the New Zealand economy loses annually due to the Microsoft tax? No firm figures exist, but it would have to be approaching the $100 million mark - given that the New Zealand Government spends $30+ million on education over three years. Imagine that reinvested in the local economy. I can see significant public benefits there, more than enough to justify a small company buried in America somewhere going broke. I hope someone tries it on, I really do.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Dear Ministers

Honorable David Cunliffe, Honorable Paul Swain,

I would like to congratulate the Labour party's efforts to drag the country back to the dark ages with your communications and information technology policy.

Last year you had an opportunity to create a competitve and exciting ICT environment in New Zealand that would be beneficial to the economy. The Labour party's decision not to unbundle the local loop makes you culpable for a significant portion of the tens of millions of dollars that were likely lost today as a result of the communications failures that impacted the whole country. I personally have had reports of service failures from Dunedin to Auckland - and across a wide spectrum of services (internet, mobile, PSTN, EFTPOS and others).

I am in fact wondering if you had some advance notice of today's impending failure. Clearly you knew in advance that your policy decisions were going to create some challenges ahead.

It is highly ironic, that the $10.4 million announced in the recent budget for improving business productivity was probably lost in one foul swoop today. Businesses closed, EFTPOS failed around the country, the sharemarket was closed.

Now, why am I linking this to the decision not to unbundle the local loop, and why am I blaming it on you? Had you decided to implement LLU, you would have created a truely competitive telecommunications environment. Telecommunications companies would invest in networking infrastructure, and more options would be provided to businesses and consumers - including the ability to diversify telecommunications providers.

Instead, we got Unbundled Bitstream Service (UBS) as a weak attempt to expand broadband in New Zealand. Unfortunately there is a major failing with UBS - the actual service is still provided by Telecom! This is significant when you consider that in June 2004, over 80% of broadband in New Zealand was provided by Telecom. UBS does nothing to decrease our reliance on a single provider - there is little diversification, as was evidenced by the near total coverage of Telecom's faults all over the country today.

The decision not to implement LLU means that we will never see a practical alternative to Telecom step up to the plate to provide telecommunications services to businesses in New Zealand.

Clearly the phrase "Don't put all your eggs in one basket" never sunk in did it?

It is unfortunate that most people won't recognise the delicious irony that one of the failures occured in the Rimutaka electorate. Would it have been too much to ask that the other occured in New Lynn? The loop would then have been complete.

Regards Bernard

Unsuprisingly, I'm not expecting a reply ;)

Monday, June 20, 2005

"There will be regular blackouts..."

Oh how ironic that is! After suffering through all sorts of communications failures today, I come home to foolishly watch some television and I'm watching one of Telecom's Lions tour advertisements. I found it immensely amusing when the above line was spouted, with the hindsight of today communications experience.

Enough is enough. I'd hate to think how many tens of millions today's episode cost the New Zealand economy. Here are some of the outages I've heard about today: -

  • Xtra Dialup, Jetstream, and Private Office Networking affected in 03, 04, 06, 07 and 09 area codes
  • Many other ISP's affected - often because they are reselling Telecom UBS services
  • Xtra Mobile Services
  • Telecom's call centres overloaded
  • New Zealand Post Point-Of-Sale and EFTPOS down
  • Some government websites went offline - particularly those hosted by the Department of Internal Affairs - opps. Some are still offline as I write this.
  • University of Canterbury lost their internet connection entirely
  • 027 network failed in some parts of the Waikato/Bay of Plenty and Auckland too
  • Reports of parts of the PTSN network failing, possibly from overloading
  • Rumour that an Airways site had some troubles, but they have microwave backup, so may not have been an issue
  • Borders lost their Point-Of-Sale as well
  • Emergency Services phones weren't directly affected, but they did suffer difficulties with their computers
  • Closed the NZ Sharemarket for five hours
  • Banks using Telecom also had their financial transactions greatly slowed
  • And some retailers shut shop

So what caused this? Well, two seemingly unrelated events - a damaged bridge in the Rimutaka's and and digger accident in the Taranaki. There may have even been third and fourth events - another cable broken in the Waikato, and a failure in the Mayoral Drive exchange in Auckland - but they are unconfirmed.

If this is Telecom's contribution to beating the Lions by forcing us back to the dark ages then I want no part of it.

But more importantly, there is a very important political angle to this whole event, and it highlights a very disturbing trend - one of putting too many eggs in one basket - something our socialist sister seems only too keen to do.

Over the last year, the government has had the opportunity to unbundle the local loop - an option that the Labour cabinet decided against. Well Helen, paybacks a bitch eh?

By not unbundling the local loop, the Labour government has strengthened the position of the monopolistic provider of telecommunications services in New Zealand. Had the local loop been unbundled, we would have seen the development of new networks and telecommunications users in New Zealand would have had more competition and a means of diversifying their exposure to a single telecommunications provider. Instead, an Unbundled Bitstream Service (UBS) was one peace offering made to the unknowing and unwilling New Zealand masses. UBS is a wholesale service offered by Telecom that is onsold through other ISP's. So, you may well have found that even though you had a DSL connection through another ISP today, that you lost your connection all the same because it was a Telecom service. Last year, it appeared that Telecom provided about 80% of broadband services in New Zealand. I guess that means they didn't provide much service to most of the country today.

I'm hopeful that perhaps this event will highlight to others that Telecom needs to be declawed and neutered, a bit like the pussies playing the All Blacks this weekend.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

PSA's Inappropriate Behaviour

I just came across this post on the Green's blog this morning, and had to disagree.

I have absolutely no objection to the PSA union coming up with policy comparisions and the like, and I have no problem with them distributing them to members. What they should not be doing, is sending it through the public domain such as newpaper advertisments.

From State Servants, Political Parties and Elections: Guidance for the 2005 Election Period -

The main message is that, if State servants are to be able to effectively serve successive Governments that may be drawn from different political parties, they must be, and be seen to be, politically neutral.

I'll be the first to support the PSA with the right to share information about political party policy with their members. However, they should not be doing this through the public domain, they should be doing it through union email lists and newsletters and keeping such commentry out of the public domain. Now that the PSA has entered the public domain, it will be much more difficult to see State Servants as politically neutral.

