Monday, July 29, 2013

Finding the Tech

I've been having a bit of a play with Wordpress. Perfect for this blog but not up to scratch when it comes to my whole media idea. Media idea? I've been running with the idea of a news summary. Truth be told, I'm feeling kind of trapped. I don't know what I'm doing with my life.

Gah! Okay... let's start from the beginning. I'm about to turn 34 - my entry into my mid-thirties. I remember being a hell of a lot younger and thinking to myself that people in their 30's really seem to have it ... sorted... together. They're no longer having to ask those great big questions - What am I doing? Where am I going? etc. And here I am thinking "how the hell do I live?". Movie quote comes to mind. American Beauty, near the start of the film when Kevin Spacey's character is narrating and describing his relationship to his wife and family:
"Janie's a pretty typical teenager. Angry, insecure, confused. I wish I could tell her that's all going to pass, but I don't want to lie to her."
That's me. Mid-thirties and realising it doesn't pass. Angry, Insecure, Confused... that's a pretty good description for the moment.

I've come across a problem. What happens with rolling stories? Rolling stories: those articles that just keep rolling over. There seems to be an update everyday. Some of those updates aren't really updates. For example, asking New Zealand's Next Top Model contestants what they would do in the trapped Chilean miners situation isn't an update. But there are those stories... they just keep on going. The one that comes to mind is the racial tirade against a taxi driver in Invercargill. Yesterday the story was the fact that the video had been released. Today police are investigating - but more background information came out. The taxi driver in question reported the incident to cops. His wife released the video as she was offended by the fact that religion was brought into question.

I don't disagree with her. The whole incident would be like me claiming that all Christians are child molesters because of the actions of a few priests. The media is biased here. If a story got report as "A liquor shop was robbed by a man who regularly attends church on Sunday" there would be outraged people all over the place. So to all of those people "concerned about what we let over our borders", grow a brain.

Back to the topic on hand. I hate the fact that stories keep rolling over and it's hard to find the precursor stories. So information feels flaky as articles make assumptions about what information you already know. What if you could link those stories together? The way to do this now is to include links to all prior stories or use tags. But then, tags would get ridiculous and getting to a post in the future would require editing ALL past stories.

There's also the problem of what to display on the front page. The update is new, the story isn't. How do you handle things like this? No really, I'm asking. What should this look like? Anyone? I really do need the help here...

Sunday, July 28, 2013

GCSB, Dotcom, NSA and Snowden

I apologise for the over use of abbreviations in this post.

I've been really quiet on this front. The truth is, I haven't really wanted to investigate it. It's easy to go off on these weird tangents based on third hand information which just further muddy the information out there. So... I haven't really gone looking.

And then yesterday, I went to the GCSB protest and heard some things that have me really concerned. Last year in December I did a post on worrying trends. The idea that our laws appear to be being written, not with the New Zealander in mind, but rather, with commercial concerns in mind.

For example, the few leaked documents from the TPPA show that the agreement will allow companies to challenge law changes. You read that right. It seems that the government is in a great big "let's protect business" lovefest. Forget the New Zealander. The country's economic standing might be in jeopardy!

Am I sounding paranoid yet? How about this. It turns out that the proposed GCSB bill (the one that we were/are protesting about) will be to "Protect New Zealand's national security or economic well being".

What's wrong with that you ask? And if you don't know, you may well ask. Here it is. The big problem. The GCSB may spy on you, and by association your family members and friends, because you "threaten" New Zealand's economic well being.

For example, you run an anti-obesity campaign. But you don't just run the campaign, but you use MacDonald's as an example of convenient food that isn't at all good for people.

What if this argument got traction? MacDonalds' sales go down (though to be fair, it wouldn't be that much of a problem for them. They don't make money from burgers. They make money from real estate) thus they start to pull out of New Zealand (yeah right!). The NZ Government is no longer collecting taxes from MacDonalds and the jobs they created have gone. You have not only been a threat to New Zealand's economic well being. You have affected it. Do you only need to say something about reducing obesity to be a threat?

If that's not the intent now, how about the wording of the bill? Will it open up this sort of bollocks in the future?

The GCSB shares information with Australia, Canada, America and the UK. So a tap on your phone/cellphone/email etc. could also end up in several intelligence agencies.

