Starving children and evil

I feel remarkably disturbed by the release of the report from the Welfare Working Group.

Given that:

  1. The Domestic Purposes Benefit is designed to be the minimum necessary amount for people to live on.
  2. Currently it increases as additional children are born to cover the increased costs of food, clothing and so on.
  3. The WWG will substantially increase the pressure to get into work earlier.
  4. Failure to comply leads to a cut of the benefit paid in steps down to 0.
  5. These children, whether born to ‘good’ or ‘bad’ parents, still need to be cared for.

Let me be very clear about this – if your policies lead to children starving in a relatively rich country like New Zealand, you’re not just wrong or heartless, but evil.

One final note: some of the people who will be on the Domestic Purposes Benefit by the time these policies are implemented will only be so because they lost their partner in the Christchurch Quake.

The Compleat Home Entertainment System – Updated

Three and a half years ago I documented my home entertainment system. I thought that people both technical and non-technical might appreciate the chance to see how someone else had done it.

It’s time for an update. Let’s start with what we can do with it:


  • Lounge – we use XBMC on the Mac Mini to play music, downloaded media and streaming Internet video. The all-in-one DVD player/amplifier is still used to watch movies on DVD.
  • Bedroom – we use an Airport Express to play music from the network storage via iTunes running on the Mac Mini in the lounge. Our iPhones are used as remote controls. (Yes, there are a lot of systems involved in that process. Amazing that it works so well!)
  • General – centralised storage of data, printing from anywhere, wireless Internet.

The Diagram

And here’s all the bits and how they connect up. As you can see it’s organised into three columns – output devices, players and network infrastructure:

Diagram showing the output devices, media players and network infrastructure

Major Changes

The major changes since the last update:

  • Dumped the old Xbox hardware for a media player and replaced it with an only slightly broken surplus Mac Mini running Windows 7. It’s still running XBMC. (Plex on OSX was rejected due to being a bit too unfinished – and I ended up hating the Apple Remote for not having enough buttons.)
  • Upgraded the wireless network to dual-band 802.11n and the wired network to gigabit ethernet for maximum performance.
  • Upgraded the network storage from 2 x 500Gb drives to 2 x 1.5TB drives, while still using the same old Dlink DNS-323 hardware.
  • Switched to an ADSL internet connection due to not being able to get cable any more. We ended up having to run PPPoE from the ADSL modem to the router to make the connection stable enough to use.
  • Added iTunes on the Mac Mini to enable use of an Airport Express as a remote music player.
  • Added a Logitech Harmony remote (not shown) to control it all. This has allowed us to dump the other three remotes into a drawer and ignore them.
  • Added an Xbox 360 (not shown) for gaming.


It’s all working pretty well at the moment so no major changes are planned. The only limitation is that the Mac Mini isn’t powerful enough to play high-quality 1080p video. This could be solved by upgrading the hardware or by replacing it with a dedicated media player – if they ever get good enough (keeping my eye on the Boxee Box and the WD Live Hub). It doesn’t worry me too much at the moment.


Feel free to ask any questions and I’ll do my best to answer them.

Strange Data Collection Method

I was taken aback by what I found in my post box today – a letter asking me to complete a survey about my respiratory health. The Medical Research Institute tells me that (link to scan of letter (PDF)):

You have been randomly selected from the electoral roll to participate in the first phase which involves completing the questionnaire on the other side of this letter.

Personally I thought that it was illegal to use the Electoral Roll for any purpose other than elections, but it seems that there is an exception for approved scientific/health researchers.

I’d be surprised if the response rate was very high or very representative.

And no, I didn’t fill it out. Feel free to use the code and URL on the letter to go and answer it for me.

OIA Bait

I was looking at the just released consultation document on Regulations and Codes of Practice for the Anti-Money Laundering/Countering the Funding of Terrorism Act.

They ask for submissions and add the following:

The Ministry of Justice does not intend to publish comment that it receives on this document. However any comment will be subject to the Official Information Act 1982 and may, therefore, be released in part or full.

This makes me feel like requesting all the submissions and publishing them (as Tech Liberty did for the ACTA submissions) just on general principle. Maybe if we keep doing that they’ll finally realise that it just makes more sense to publish the submissions themselves.

Too much Press and Hold

I really like the way that the iPhone recognises phone numbers in emails and turns them into touchable links.

Screenshot of email with highlighted phone number

But for ages I thought that all you could do was call the number.

Screenshot showing the short-press menu with Call and Cancel

This used to really annoy me because, being a modern kind of person, I generally prefer to text people than call them. Other times I just wanted the number to add to my address book, so I’d end up cutting and pasting the number into Contacts.

Then one day I lingered on the link too long and a whole new menu popped up! Hey, here were exactly the features I was looking for.

Screenshot showing the press and hold menu with call, text, contacts

Now, there are two problems here.