In fact, I have just written an email to to complain about this issue.


I would just like to raise a concern about the PSA Union taking a partisan stand on party policy. Whilst it is not within the bounds of the guidance document (State Servants, Political Parties and Elections: Guidance for the 2005 Election Period), I feel it is poor form to be distributing this information to members of the union via the public domain, when they should be doing it in a more subtle manner - such as via union newsletters or union email lists.

Such a public display by an organisation that is representative of
State servants seems to run counter to this statement in the guidance document.

"The main message is that, if State servants are to be able to effectively serve successive Governments that may be drawn from different political parties, they must be, and be seen to be, politically neutral."

With the PSA Union making such public statements on behalf of the State servants they represent, they can no longer be regarded as being politically neutral - and one would have to wonder about State servants desire to work under a National government, should one be elected.

Had it taken place in communication solely with members of the union, I would have no problem. However, since it has taken place in the public domain, one has to question the ability of the State servants to be seen as politically netural.

You should refine the guidance for the next election to also cover organisations that are representation of State servants to ensure such
inappropriate public displays of behaviour don't happen again.


I'm happy with all other unions taking a public approach, but State Servants can't, because they are so close to the politics. They have to take a publicly neutral stance towards all political parties. What they do in private amongst the membership I don't care, but they can't go about slagging political parties in public.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Taking the high ground today

The first agendum? That would have to be Helen Clark pining for a four-year term - God help us! I do like the idea of having a fixed date for elections however. There is no need to have all this uncertainty and political games associated with when the election is going to be held. We clearly can't fix Helen, so lets at least fix the date. Now, onto the remaining items...

  • Whilst it is not directly relevant to Kiwi bloggers, there are bound to be some useful principles and ideas contained in this resource provided by the Electronic Frontier Foundation in the US. Especially in light of yesterdays newspaper articles covering comments about New Zealand bloggers referring to active court cases.
  • I had an interesting discussion with some friends the other night about Mr Capill, his conviction, and the new charges. Our discussion was around the comparision between, say, two different criminals that commit crimes. Which is the worse and deserves a harsher sentence? The one that had a more moral upbringing and should know right from wrong, or the one that had a poor upbringing and less morals? We clearly were in favour of much harsher sentencing on the one that should know better - in this case a Christian that has been convicted of a crime deserves a harsher sentence because they really should have known better because of their upbringing and training. Just like Catholic priests deserve chemical castration for involvement with young boys - they should have known better than anyone else that what they were doing was wrong.
  • And finally, a bouquet for the State Services Commission and the e-Government initiative. They are stirring up Microsoft right now, with their refusal to support Digital Rights Management because they can not guarantee that the documents will be accessible in 100 years time - not without Microsoft's permission anyway. Nor without maintaining the current Microsoft product - hence acceptance of Microsoft Office DRM means that you tie yourself into a lifetime of forced, paid upgrades just to continue to be able to access your data. Groklaw has an interesting article on this today. In addition, the article mentions that the Centre for Critical Infrastructure Protection has also been raising the warning flag against the use of proprietary DRM. Here is the sound bite thats on the money -

    “Before an organisation implements a technology or product that is designed to restrict access to their resources, they should assess the risk of them losing access to the resources themselves or being tied into a solution that could restrict their future options to one technology or vendor.”

    I just hope that as the OASIS Open Document Formats are infused into other applications in the coming months and years that people and governments take the open path so that they maintain control over their documents.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Media in 2015

Here is an interesting flash presentation that details one possible reality on what may happen to the media in the future. It is rather focused, but provides an interesting viewpoint.

Also in the news today, NewTalkZB has an article about bloggers potentially commiting crimes by blogging about current court cases - in particular supposed guilt or innocence.

Friday, June 10, 2005

The US and UK scare me

You know, it is this sort of scary behaviour that makes me happy to be stuck in the arse-end of the world where not much happens. At least we don't run the risk of being immediately drawn into an Orwellian future. The US and the UK appear to rushing in head first with promotional material such as this. It puts me off ever wanting to return to either country.

Its unfortunately really, because I know so many nice people over there, but the organisations and bureaucracy have just about made it not worth the hassle to try and visit any more.

Update - here are some remixed 40's propaganda which make fun reading, in a sick kind of way.

Does frog know the election date?

So spoketh frog today.

Well, you have to feel sorry for Rodney Hide. Leadership speculation three months out from a general election is debilitating for any political party.

So it is going to be a September election is it? ;)

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Labour screwing business by proxy

What would you think if a monopoly provider just one day decided to drop its prices by 83%? "To encourage growth" they say.

Whilst you've got that post-coital afterglow on, you'd probably think that was very nice of them. Until you realise that you were being completely screwed by Monopolistic Pigs up till that point in time. Did anything change in the cost of providing the service? Probably not. Clearly they knew that they have had business users bent over the barrel for long enough, and noticed that the Commerce Commission may just have been glancing in their direction.


When it comes to gouging Kiwis, it appears that Cullen has nothing on Telecom. An 83% price reduction is a statement about the weak-kneed approach that the Labour Government has taken on Telecom. Helen Clark was in the position to unbundle the local loop from Telecom and allow true competition in the telecommunication market that would have stopped what can only be described as extortion. But the Labour Cabinet didn't - even going against the advice of their Communications Minister to break Telecom open.

Isn't it funny how all these cock-ups keep finding a way back to the Ninth Floor?

This move by Telecom today clearly demonstrates that Labour did not have New Zealand business in mind when it made the decision not to unbundle the local loop, and that Douglas Webb has been caught asleep at the wheel.

Damn, I submitted the post too soon.

A ComCom report has also been released today that highlights Telecom charging more than required for landline to mobile calls...

"We have estimated the cost of mobile termination to be around 15 cents a minute, in comparison with around 27 cents a minute which is currently being charged. There is an obvious and significant impact on prices charged to users calling mobiles from a landline..."

And who I wonder would have the most to gain from mobile calls from a landline? That would have to be Telecom.