So then we're at the Kim Dotcom bit of the piece. This has already happened. Kim Dotcom was in no way a threat to national security. Love him or loathe him, the fact is, the GCSB had no legal cause for spying on him which kicked off actions such as raid upon his home as if he were little more than a drug lord.

This information was shared with America at the very least.

While all of this is going on, Edward Snowden is blowing the whistle on the NSA. While Americans everywhere are outraged that they too might be getting spied on, the rest of the world is asking "What the fornication?!?". Is nothing private?

But while the powers that be in America see him as a traitor, to the everyday man he is someone to be celebrated. He spoke out against something he saw as wrong. There's a major disconnect here. The powers that be are no longer representing the everyday man.

We're now in this really scary time. While I starred off absently while two lefties played "more lefty than thou" today, the issues are there and they're quite big. It was said several times at the protest yesterday but "this isn't a [political] party issue!". Which is why I was a little disappointed to see so many party flags up. And if the flags were flying, I would have loved to have seen a few National flags in the mix. Getting different sectors of people involved would have indicated that this is a huge issue for New Zealanders.

As it is, I found myself annoyed by the multitudes of spectators on Queen St who weren't joining the march. I don't think people quite get just how important this is. While there's loads of hyperbole out there, we need to look at the facts.

My biggest fear is that the government does back off - but only so far as to be able to say that they've backed off. i.e. this bill, under any other name, is still this bill. Oversight is not enough (as John Key essentially assigns all of roles involved - and any other future prime minister will also have this power. That's not oversight). Remember the Internet Blackout in response to "Section 92A"? The clause that caused so many issues is still there but is not enacted i.e. people will not be disconnected... until a government decides to enact it. This was a "compromise" i.e. to be enacted at some later date.

Basically, the bill needs to go.

Friday, July 26, 2013

What is Success?

The other day I went to a birthday party - full of geeks (there's something really funny about 20 geeks in an enclosed space in a social situation and there only being 4 corners to the room) - and they kept asking me what I do.

Curious question that. I've been struggling with it. Incidentally, it's the same reason I don't have a business card. I think I might be an I.T. facilitator (or a consultant but then, "consultant" is one of those titles I generally laugh at). So my answer differed every time someone asked me. I do community type things. I've been working on the Manaiakalani project etc.

The bits I'm most proud of are those that have effected communities. So I'm awfully proud of my time as events co-ordinator for AuckLUG (even though it's in no way an official position). I love the efforts that went into putting Tangleball together (though by it's very ethos, I can't really take too much credit as it's a community effort). The Manaiakalani project, while it's true that I filled some holes (without which, the project likely would have fallen over), it is a partnership between a whole lot of different entities that makes it work.

The people at this party kind of glazed over in much the same way that you might glaze over if told to concentrate on a screen showing nothing but white noise for 60 seconds. They're all young brilliant I.T. people earning quite a bit of money but I was struggling not to glaze over when they told me what they did. Eventually it all devolved, after a conversation with Renedox, with not really caring what we said there... so it'd become things like "I'm a professional hitman working for Rentokil" or "I skin people for money. Killing them is an extra and optional".

A friend of mine recently brought a house. Be still that green eyed monster. Despite my years of feeling proud of myself, I have very little to show for it. I have a new computer, a couple of portable devices (phone, chromebook, netbook, laptop etc.) and a reputation. So I'm brought back to a quote in Fight Club (if you haven't seen Fight Club, see it - but also, Narrator is the term given to Edward Norton's character. He doesn't actually have a name. It works in the book as it's all done from the first person):
Tyler: My dad never went to college, so it was real important that I go.
 Sounds familiar.
So I graduate, I call him up long distance, I say "Dad, now what?" He says, "Get a job."
Same here.
 Now I'm 25, make my yearly call again. I say Dad, "Now what?" He says, "I don't know, get married."
 I can't get married, I'm a 30 year old boy.
 We're a generation of men raised by women. I'm wondering if another woman is really the answer we need.
Ignoring the rise of feminism and damaged ego bits, the quote essentially says the same thing. I don't really know how to measure success. It's not like it's quantifiable.
"On the success scale, I'm only a 2 on material possessions, and a 6 in fulfilment"
It just doesn't work this way. Renedox and I were talking about this last night (thanks for the subject for a blog post dude) and he was saying that in regards to all of the stereotypical race orientated scales, he's a great big failure. Doctor... nope. Lawyer... nope. Business person of some description... nope. But he has a job he enjoys and he has a house that he's just brought and loves.