Firstly, there is no advantage to the user from this arrangement. In both cases the phone displays a menu with one or more actions and an option to cancel it. The required user actions are the same:

  1. Press (or press and hold)
  2. Press selected option or cancel

If the user interaction is exactly the same why not just show the full menu in both cases?

Secondly, and more importantly, this “press and hold” functionality is hidden from the user and there’s no way to easily discover it. I’d had my phone for a couple of years before I realised it was there (I’m assuming it wasn’t added in an OS upgrade) and I wonder how many people still don’t know about it. And what other convenient features am I missing just because I haven’t thought to check that they might be there?

To my mind, “press and hold” is a user-unfriendly way to add functionality and should be avoided wherever possible.

Appearing before a Select Committee

Last week I went to my first Select Committee hearing and therefore I’m now an expert. Here’s what I found out.


The New Zealand Council for Civil Liberties sent in a submission about the Electoral (Disqualification of Convicted Prisoners) Amendment Bill to the Law and Order Select Comittee.

Current law says that prisoners given a sentence of longer than 3 years cannot vote; this bill extends that to all prisoners. The Council opposes this change and recommends that this provision should be removed from the law, not extended.

In our submission we asked to make an oral submission to the committee.

Subsequently we received an invitation to appear before them. We were allocated 10 minutes to make our submission. Kevin was to do the submission while I went to support him.


We turned up at Parliament 20 minutes before our time and went through the main visitor entrance. The receptionist asked us our business, gave us a sticker and then pointed us in the direction of the hearing rooms. The door was closed and a sign said that it was closed to the public. We sat down and chatted to the other submitters.


Eventually (they were late) the committee finished what they were doing, a whole bunch of people in suits filed out, and the sign on the door was changed to show that it was open to the public. We all filed in and sat in the public seats at one end of the room.

At the other end was a large U-shaped table with the various MPs around it, each with a computer terminal and a sign with their name in front of them.


The proceedings of the committee were fairly relaxed. The chair of the committee invited us up, quickly did introductions around the table and then asked us to speak.

Kevin gave his presentation and then the committee asked questions. The questions were generally quite good and showed that the committee members had listened to what he was saying – although some were obviously using our submission as a launch pad to put forward their own points of view. One committee member even asked for a copy of the statistics we had included in the presentation and then raced off to take copies.

Then the questions stopped and it was time for the next submitter to make their presentation, so we made our way out.


Thanks to Kevin McCormack of the NZ Council for Civil Liberties who wrote the original submission and then prepared and presented the oral submission.

Good Company Twitter

Companies are increasing their use of Twitter but it’s not always obvious what they should be doing on it.

It doesn’t help that different people have different opinions. I’m not interested in following companies to get deals or beg for favours, and I detest “retweet to win” contests that try to turn everyone into unpaid spammers.

Here’s five times that companies made a positive impression on me by interacting over Twitter:

  1. Welcomed Whittakers (@whittakersnz) to Twitter and asked when they were going to do Easter Eggs. Got told they were working on it.
  2. Orcon offered to help me resolve a problem with their service. (Not solvable by them, it needed Telecom to pull finger.)
  3. I complained about Netgear service and got a phone call (!) from their PR company in Australia. I declined their offer to help and sorted it out through the usual channels the next day.
  4. Responded to a question about where to get batteries by suggesting Dick Smith. Someone else responded and speculated that their house-brand batteries might not be as good. @DickSmithNZ responded with details of their current sale on batteries as well as a link to a report showing that their batteries were as good as the name-brand ones.
  5. I said I was switching from Vodafone to Telecom and received a “Welcome on board” from @TelecomNZ.

Each of these companies treated me as a person and, by doing so, made me feel better about dealing with them.

The winner is Dick Smith for their quick and useful response – but I admit I’m still hanging out for those easter eggs from Whittakers!

Some interesting offences

Just having a look at the Summary Offences Act to see if it was illegal to be drunk in public (apparently it’s not) and found these:

Defence for public urination

Every person is liable to a fine not exceeding $200 who urinates or defecates in any public place other than a public lavatory. It is a defence in a prosecution under this section if the defendant proves that he had reasonable grounds for believing that he would not be observed.


Every person is liable to a fine not exceeding $200 who Publicly advertises a reward for the return of any property that has been stolen or lost, and in the advertisement uses any words to the effect that no questions will be asked;


Every person is liable to a fine not exceeding $200 who, without the consent of the owner or occupier affixes any placard, banner, poster, or other material bearing any writing or pictorial representation to any structure, or to or from any tree;

Disturbing people

Every person is liable to a fine not exceeding $200 who, in any public place, unreasonably disrupts any meeting, congregation, or audience.

Peeping only happens at night

Every person is liable to a fine not exceeding $500 who is found by night without reasonable excuse peeping or peering into a dwellinghouse;


A friend asked me a set of simple questions: “Why are they doing this whole thing with the ACTA treaty? Why is it secret? Why is NZ participating?” He then followed up with: “Why are you against it?”