What we have here is a not so subtle attempt of Telecom trying to spin the mobile termination report with announcement of an 83% reduction in JetStream costs. They must use Labours spin doctors.

But wait, we haven't finsihed being screwed yet!

He said New Zealand was one of the most expensive countries in the OECD for mobile phone users and that the comparison was even less favourable as usage levels increase.

Admittedly, Webb has regained some of my faith. Unfortunately he is likely to be hamstrung by the political idiots in power above him.

Project Probe fails to deliver

It appears that Project Probe is failing to deliver affordable high-speed access to the Internet, despite the government having contributed nearly $50 million in tax-payer funds. Ironically, a number of schools have said that in terms of financial priorities - internet access is way down the list. I wonder if that $50 million would have been better going into education generally and letting schools decide where the funding needs to be spent?

Well, I guess at least some of the schools have pretty satellite dishes on their rooves now - they'll stand testiment to more failed Labour spending.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

A Brief Sidestep

Time for me to take a quick sidestep and cover off an issue I've been wanting to raise for a while - the exploding ticket prices of premium games. My current target is the New Zealand Rugby Football Union.

What has pissed me off are the completely unreasonable prices that are being asked for tickets for certain rugby games such as the Lions tour, as well as circulated prices if we were actually able to host the World Cup in a few years time - $735 dollars for the cheapest final ticket! I was kindly offered to purchase my seats before they were placed in the pool. However, the asking price was almost the same as what a whole seasons-worth of rugby - watching my teams play through the Super 12 and NPC. Hmmm, pay to watch one game - which has cost as much as the 10 or more games I've got already. No thanks.

But what riled me more, was when the union came out and said we don't want to see all these red jerseys in our stadia, we want them blacked out. Well Steve (Tew), if you want them blacked out, you should price them reasonably. I realise that this is mostly because our major test stadia are too small and can't accommodate the larger numbers required to keep test tickets reasonable. In the case of the $735 tickets mentioned above - it is our small stadia that have directly caused the high price, a combination of constrained supply and revenue demands by the IRB.

I am openly hoping and praying that there are red jerseys sitting in the test seats that I was offered - I hope they are all over our stadiums to highlight the exploitative pricing of the NZRFU and the fact that fewer and fewer Kiwis are able to go to the game. I hope that many more kiwis decided to do something better with their money and let the Poms bankroll the NZRFU. I can have a great night on the town, watch the rugby on a huge screen, with a great atmosphere and get a taxi home, and easily spend less than just the ticket to the game. And I will.

Boo sucks to you, Tew.

PS It'll be interesting to see what the Adidas press conference on Thursday releases with regards to the Black Men popping up all over the place.

Turn up the heat on Transpower

My it's good to see National hooking into the Government on Transpower. Pity ACT hasn't done the same - I'm sure Rodney would be able to get even more media coverage of the Labour Government approved tax evasion. This at a time when individual kiwis and small businesses are suffering under higher taxes.

I am hopeful that Paul Gorman, the investigative reporter for The Press will identify who the loans were made available to. It could be rather embarassing if it turns out that Transpower has helped four Australian banks avoid tax - this at a time when the Government is trying to legislate to stop banks underpaying tax.

Transpower now has two interesting, and potentially damaging, aspects that could cause significant embarrasment to Labour.

  1. Selling SOE Assets - this is a beauty. No more can socialist lefties whinge about National selling state assets. Labour did it last, and it did it to some fairly significant national assets of ours. I'd look to the left keeping a rather low profile on asset sales. It would be nice to see the right making more of this - it would be a nice shake in confidence to Labour.
  2. Tax Deals - Tax is a huge issue right now to the New Zealand public, hence it is the best time to be dragging Transpower (and Airways to a lesser extent) into the public limelight to highlight some of the tax inequities that are occuring between big business, and SOE business, and the rest of the country - all the kiwis and small/medium businesses that have fewer options available in 'minimising' tax.

Crank up the heat please!

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Transpower Taxcuts

I've just punched out another National billboard rip-off to highlight the injustice of Transpower 'minimising' its tax, whilst the rest of the country continues to suffer high taxes.

I think it is reprehensible that Cullen approves a deal for Transpower that will allow it to significantly reduce it tax obligation, whilst individuals and companies are to suffer the under the current socialist tax regieme.

Silogate to bite Helen?

At last, it looks like Silogate has bubbled right up to our Popular and Competent Prime Minister!

Seriously, after seeing a couple of socialist trolls trot out the whole National asset sales line recently, it has been satisfying to bring out Silogate showing that the South Island power grid and Airways Corporation have both been involved in dodgy deals selling our assets to American Owned corporations. Cullen seeked out formal approval from the US ambassador - I find it difficult to believe that Helengrad wouldn't have known about a deal of this significance. I hope it comes back and bites you on a place that doesn't bear thinking about.

Update: Here are a couple of articles that popped up on the radar today showing that this issue has bubbled up to the ninth floor.
PM denies knowledge of tax deal (NewsTalk ZB)
Pressure on Cullen over $730m power deal (Stuff)

Time to watch the news and see it is being covered there yet.

Friday, June 03, 2005

National Billboard Rip-off - Cullen

Sorry Michael, I couldn't resist it.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

A Tax is the best form of Defence

Well, a little more digging into the Government financials show how much Labour loves its taxes. There is little I can say - I'd rather let the pictures do the speaking.

Total Government Revenue

Tax Revenue

Indirect Taxation Revenue

Figures were sourced from Financial Statements of the Government of
New Zealand
at the Treasury.

I'll be updating this post soon with details of where the money has been going. In the meantime, I'll leave you with a graph showing how Labour has reigned in the good work that National was making in paying off the National Debt.

Total Government Borrowing


Have grabbed some of the key expense areas that people are likely to be interested in. There isn't too much news here - unless you consider that whilst Labour has been growing the expenses at a similar rate to National-led governments we have seen noticeable levels of service delivery decline. Law and Order - look at the Police issues that seem to bring a new issue to life every couple of weeks.