How many of us did tertiary education because that's the thing to do? I know my track record, even back then, is that I don't stick it out for long periods of time. 3 years for a qualification? Yeah... nah. Learning for the sake of learning... that's more me. Learning to get something done, even better. Contextual learning leads to applicable skills and an approach to problems that says even if you don't know how to do it now, it really won't take all that long to figure it out. Try getting that into a CV.

Is our success defined by a work life? Home life? General satisfaction? The opinion of the people around us? Ourselves?

I asked someone else how they thought success was measured. She claimed it was down to material possessions. She's one of those people who is part of the problem but resents the problem. i.e. What can I do? I pointed out that amongst some of my peers, i.e. Tangleball, if I said to them I have bucket loads of cash and a really nice car they would (almost) all roll their eyes. That's not success within that context. Instead, success is being able to start a project and see it through. Build something that's useful or fun. Her response was classic.... "But they're all geeks".

So I think what I can take from that is that it's a peer thing to her. It's how she perceives herself amongst her peers and how she thinks they think that defines success to her.

Am I missing something here? Is there perhaps a factor I'm not taking into account? Am I successful and by what qualification am I successful or not?

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Tomorrow's Schools - Time for an update?

At NetHui there was a session which I facilitated that frustrated me. It wasn't that it wasn't a good discussion. It's just that it went around in circles. The conversation went something like this:
What does Networks For Learning (N4L) do? I went to a school recently and they only had 2 computers in the whole school - 1 for the principal, and 1 for the office admin person.
It's not N4L's place to do something about that. We're really there to take the pain out of implementing services that benefit the school.
But what about those schools out there without any sort of I.T. infrastructure?
I desperately tried to sum this up and move on but it just wasn't happening. As a facilitator, I didn't really want to get too deep into the conversation as I think this is one of those things that facilitators in general do badly. When a round room discussion turns into question time with the facilitator, something is going seriously wrong.

My summary was this:
Schools now have autonomy over their budget. You can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink. They've had ample opportunity - through TELA (laptops for teachers and principals) and SNUP (network infrastructure) to get I.T. into their schools. N4L is another such opportunity... which they may or may not chose to participate in.
Autonomy over their budget you may ask? Back in the late 80's, while David Lange was Prime Minister and Minister of Education, a scheme was put into place - Tomorrow's Schools. To me it seems a really smart idea as it allows schools to stay current despite the slow moving juggernaut that is the Ministry of Education (MoE). Basically it means that schools get a certain amount of money allocated to them each year based upon their roll. Actually - zoning makes this slightly more complicated. Ever wondered why schools will only take so many students from out of zone? It's because those student's don't come into that calculation. The school doesn't get resources for out of zone kids.

Are you seeing a problem here? So the school is autonomous which means that each and every school is different which also means that their investment in staying current differs significantly. If you're in an area with a school that doesn't invest heavily in current skills, your options are limited because of zoning...

So to me, zoning needs a great big review as it works on the idea that schools are the same... which they aren't. As for Tomorrow's Schools, if I.T. is to be used for day to day learning, rather than computer sciences, then how does the MoE get schools to invest in I.T.? By leading the horse to water... The fact that learning outcomes can be reached without these resources (though to me implies a hole in education. If people come out of education not knowing how to search for information and critically access it - i.e. without these skills it then becomes "X textbook said it so it must be true" - then, to me, their education has been less than complete.

While the opportunities arise, the schools might not take them up. This happens not just for I.T. but also social services. Social workers may be completely non-existent if the school decides that they're able take responsibility of pastoral care themselves. Others have invested heavily in RTLBs (Resource Teachers: Learning and Behavioural) right up until the MoE decided to roll them all up into an entity unto themselves (Why the teacher's union didn't do something here is beyond me). RTLB's and social workers differ vastly as well so the option to not use them is perfectly valid. However, the choice not to use them, to me, is a serious one and one that requires serious questions and hopefully solving the underlying problems that make a school chose not to use these resources.

