Thursday, February 24, 2011

Business As Usual

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Living “out in the Wopwops” once meant putting up with rough roads, variable electric supply, party lines and weak radio/TV receptions. Today, it is quite a different story. Country people can increasingly live lifestyles not much different from their urban counterparts. Many feel they have an equal right the same services and amenities and world class broadband is often high up on their wish lists.

For quite some time now, economically advanced countries have been investing heavily in broadband. Unfortunately, New Zealand has been lagging behind as it waited for private investment from the two main providers, Telecom and Vodafone. These companies appeared to respond by keeping their prices well above the world average while they phased out their slower copper connections and older wireless transmission equipment.

It was taking far too long and so the National Government has decided to spend $1500 million to catch up with countries like Australia. Sadly, rural New Zealand will only get around $300 million heading its way and it will be given to the old duopoly – Telecom and Vodafone. Telecom will continue putting in fibre optic cable (to schools and then elsewhere) and Vodafone will extend its wireless coverage.

This has disappointed many rural commentators and farming leaders like Don Nicholson, as it appears to be nowhere near what is needed and rewards mainly Telecom and Vodafone. However Communications Minister, Steven Joyce, has insisted that the improvements will now be openly accessible to other providers and this will mean Telecom will have to change how it runs its business.

So what improvements can rural people in Northland expect? At present, in my rural area, broadband via copper wires delivers an average of 3 Megabytes per second (Mps) on a really good day and a lot less upload speed. As optic fibre connection to exchanges and houses spreads, that speed could gradually rise to a potential 100Mps – which is what most the urban areas will get within 6 to10 years. In contrast, I expect broadband rates in my area of the Kaipara to lift from 3Mps to about 5Mps download and a greater improvement in present upload speeds with a few years.

After the work is done, will we be up there in the World broadband speed stakes? According to my research, not really. Many Asian countries are already laying out 1000 Mps connections and that sort of leaves us in their dust.

Quite clearly, a lot more investment needs to be done and farmers in some areas are not waiting for Telecom and they are laying down cable of their own. I expect this will happen in Northland too as they plug into providers like the Opto Network who use the railway lines as an optic fibre route.

For most rural Northlanders though, I expect the urban/rural divide to get wider. Perhaps here is an opportunity for the Northland Regional Council to step in and oversee a greater investment in Northland’s communication infrastructure. If nothing is done, it could be business as usual as we pay more for less

Monday, February 21, 2011

Many A Slip

Dyeing For Power

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It has often been said that ‘time waits for no man’. There is not much we can do about that, but a lot of us Baby Boomers seem to be very keen to slow down the way time affects the way we look.

Every night on TV, heaps of adverts tell us which cream will banish wrinkles, the best machines to eliminate flab and even tablets that promise to rejuvenate our love life. Hair dying is big business too, although very few people I know like to advertise that they are keeping the grey hairs at bay this way.

I was therefore very surprised to hear Phil Goff admitting that he had recently started changing the colour of his hair. Was this another Goff gaff, or was he hoping that being candid would stop his receding level of support in the popularity polls?

I think most of us want our politicians to be honest and Phil certainly appears making a real effort in this direction. However, I have noticed that quite often his body language does not appear to match his words. He was after all an enthusiastic supporter of the Rogernomics experiment and I have yet to be convinced that he no longer believes in those ideas.

Phil Goff is of course not alone with this sort of problem. I wish there was a better way for us to easily identify the direction our political leaders are heading and it has occurred to me that hair dying might provide a solution.

Perhaps it is time for scientists in the fabric dying industry to do some lateral thinking and take their amazing technology to the hairdressers. I know there are fabrics and paint available that responds to a person’s body heat. Just imagine how useful it would be if they could do something similar with politician’s hair and make it respond to their thoughts.

We could insist that all politicians entering Parliament have a “Poli-Perm” to give us another visible way to check which political camp they really feel at home in. Instead of, “Ayes to the right, Nays to the left”, we could have a MMP colour wheel directing members to numerous voting stations that indicate their level of commitment to each piece of legislation (and the Party that promotes it).

Obviously, there are some politicians like Rodney Hide who have no hair at all and they could have suitable wigs made to cope with that. In fact a wig on Rodney’s head would be very appropriate. In Britain The Tories and Wigs ran the country for a very long time and I and sure he would like to do the same here.

The Maori party could however be another kete of fish. All of them might believe the prophecy, made by a Kaumatua at Waitangi, that Wellington will soon be devastated by earthquakes and a tsunami. In that case they will all be wearing hard hats and fluorescent search and rescue jackets.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011


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“No freeman shall ever be debarred the use of arms”. This statement, by Thomas Jefferson, is still holds true in most parts of the U.S.A. Every citizen there has the right to own a firearm and that right is protected by their constitution (with the much debated, “Second Amendment”). The recent gunning down of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson and the hundreds of daily shootings across the country, makes me wonder if their version of civil peace might be more accurately described as an armed truce.

I once thought that Americans lived lives very similar to our own. After all, most of our modern cultural influences come from there. I now know this is sadly not the case after talking to a neighbour’s son who described to me his experiences while working in the States as part of his O.E.

He had a job as a contract builder in Florida knocking up kitset houses with some Kiwi mates of his. One summers evening, they decided to buy some paint guns and try them out before driving off to a paint gun game park.

They set up some beer cans as targets in the backyard of their flat and began to compete to see who was the best shot. Very soon they heard sirens and heavily armed police came storming in, demanding through a megaphone that everyone should freeze or get shot. The Kiwis thought this was a bit over the top and tried to explain that all they were up to was harmless fun.

The police were not impressed it seems with this attitude. They told them to shut up, booked them for resisting arrest and man handled them into the paddy wagon. The hapless Kiwis then spent a few days on remand and had some nasty close encounters with some of the real criminals of the area.

Fortunately, they were released without charge. The judge was content to let them off with a sermon on how to behave in America. My neighbour’s son thought that working in the States was not his thing and came home. The rough treatment he received at the hands of the police was such a shock that for months afterwards anyone in uniform gave him the shakes.

So far, New Zealand governments have resisted attempts to arm every police officer here. I regard that as a great achievement - even though some policemen have been grievously injured recently. Sadly, these incidents still happen in countries with heavily armed police because the risks go with the job. It could even be argued that police guns increase the likelihood of violence by raising the tension level.

Unarmed police on the streets tells me that we live in a country that generally believes in persuasion rather than intimidation. Long may it remain so. Let us hope we will not have any politicians like Sarah Palin putting gun sight markings on election posters this year - or pushing the politics of fear to get firearms onto the streets.