The increase in Heritage, Culture and Recreation is interesting - consider that the approximate $300 million extra that Labour has placed is the equivalent of a 1% drop in income tax for the the lower middle rate (21% down to 20%) accordings to the Treasury Ready Reckoner.




Law and Order

Transport and Communications

Heritage, Culture and Recreation

I think if Labour get in for a third term, I'll be happy that I've got some shares in Johnston & Johnston. One of their products will come in very handy relieving the pain from the continuous shafting we receive.

Yes, we are being screwed by Labour.

A funny thing happened when browsing through my RSS feeds today. I stumbled across the most recent release of the Tax Outturn Data. I had no idea what it was and was about to delete it when I saw that this data summarised the amount of tax that the government received every month. Since it was lunchtime, I thought I would humour myself and see if anything interesting could be found.

Sure enough, they had a spreadsheet that summarised tax takes on a monthly basis from 1990 through to April 2005. This prompted me do do a little cutting, pasting and formularising, and this it what I found.

I coloured the monthly takes by the Government that was in power at the time. I then calculated a 3 month trailing moving average to smooth it out somewhat - and it brought out the seasonality too.

Frankly, I don't think the graph needs too much explanation. It shows that the current Labour-led Government is milking us dry - as evidenced by the significant monthly tax receipts presented here. I have not adjusted these for inflation as I must get back to work.

Cullen needs to have a tennis ball stuffed in his mouth, have his hands taped to his calculator, and Benson-Pope should stuff this graph where the sun doesn't shine. I imagine it would feel similar to what the rest of us are getting from Labour...

Monday, May 30, 2005

Full Emergency Service Review Required?

On top of all the recent events regarding emergency service, yet another little event has bubbled to the surface which suggests that New Zealand's emergency services are not interacting as best as they could - in effect, diminishing the emergency service that is provided to New Zealanders.

In this case there appeared to be a dispute between Wellington Free Ambulance and the local Kapiti Emergency Medical Service. This probably has something to do with the fact that the ambulance services (there are more than one) do not have any legislative basis, and are not necessarily government funded. Compare that to the Police and Fire Service which are both government funded and have legislative support.

To me, it sounds like a comprehensive review across emergency services is required. Looking at individual services is not going to tell us much, because many of the problems appear to lie with communication between emergency services - such as the recent outing of the Iron Maiden botched rescue attempt. What do you think?

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Why National is failing...

I have found the reason why National is failing the country and why we are doomed to suffer a Labour/Green coalition for the foreseeable future ;)

Blue has at least 20 times the luminous intensity of old-fashioned red and green indicators. Blue tends to cause more discomfort and disability glare than other, longer wavelengths. The eye's lens cannot focus sharply on the blue lights. While red or green light is focused precisely onto the retina, blue light is focused slightly in front of it, which causes a distracting halo around bright blue lights.

There you have it. National needs to change colour as it is too bright, distracting and hard to focus on!

Blog entry fingers murderer

This is creepy. A blogger made their last entry in their blog, mentioning that someone was in their house. Next thing there are two murders and the blog has fingered the murderer. Wired from cradle to grave we have become...

I went down and recognized it was my sister's former boyfriend. He told me he wants to get his fishing poles back. I told him to wait downstair while I get them for him. While I was searching them, he is already in the house. He is still here right now, smoking, walking all around the house with his shoes on which btw I just washed the floor 2 days ago! Hopefully he will leave soon

Wachovia Corporation owns SI Grid

Paul Gorman is at it again! His investigative reporting has discovered that the South Island Grid (exlcuding I assume the Benmore/Hayward HVDC link) is owned by Wachovia Corporation. It appears that this was part of a package of cross-border lease deals that allowed Wachovia Corp to avoid over USD$3 Billion in Federal Taxes in one year. And apparently this was approved by the IRD and Historix (I'm sorry, but he doesn't deserve to be called Economix after the Bludget).

This webpage at Macquarie Australia shows that Macquarie won an award from Asset Finance International for Cross-Border Leasing Transactions in Asia in 2003.

AFI had a couple of very interesting articles that gave quite a few details...

You need to register to view, but can view them straight away. I just registered and they made some interesting reading. Allow me to summarise...

Airways Corporations deal was valued at USD$245 million, and Bank Of America provided the equity. ANZ Investment Bank was the lessee adviser and lender. John Chandler, director of leasing and structured asset finance at ANZ Bank’s office in Wellington, said there would be two tranches, with a second valued at around USD$65 million. Transpower did it's first cross-border lease in the mid-90's with First Chicago.

Telecom New Zealand has completed four deals, two on CDMA cellular equipment, and two on switching equipment. Pitney Bowes and Textron were involved and arranged by CIBC.

Apparently Contact Energy had a similar deal fall through for the Otahuhu B station in South Auckland.

And here we have some evidence of the level of jiggery-pokery require to make the deals legal apparently...

“It is very difficult to make a cross-border lease work for any equipment classed as a fixture, if the transaction is structured in a straight forward manner”

One of the key points in the Transpower deal, is that it was the first New Zealand deal that involved actual property and not just chattels.

Other deals in New Zealand have involved a European company with an NZ energy company, and even Swedish and Japanese - there is even a new Japanese Operating Lease (JOL). Air New Zealand and Qantas have apparently utilised JOL's for some of their recent plane deals.

Note that I am assuming the figures are US as it is an international magazine - they didn't clearly identify the currency for the transactions, so there may be a mixture involved here.

Is that the time? I should get back to work...

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Treasury's Ready Reckoner

Now, this Ready Reckoner provided by The Treasury looks a fun and interesting reference. Note that there are some basic assumptions made for these values, so one should read the introduction. Or not :)

Anyway, lets see how much that $348m tax cut translates to...

  • a 0.41% reduction in GST
  • a reduction in the petrol excise duty approaching 10c/litre - the petrol tax went up 5c on 1 April this year!

And my favourite...

  • a wholesale reduction across the four effective tax rates of a whopping 0.46%!

Gee thanks Michael. That's so generous of you. But whats that? I've got three years of inflation to get through first before I get a cut? Bastard.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Cross-leasing Timeline

I'm going to try and build up a little timeline of some of the key points in the cross-leasing deals that have gone on.