The autonomous nature of schools has also given the MoE a scapegoat. The collective development of a solution is made somewhat harder by the idea that schools should fend for themselves. A couple of years ago people in the Open Source community were talking about the idea of getting a bunch of schools to fund some software. It's a hard sell. The image of the software that the programmer has is often a little different from the image of the software that the end user has in mind. Now multiply that out - so if you have 20 odd end users (schools - which in turn have X number of end users), schools are unlikely to want to put the money in if the software isn't going to quite meet up to their needs.

If the MoE were to put that investment in, programmers would only be dealing with the MoE - which could be good or bad. Bad because the image the MoE have of something may differ vastly from what the schools have or need (think computer security). It could be good because something could be done. However, the development of software/systems is normally met with a hard sell. Single Sign On for example... The concerns of the MoE (usually security) may differ vastly from what the schools need (usability).

Which all leads to a situation where you have the heroes out there - Pt England and Albany Senior High School for example - but also the counter argument, those schools that feel like they're stuck in the mud. The situation is such that the MoE can not dictate that schools must have I.T. infrastructure. I don't think they should - I just wish that children weren't disadvantaged not necessarily by the neighbourhood they live in, but more so by the principal's of the schools around them.

While "the community" is used as a scapegoat for schools, a lot of what is passed and not passed through to a board of trustees is dictated by a principal. So I've heard of programmes not being implemented due to personal issues between different principals. I've heard of a board of trustees being nothing more than a rubber stamp because they have faith in the principal. So the decision around a principal, and I'm not sure how much of a say a community gets in this decision, is an incredibly important one. What happens, for example, if a community decide that the principal of a given school is not preparing their kids for tomorrow's world?

So tomorrow's schools speaks to how a budget is spent which can dictate the culture of a school (You'll love this. Someone was telling me about a new teacher into a school getting her kids using the Internet. She was the only one doing so and the "I.T. manager" asked her to reduce her usage due to data caps - so the infrastructure this school had wasn't with the kids in mind. It was keeping up with the Normals) - which is why it needs a really serious review.

What this looks like? I have absolutely no idea...

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Looking at the Geek People Proposition

I'm facing big changes to my life at the moment. I've decided that my involvement with Manaiakalani and the Drop in Geek Cafe are at a natural conclusion.

Which leaves me with a great big problem. How to make money. Get a job... I can just imagine it now. Someone is going to tell me to take just any job and I'm going to look off into space while I decide whether to hit this person or not.

The problem is that I resent being sent off to the back room/basement/closet/mystical cave of I.T. things etc. I've been ranting about it for as long as this blog has been running. We concentrate on technical skills and forget about the people factor. Technical skills can be taught. Reading people and dealing with them is a whole other skill that's not so easily taught - and speaks more to the approach of a problem.

Using "Anonymous" on that post that I hate so much, the one about virus protection on Linux (it gets A LOT of hits), as an example you've got a whole bunch of people who just seem to forget that they're dealing with people. It's about the mystical unknown... not the people on the other end trying to get stuff done.

So... how do I find a job? I was hoping that with my reputation I could go and work on another Manaiakalani like project. That I would be offered an opportunity. Go into a cluster of schools, and use those technical skills in aid of people while still interacting with people. But then, that's not going to happen if there's no one on the other end who sees value in this sort of approach.

I know that I interact fairly well with kids and have an idea of pedagogy. The other day, at the Tangleball Open Day, I found myself giving someone a big ups for allowing the kids to fail. As an adult, this is one of the hardest things to do. You see a child doing something that isn't going to work and so you tend to step in and help. Meanwhile, the kids will learn much more from the failure than from an adult showing them how it should be. The Tangleball Open Day allowed me to see just how much I enjoy working with children. It's become a part of my being.

And okay, there have been opportunities offered. But those opportunities are going to require months of sitting in front of a computer. There's the whole stir crazy bit i.e. going out for that coffee you can't afford just to be in contact with people. And hey, these things could turn into quite a bit of money - but then... well... money's become important but not so important as to allow it to make me miserable.