This set me thinking. There’s been lot of articles complaining about the secrecy around the ACTA negotiations (I’ve even written some) and worrying about the contents of it, but they often assume a certain level of knowledge of the base assumptions.

This article is an attempt to spell out some of the basic assumptions behind the opposition to the ACTA treaty. It’s a combination of some of the things I suspect are true, along with some of the claims I’ve seen from other people. As such it’s not a statement of how things are, but more a statement of what I and others fear to be true.

Some points that could be grouped to form an argument

  1. That the ACTA treaty is currently being negotiated by a number of countries including the USA, the EU, Australia and New Zealand.
  2. That the negotiation and the proposed content of the treaty is being kept a secret.
  3. That there is no plausible justification for negotiating the treaty in secret.
  4. That the ACTA treaty is going to go beyond anti-counterfeiting and try to impose new conditions around the use of copyright material.
  5. That compliance with the ACTA treaty will require signatories to implement domestic laws which specify draconian new penalties for people who breach copyright.
  6. That such penalties have long been a goal of those in the major content industries.
  7. That the content industry contributes a lot of money to US politicians.
  8. That US politicians are largely beholden to the people who financially support them.
  9. That the USA is behind the attempt to extend ACTA to copyright.
  10. That the USA knows that the wider public has a better understanding of copyright issues than the average politician.
  11. That the USA is behind the attempts to keep the ACTA negotiations secret as they know it will not stand up to mass scrutiny.
  12. That being a signatory of ACTA will be a pre-requisite to signing a free trade agreement with the US.
  13. That politicians in many countries, including New Zealand, see signing a free trade agreement with the US as good both for the country and their careers.
  14. That politicians don’t really understand the issues around copyright in the digital age.
  15. That politicians will be happy to sacrifice copyright issues if it gets them closer to a free trade agreement.

My New Laptop

(This is another in my series of posts where I record my current feelings about technology in order to have something to laugh at in five years time. See also What I Use and Market Calibration.)

I’m getting urges for a new laptop again.

The main requirements when I got this laptop (Compaq 2510p) were:

  • Small and light-weight (it’s 1.4kg)
  • Long battery life (~6 hours)
  • Runs Windows well (it’s part of my job)

The Compaq has worked pretty well for me but my biases are changing. My new requirements are:

  • Relatively lightweight (but not so worried about small any more)
  • Backlit keyboard (I do quite a lot of writing at night but I don’t touchtype. A backlit keyboard would make both Kim and me happier.)
  • High resolution screen (at least higher than the current 1280×800)
  • Well over four hours useful battery life (i.e. I might accept four but I really want more)
  • I’d still choose battery life over performance and I’d prefer it not to have an optical drive to save weight.

And while it’s not necessary, I suspect that any laptop that meets those criteria will have one of the much cooler solid-state hard drives. They’re lighter and use less battery, plus they have no moving parts so they’re more reliable.

When it comes to the operating system, while I’d like to have a proper go using Mac OSX, Windows 7 fulfils most of my requirements and is more appropriate to my job.

Finally, it’d be nice if it looked kind of stylish, maybe even with a bit of colour.


I recently had a play on a Dell Latitude Z600 and I have to admit it was pretty good even though it was much bigger than anything I’ve considered before. It’s thin and surprisingly light for its size. Sadly, while the 16″ screen at 1600×900 has more pixels than my current screen, you’d think they could have increased it even more. Unfortunately it costs an ungodly amount of money and I believe the battery life is apparently atrocious.

The HP Envy 13 also looks pretty good. Stylish, good screen (1600×900 is acceptable on a 13″ screen), good battery life – but no backlit keyboard.

Dell have just put out the Vostro V13 at a good price but I really don’t want to stay with a standard res screen and no keyboard backlight.

The Sony Z is rather cool. 13″ screen at 1600×900, good battery life, backlit keyboard… why not? Sadly I have absolute faith in Sony’s ability to screw it up by filling it full of crap software and failing to provide good hardware drivers. It’s a pity because otherwise I think it might be the winner.

When it comes to the Apple range, the MacBook Pro 13″ is rather nice (and the price recently dropped). It fulfils most of my requirements (except screen resolution) but the styling is looking a bit dated and I don’t trust Apple to do a good job of releasing drivers that will allow Windows 7 to work to its full potential.

As normal, I find myself wishing I could cut’n’paste features from multiple models so that I could end up with the perfect laptop!

Late addition

I ended up with the Sony Vaio Z (the high-end version with a 1920×1080 screen, 8GB memory, 256GB SSD, etc). It’s a very nice laptop but my fears that Sony would do their best to screw it up were not unfounded. It came with 9 ugly stickers as well as a whole load of badly written Sony software pre-installed. Luckily that could all be cleaned up and I’m really very happy with it.