  • 1996 - Transpower signs deal (LILO?) for Cook Strait cable and convertor stations
  • 1999 - US Government bans Lease-In Lease-Out (LILO) deals
  • 2002 Cullen writes to US Ambassador in Wellington to seek approval of deal
  • 2002 Dec - Transpower raises mystery $733 million loan, and loans $533 million to a mystery organisation
  • 2003 Jul-Dec - Airways Corporation signs SILO deal
  • 2003 Dec - Transpower completes Sale-In Lease-Out (SILO) agreement
  • 2004 Jan - US Government bans Sale-In Lease-Out (SILO) deals

And if anyone wonders why I keep linking this issue back to the New Zealand Government...

"They are in our view sensible business decisions which allow us to use our assets to generate additional revenue for our shareholder." -
Transpower spokesman Wayne Eagleson

And here's another goodie about Cullen's involvement in the affair.

Kies was puzzled why Finance Minister Dr Michael Cullen had written to the US ambassador in Wellington seeking assurances that the US Government was comfortable with the Transpower deal. "It's an interesting place to go for approval for sure."

Winston Marsh is the legal advisor to the property owners in the Waikato that are currently 'neogitiating with Transpower for easements for the transmission network upgrade. He wrote an editorial for the Herald which links the issue of cross-leasing deals to the transmission network upgrade.

I think these two paragraphs nicely link the cross-leasing deal to some of the problems faced in Waikato with the North Island transmission network upgrade.

However, it is one thing for a state entity, in fulfilling obligations of electricity supply, to acquire rights by compulsion over private property in the public interest. It is another to, even temporarily, assign or lease to an investor (foreign, to boot), rights that were expected to be a solely dedicated state asset.
Transpower has threatened to use its compulsory powers under the Public Works Act to acquire the right to convey its transmission lines through private land. Now, however, lease-in, lease-out deals, whether ethically correct or not, will be brought into the contest.

I think that puts the cross-leasing deal in a fascinating context - and I agree with Winston. I could understand the difficulties faced by land-owners having Transpower utilise the Public Works Act to acquire land for a state-owned asset. Difficult, but mostly acceptable. It is not however acceptable to utilise public law to purchase land for assets that are going to become foreign owned. That is plain wrong and not in the best interest of New Zealand. Not for critical infrastructure.

I get the feeling that whilst this is mostly legal and above board, it is not ethical for State Owned Enterprises to be actively involved in the grey area between tax minimisation and tax avoidance.

More links

More on Transpower Grid Sale

I've turned up a few more articles of interest in Silogate. Firstly there are some vague memories of anything like this occurring.

The National Government's finance minister at the time, Bill (now Sir William) Birch, told BusinessDay he did not recall seeing or signing documents relating to either lease. "I'm not sure that they put it my way. We just became aware of it."

And then we have Winston...

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters became treasurer late in 1996 and said he had never handled papers on Transpower's cross-border leases. "I didn't see them. They were certainly never brought to me."

At the same time, Transpower has taken out a significant loan, and has accepted a $100 million risk if the as-yet-anonymous party defaults on the loan.

A second massive deal in which Transpower lent more than $500m of money it had borrowed itself to an unnamed organisation, risking a $100m penalty payment if that organisation fails to meet loan requirements.

But here is a nice little kicker - PWC which has been providing tax advice to Airways Corporation, is also providing auditing services.

"PWC is subcontracted to fulfil a constitutional role in reporting to Parliament on what's going on and yet it's helping to arrange what's going on," Sue Newberry said.
"How can the Auditor-General regard PWC as independent? The Auditor-General would never be a party to tax-avoidance schemes. These are very, very serious issues."

Hmm, that sounds a little like Enron, which had audit and other services provided by Arthur Anderson, including its deals with tax haven companies very similar to Transpower and Airways Corporation. So there is definitely a precident of these deals going bad.

And it would appear that cross-leasing is quite common - Natural Gas Corporation was involved in cross-leasing a couple of its power plants in the late 90's, the Taranaki Combined Cycle and Cobb Hydro Power Stations - NGC Press Release 1, NGC Press Release 2.

I get the impression that if the deal runs as planned, there are no issues. However, if things turn pear-shaped, there could be very real ownership issues at stack with regards to the South Island grid, and the Cook Strait cable. This could include a loss of control of these critical infrastructural assets.

So, at this stage we have had the following assets quietly sold off from under our noses - and there could be even more that we don't know about because of the secrecy that surrounds these deals. Assets 'leased' to date include: -

  • South Island electricity tranmission network
  • Cook Strait DC electricity transmission cable and both convertor stations either side of the strait (USD$125million by Skadden)
  • Our air traffic control system, which covers 34 million square kilometres - one of the largest coverages in the world.

More references - apologies for using Stuff as these links will soon disappear.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

SOE Asset Sales Mk II

This is interesting. There have been a few articles appear in the press over the past month or two about a deal that some State Owned Enterprises have completed cross-border leasing deals to 'minimise' their tax, and provide cash injections for shareholders. The result of this is that the SOE's involved have been receiving cash injections of around $30-35 million dollars, transferred control of the asset to a company registed in a tax haven, and reduced the tax that they have to pay the New Zealand Government - which in return will increase the tax burden on other taxpayers.

Transpower completed its deal in December 2003 to sell the South Island grid to a US investor that is now leasing the grid back to Transpower through a company registered in the Cayman Islands - conveniently a tax haven. This has saved them around $35 million - I wonder if this was returned to the shareholder - Dr Michael Cullen - leaving Transpower asset and cash poor?

Transpower spokesman Wayne Eagleson spoketh

"They are in our view sensible business decisions which allow us to use our assets to generate additional revenue for our shareholder."

Note that they refer to their singular shareholder? I wonder who that might be.

These are known as Sale-In/Lease-Out (SILO) agreements, and appear to have the blessing of the Inland Revenue Department. However, these schemes have recently come under review in the United States, and a clamp-down is occuring on them as they were associated to the collapse of Enron.