There's something really... galling in there. The implication that I can't make money by doing something that I love. Given that I tend to throw myself into my work (in almost a literal sense), then doing something I resent for work leads to me being generally... angry. I can't make money by helping people...

So... what now?

Monday, July 22, 2013

Roller Derby

I've been kind of circling the Roller Derby scene for a little while. I watched a wildly fun movie called "Whip It". Baillie is into it in a BIG way. In fact, I planned my trip away around the idea that she needed a babysitter so that she could get some training in with an Australian team.

The other night I had gone to a pub and met some of the Pirate City Rollers (The All Scars) during their post game party. That was cool.

Anyway, it's my birthday at the end of next month and so... given that I've never been to a game, and coincidentally, the Pirate City Rollers have a game... I figured I'd celebrate my birthday by going to a game followed up by the pub.

Naturally you're all invited (though given most of my readers seem to be from America - in which case you're even more invited! I might even wear a naff hat indicating it's my birthday. I'll only do it if people promise not to do the horribly embarrassing "Happy Birthday" bit). To get details on the game (I've written them an email asking for more detail but haven't yet had a response), go to this link.

Don't know what Roller Derby is? Neither do I really.... well okay. That's not at really true. I've got some idea. All you really need to know before going is that it's a bunch of really cool girls on roller skates with attitude!

They race around a track - one of the skaters is called the "Jammer" which is the scoring player. Teams assist their own jammer while trying to hinder the opposing team's jammer. Points are scored by passing members of the opposing team (even if they're in the penalty box).

Should be a lot of fun...

Making Money From Writing?

I've been thinking a lot about my future. At the moment, while I've figured out what's bothering me (lack of engagement with kids), the bigger problems still remain. I'm not making any money at the moment and this is going to be a very big problem very soon.

Someone asked me and I said I'd really like to move into writing. But then, everyone's creating their own content. So how would you make money from writing?

An idea occurred to me... Would people visit a news site? Well okay - that's not it in it's entirety. I think there's a great big hole in the market. Almost every news site has puff pieces. The articles themselves have to fit into a certain space and often don't have the background information to give you any real context. There are things not reported in mainstream that probably should (usually government passing bills that will have quite a big effect on people).

The problem is, how to format it. Currently news sites are blogs. But what about breaking stories? i.e. The Christchurch earthquakes didn't just happen. There's a lot of background. So how would you make it so that you could just add to stories as they happen? This would mean that you had access to older stuff without trying to trawel through for it.

So perhaps a wiki type format instead? The question though... could this lead to advertising revenue enough to live on? Are there copyright issues around trawling around different news sites in order to get the information? etc.

Take this example:

Earthquake Felt in Wellington

[link] An earthquake shook Wellington today - considered an aftershock but causing damage to buildings. The quake measured 6.5 on the Richter Scale. The quake happened around 5pm. The initial earthquake happened in Cook Strait - which measured 5.8, at 7:17am.

Background information:

New Zealand has suffered a few earthquakes of late. Christchurch is still rocked by aftershocks (though this is seldom reported on now).

The Richter Scale doesn't really speak to how severely a quake is felt by people as it doesn't take depth of the quake into account.

Christchurch Man Arrested on Suspicion of Murder

[link] A 59 year old man was arrested after the discovery of the body of Valmai Jean McFie, a 67 year old woman was found dead outside a council flat. The man is believed to live in a nearby unit.

Microsoft's Hardware Strategy Embarrassing

[link] Microsoft's attempt to shift from software for personal computers to hardware has so far failed to turn over the big profits expected. In a nutshell: MS came out with the Surface RT - a device designed for mobile computing - utilizing an ARM processor i.e. better power usage and better geared toward mobile computer. 

However, the devices have failed to appeal to consumers. MS have, as a result, lowered the price on the Surface RT in order to stimulate sales. This has effected shares. The announcement around their direction came only a week ago and so MS knew of the losses before the announcement meaning not much can be read into the sales as there's something else in play here.

Background Information

While MS are talking about trying to move closer to Apple's business model, their Windows product attempts to bridge the gap between mobile and desktop computing - particularly for business needs. The reins on the "Redmond Tax" (the name given to the amount paid for a license for MS software when purchasing a new computer. Particularly detestable to those who intend on removing that software such as Linux users) is very unlikely to subside and so the announcement is more about how MS intends to invest.