Mr Eagleson said the 2003 cross border lease arrangement had been disclosed in Transpower's financial reports and all material details of the transaction were disclosed to the Inland Revenue Department and ruled on where necessary.

And some University of Canterbury accounting lecturers have been researching these deals recently.

But cross-border leasing has been criticised by Canterbury University accounting academics Alan Robb and Sue Newberry, who said it was shonky and, in the case of the Transpower deal, had put ownership of the grid at risk. Dr Newberry said the concept - called "lease-in, lease-out" in the US - had been subject to a big tax inquiry in that country and the authorities were now shutting such schemes down.

In addition to Transpower, it appears that Airways Corporation has done the same to a tidy tune of $29.5 million.

Here are some choice quotes to whet your appetite on this issue. It is definitely one that should have further investigation by various political parties.

In the US, such deals have been slated as tax scams and have cost hundreds of billions of dollars in lost tax revenue. Special purpose entities were closely linked with the fall of giant US energy trading company Enron.

I'll believe this quote when I see it: -

Transpower spokesman Chris Roberts said "This allows Transpower to reduce our borrowing needs and ultimately charge lower prices to our customers."

Given some of the issues over the past 15 years revolving around management of New Zealands energy needs - hydro crises in the early 1990's and the naughties, the Vector (nee Mercury Energy) cable problems in Auckland in 1998 - it is incomprehensible that at a time we should be maintaining control over our critical infrastructure, that we are in fact selling it off to international interests so that we can lease it back to make the balance sheets more agreeable to The Shareholder - Dr Michael Cullen.

I would be very interested to hear more on this issue. Is it a storm in a teacup, or is it something we need to be concerned about?

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Easter closures a breach of human rights?

This is the first time I've heard this argument used against the law to force businesses to close at Easter.

I enjoy the irony that the the current law against businesses opening at Easter goes against the Bill of Rights. Sure, if you're a Christian business owner or worker, you don't need to work. But that is no reason to stop others that want to open their business over the weekend. After all, we don't celebrate many holidays of other religions, so it is only fair that business owners that are not Christian don't have to respect Christian holidays. It reeks of hypocracy.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Foot and Mouth Disease Threat

Hopefully, today's event on Waiheke Island is a hoax. Even so, this Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) hoax will already have direct and indirect costs of millions of dollars. Hundred's of people will have been diverted from usual work activities to respond to this hoax from a number of different agencies, and many hours will be required to determine if this is a hoax or a very real threat.

The person/people that have done this are fucking idiots. If/when they get caught, they will have hopefully have some significant legislation thrown at them, including the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms act and Terrorism Supression act. Yes, this threat is defined as terrorism.

From the Terrorism Supression Act...

  • Section 5(2)b - to unduly compel or to force a government or an international organisation to do or abstain from doing any act (a request to change the tax system would fit the bill)
  • Section 5(3)c - destruction of, or serious damage to, property of great value or importance, or major economic loss, or major environmental damage, if likely to result in 1 or more outcomes specified in paragraphs (a), (b), and (d) (again FMD fits the bill)
  • Section 5(3)e - introduction or release of a disease-bearing organism, if likely to devastate the national economy of a country (FMD again...)

The Reserve Bank has a research report available that outlines the impact of an FMD outbreak in New Zealand. The scenario utilised in the report suggest that the overall impact on New Zealand over two years is a reducation in GDP of approximately $10 BILLION, and an export reduction of just over $5 BILLION. Big numbers.

The message being played to the public right now is probably playing down terrorism because they expect it is a hoax. If the release is confirmed, FMD certainly has the potential to be covered under our terrorism legislation.

Right, have just returned from tea. It seems that MAF ran a couple of FMD exercises through March and April 2005 - Exercise Taurus.

If it is a hoax, then the idiots that performed the hoax will get a very sharp shock as to how much trouble they have caused.

What if it isn't a hoax?

If it is not a hoax, we have a big problem. A naturally occuring release of FMD should not be too much of an issue as it should be able to be easily managed as it would likely be confined to one location. The intentional release is much more problematic. Why? An intentional release of FMD, if proven, implies some level of intelligence and planning. A release on Waiheke Island makes sense - release it on a relatively self-contained island that is easily isolated. It will take a few days for all the animals on the island to be tested and prove that they test negative to FMD. There is some risk of animals being moved off island - the farmer was interviewed on National Radio between 1730 and 1800 this evening and said they moved some animals off the island last week.

Now, if an animal tests positive on Waiheke Island, we know that they have the capability to deliver FMD to livestock. This is a concern because it could then be delivered potentially anywhere in the country. One of the talking heads on the Seven O'clock new gossip shows said that if we had an FMD outbreak in the North Island, then the South Island would still be able to trade. Natural outbreaks wouldn't tend to jump islands too easily. However, a malicious someone with a bit of planning could, if they are capable of delivering FMD, deliver FMD to multiple locations on both islands if demands are not met. That would likely shut down the entire country.

Some references to get you started: -

A place for TESS?

The Treasury has just released a request for expressions of interest to provide a Tertiary Education Savings Scheme (TESS). Doesn't it seem strange that the socialists would promote such an individualist scheme that runs counter to state welfare?

Why would our government be making such a move?

  • Reduce our exploding student debt in the long term by forcing families to save in advance.
  • They know that the cost of tertiary education is going to increase, and they see this as a means of transferring a greater proportion of the cost to the public.

Surely the socialist ideal is for the government to manage the funds - that way they have control over the tertiary institutions through funding. Is there something I'm missing here, or is this another case of the left picking up some ACT breadcrumbs and repacking it as their own?

After all, some of ACT's policy on Tertiary Education include: -

  • All students should have equal access to tertiary education regardless of race, and should be given equal support by the Government whether they choose to study at a private or public institution.
  • Students should contribute something towards the cost of their education, but should not be burdened with a debt which will take many years to repay.

To me, a TESS sounds like it is taking the debt option to its next, natural conclusion - getting people to save and pay for education in advance and not get into debt.

Personally, I've always been a fan of savings before spending, and I just hate getting into debt. So I think I agree that a TESS could be beneficial - depending on the details.

I do have a problem with the potential bureaucracy though. Why can't we leverage off the Superannuation Scheme and allow some of the same management structures to be used for both schemes - for example, an individual has multiple accounts, one for savings, one for education, and why wouldn't they go for health too? There just needs to be a bit more personal freedom in types of investments allowed.

That doesn't sound like something out of the left to me - but of course we don't know the details yet...

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Criminals and GPS

It appears that in June the Corrections Department are going to trial monitoring offenders by satellite, amongst other techniques under investigation.

Most of the techniques I've read about recently make sense - such as anklets that transmit continuous radio signals to installed monitoring units, and voice-verification. You can read a little more on this page at the Corrections website.

Voice verification could be fooled with recorded messages if it isn't combined with some technique - such as RF monitoring to ensure the anklet is also in range, or a random phrase is asked for voice-verification each time. It appears that they are looking at the Israeli company PerSay providing the technology called FreeSpeech. Perhaps we may see this technology used for phone-banking and interaction with government agencies in the not too distant future?

Anyway, back to the GPS solution. It sounds as though the GPS units are designed to received the same RF signal that is transmitted by the RF bracelet - meaning the the GPS unit would activate an alarm if it is separated from the anklet, such as the offender removing it.

GPS signals however have limitations. They cannot be received in buildings, under tree canopies, and often fail in urban canyons such as central Auckland or Wellington. And you won't get a good clear GPS signal unless you mount the GPS receiver on the offenders head, otherwise their body will block some of the signals and the unit may not be able to triangulate its location. That includes when they are in vehicles too. Opps.

The upshot of this is that GPS tracking has only limited benefits for tracking offenders given the wide variety of ways signal can be lost - unintentionally or on purpose (try wrapping some tinfoil over the unit).

Which brings me to my point. If we can't trust people to wander around in the community without tracking devices, they shouldn't be in community fullstop. Otherwise, they'll just end up losing them.

I believe its just a cost-cutting measure to move criminals out into society, just like they have moved other 'institutional clients' into the community. I can't want to say I-told-you-so when the first offenders go missing with GPS.

Update - Slashdot has just posted a related article.

Saturday, April 30, 2005

BBC Editor blogs about user-submitted photos

My how times are changing. The current editor of the BBC has just blogged about complaints from users to stop using stock photos in news articles, and instead accept user-submitted photos. What a refreshing concept! Apparently the poor BBC readers were becoming a bit frustrated at seeing the same old picture again and again of a dog (albiet a very photogenic dog). Wouldn't it be fun if our media started using public-submitted photos of our most photogenic leader and her smarmy army.

A Technical Interlude

Just testing with this post. I've just upgraded my laptop to the latest version of OS X - Tiger. One of the really nifty new features is the Dashboard - a very cool tool that provides quick and easy access to a number of little widgets. I've just downloaded one called DashBlog that is hopefully going to make it quicker and easier for me to post to the blog. This is the test :)

Update - Wow. That was really easy.

Friday, April 29, 2005

War on Terror Stats

Oh dear. It appears that the US Government is now deciding to hush-up terrorism statistics because they fear that they show that the war on terror has not been successful in reducing terrorism. Well there's a suprise...

"Last year was bad. This year is worse. They are deliberately trying to withhold data because it shows that as far as the war on terrorism internationally, we're losing," said Larry C. Johnson, a former senior State Department counterterrorism official, who first revealed the decision not to publish the data.

PS - If you hate registering for news sites, BugMeNot is a great service that provides userid's and passwords to save you registering.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Snob or simple logistics

Its hard to tell whether the decision by John Howard is a slap in the collective Kiwi face or a simple logistical issue. In the Herald today it was been stated that Howard will attend a BBQ for Australian servicemen instead of attending the New Zealand ceremony. It could be a slap in the face, or it may be a simple logistical issue that has been alluded to in a number of articles. I guess we will have to wait and see what it really means.

In related news, the Turks have banned the Haka from being performed, calling it 'obscene'. Frankly this doesn't worry me too much. After seeing a short doco on the haka a couple of weeks ago, I agree that we don't want to be sending agressive, confrontational Kiwi's abroad to do war dances - especially when we're commemorating over 100,000 deaths in war. That's just plain inappropriate. Perhaps Helen could do a nice painting on the shores of Anzac Cove instead...

Friday, April 22, 2005

Police Porn has wider implications?

A press release by the State Services Commissioner today identifies that there are at least 80 instances of the inappropriate email coming from other state sector organisations. Opps. I wonder if the Fire Service, Corrections and Defence feature prominently?

I'm not concerned about the material that is work related, and neither will the auditors I imagine. What is inappropriate in this whole affair is the fact that taxpayer funded systems, equipment and administration is being used to maintain what are for all intents and purposes personal email. Gees folks. Get a personal email account with your ISP or with a web email provider. You shouldn't be doing personal stuff whilst on the job with tax-payer funded money.

Is Nandor smoking his way out of parliament?

Our political dope-smoker appears to have been dropped further down the Green party list. Poor Nandor. I wonder why that would be.

"Clearly the members have been very impressed with the performance of both Keith and Metiria over the last three years, and Nandor's dropped down as a result of that." - Rod Donald, Green MP.

I wonder if the Green stuff has impaired Nandor's performance to his detriment? It was interesting to see him on Cambell last night debating the issues around drug-testing in the workforce. I agree with Nandor that what you do in your own home is your own right - as long as it doesn't impact anyone else. But with the ability for THC to remain in a heavy smokers system for up to 3-4 weeks this has to raise questions about the actions of dope-smokers in the workplace. It's like an airline pilot. Its fine for them to enjoy alcohol, but they can't be under the influence at work - even if they did the drinking under their own time. If the actions you take in your own home have the potential to impact your public or work performance, you have to be expected to take tests. Especially the case where your workmates or customers lives are at risk.

So until Nandor gets some of these issues clearer in his mind, I for one am happy to see him languish down the Green list.

Proof: Swain wasn't hard enough on Telecom

Ah, it's starting to come out again. Swain wasn't hard enough on Telecom when it came to unbundling the local loop.

Now Douglass Webb, Commerce Commissioner has come out saying that TelstraClear needs to be given greater access to Telecom's network because broadband isn't yet as competitive as they would have liked. Well duh - if you're not going to unbundle the local loop, what should you expect?

That's what happens when you get a pack of leftist teachers and unionists running the country.

Microsoft and Government Collusion

Bloody hell. I find out in the paper today that the Government is actively supporting a known monopolist to develop and strengthen their own business! Oh hang on, that wouldn't be the first time.

I am very supportive of using technology centres, even funded by the government to take technology out to people that can benefit from it. However, this does not include preferentially supporting one company to the exclusion of others.

I would be very suprised if Microsoft, when learning from clients of the innovation centre chooses to patent some of what it has learnt. Most of these patents will then be used to strengthen their position over their competitors.

A centre such as this must provide vendor-neutral solutions. Where is IBM, Novell, Oracle and the Open Source crowd? And what about supporting New Zealand developers of technology - surely it would do more good to have New Zealanders develop the technology and build Intellectual Property rights around it? No point giving work and IP to an American company.

Labour has run the Police into the ground

Our charming Labourites appear to have succeeded, yet again, at doing something that no-one wanted them to. An NBR poll has found that the public's faith in our Boys and Girls in Blue has dropped an astounding 18% from when the poll was last run in 2002. From 71%, it has now fallen to a marginal 53% - suggesting that only 1 in two of us have faith in our Police force. It appears to have been in steady free-fall, as last years confidence figure was 64%.

Of course, the fault lies not with the Police, but with the lack of funding and support by the current Labour Government. They are too concerned with vote buying and propping up the ailing welfare state to care about law and order.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Making iPod's Legal

"While thousands of people are merrily copying their CD collections to their iPods, New Zealand copyright law makes that illegal. However, the record industry turns a blind eye to the practice and a law change this year is expected to legalise it."
Freedom of expression - NZ Herald 20050223

Under the current Copyright Act (1994) it is actually illegal to sample your personal CD collection and transfer the songs that you have purchased and store them on your iPod.

This means that probably everyone wearing those all-to-common white ear-buds these days is most likely breaking the law. Is it a silly law? Yes, and luckily the MED agrees that the Copyright Act needs to be updated to reflect current realities.

Recognition of the need to legalise format-shifting has bubbled to the surface, and they appear to have taken a much more pragmatic approach than some countries such as the US - with their Digital Millenium Copyright Act. I fear however that should New Zealand continue work towards a free trade agreement with the United States, that we will have the more draconian US measures forced upon us as part of the agreement. Just like the Australians did.

Taxes and Levies - Oh my!

I received a letter from Meridian Energy in the mail today. Luckily it was not a bill. IT was however a letter outlining the Electricity Commission levy that since March 2004 has been buried in our electricity rates.

I congratulate Meridian on exposing the levy to all, small though it may currently be. New Zealand citizens' income is being gradually eroded by "Death from a Thousand Levies" and we should have more of these exposed for the public to see how much is actually going to the Government or Government apparatus.

It would be useful to actually build up a list of all the taxes, levies and rates that the average New Zealander is exposed to. I'd also love to see more commercial organisations expose the amount that the Government is taking. Wouldn't it be great when purchasing petrol to actually have two line items - cost of petrol, and the excise duty that goes to the Government? It would be much more revealing to the public-at-large if they see different line items on their receipt.

In the name of transparent government accounting and reporting, I feel they are obliged to report the amount of excise duty that is being collected just like GST is reported. I can't see any politican choosing to push this however, so it may have to be the petroleum companies that take the step. Hopefully they will follow the lead of the electricity sector.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Cricket Tour to Zimbabwe

Ah. I love cricket. But not when our team is touring to a country that has a blatant disregard for democracy. Sport cannot be kept separate from politics these days - just look how hard it is to separate it from commerce! One means of voicing our disapproval against the tour is through an online petition that the Greens have set up.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Not Competently Educated, Ah

I was pacing along Lambton Quay this afternoon, mind adrift in thoughts of work tomorrow, when I nearly bowled straight into one of our elected representatives. I recognised the face, and later clicked that it was the Minister that has recently been described by one of his colleagues as "smarmy". And I have to confess that this was probably a good thing, because if it had have been the Minister responsible for Education...

When I left my combined primary/intermediate school and went to high school, my mathematics skills were fairly impressive because of the great education I got at primary school. So impressive, that I was left to rot in mathematics classes until most other students caught up in the late fourth form. For me - I had two years without being pushed at school in mathematics.

That was my first hand experience that not everyone is capable of learning at the same speed, nor to the same levels. The yearly quantums that subjects were broken into are not granular enough to make it practial to mix both slow and fast learners. So, when I heard the NCEA was coming along and that it was going to offer a more modular approach to learning, I supported that, because it would allow the brighter kids to complete more modules and advance their learning and not be held back to the lowest common denominator.

However, we all know what the NCEA has since devolved into. The NCEA should not be about providing crappy life-skills credits at school. School is about providing more basic life skills. How to read, how to write and how to count. Life skills should be picked up outside of school - actually living, and not wrapped in fluffy Labour-red cotton wool (with a little hint of hemp-Green sinously attached).

Do I want to see a return to the old system that I went though. Nope. I believe that the courses offered at schools must return to similar 'more traditional' education - english, maths, science, history, economics etc. These courses should be broken down into modules which are more rigorously assessed than some of the NCEA standards that are being offered, including decent examinations.

I think with some not-to-significant tweaking, the NCEA could evolve into an excellent education system that provides a modular structure that allows students to learn at their own natural pace: -
  • Revert to traditional schooling subjects
  • Remove the airey-fairy lifeskills subjects - life is learnt outside the classroom thanks
  • Examinations and assessment in general must be much more rigourous
  • Results should have the politically-correct wrapper removed, and be returned to good old (percentage-like) numbers
However, I can't see the Labour party growing any more balls and making the required changes. It would be way too un-PC for them! Just like taxation distributes wealth among the populace, it appears that the current NCEA is being designed to distribute education.