Traditionally, despite the Redmond tax, MS have made their money off selling their Office products so their Operating System and Office Products are unlikely to disappear but changes will likely be made to each of these products in line with their hardware direction.

So basically the news in summary. A quick read should give you water cooler information...

So not really the sort of writing I'd enjoy... but useful nonetheless. What do people think? Could this work?

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Advice for George

George, don't gush. It makes people uncomfortable. It's easy, when feeling taken for granted, to celebrate people to the point that they're uncomfortable and no longer talking to you. In which case, everyone starts to come across as hostile. You know what you're doing. Stop it.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Advice for Nevyn

Nevyn, You're more special than you realise.

A few years ago I met a girl named Deborah. She was a bar lass at the local pub and her and I just kind of clicked. It wasn't at all a sexual thing - though I did feel a slight pang of jealousy at one point though it felt half hearted even to me. I'm not really sure what we were. Someone did ask and I kind of looked confused for a second. The only word for it was friends.

Deborah was a tourist. She wasn't going to be around for very long. She was a vegetarian and into spirituality. I think she was going to go and spend some time at an ashram (a retreat?) to hone up her meditation and yoga skills after leaving New Zealand. So she went off to explore the rest of the country.

She had to fly out of Auckland so I at least got to see her one last time. We were standing around a pub and it was probably a lot sadder than I let on. We really were... soul buddies? Something along those lines. She pulled me aside and said those magical little words:

Nevyn, You're more special than you realise.

And then she was gone leaving little more than an echo... I know. It doesn't sound all that impressive or earth shattering or trans-formative. But imagine you've been unemployed for a while. You're brilliant and you know it but you've always had a problem selling yourself. You're a NZ'er through and through - understated. Confirmation of your own low self esteem by the same old template rejection letters or worse yet, no contact at all. And then someone tells you that the bits that you do realise... they're only half of it.... what do you do?

I started searching. What was it about me that she was seeing and I wasn't? There's got to be more... I'm not sure I've ever found it. But those trans-formative words stopped me from fretting about how crap I was feeling from the employment process. Those words enabled me to start working toward more community minded things. Organising events for AuckLUG, helping to set up Tangleball, joining OLPC, volunteering on Manaiakalani, helping set up the Drop in Geek Cafe etc.

Nevyn, You're more special than you realise.

Those words, the ones that had me going in this direction, have me going in another direction. I'm feeling patronised and taken for granted. If I don't realise how special I am, and those around me are taking me for granted (to the point that I was being asked to do medial busy work for one of the Auckland projects while I was away in Wellington. I don't think that group realise quite how aware I am of people managing and the like), then perhaps it's time to move on.

In fact, every fiber of my being, except for that small voice saying "finish this bit first", is telling me to move on. It's time. The question now is... where to? I think I would add a great deal of value to all sorts of areas, not just education. But we're back to all those years ago - how do I sell myself? And what do I want to be doing?

Advice for....

In the Wedding Toast post I did the other day I pointed out the blog Advice for Caitlin. I'm finding it to be an intriguing form factor (in the context of writing, a form factor is probably best described by "style"). I did write up a post and was waiting for permission from the author of Advice for Caitlin before posting it.

The post itself feels... well... if you ever find me using the term "waste of life" it's me struggling with something. So I've decided the post itself is a bad idea. It was an attempt to humorize the skinhead situation by looking at the loosening of gun control for practicing darwinists. I know.. absurd right? 2 wrongs an' stuff...

But the form factor.. it's brilliant. I've got a few posts I've got in mind using that style. But a name.. I need a name to be addressing. I was wondering if you could just mix it up a bit. Perhaps make it a little odd... Here goes:

Derrick, respect yourself. Although you have curves in all the right places and it's what initially get's people's attention, I think you'll find people genuinely want to know you better - not your curves. They've already seen them. In fact, I would take it as far as to say, people find you to be rather an interesting person and find the insistence that people notice your curves to be somewhat of a hindrance. Respect yourself and people will respect you all the more for it.


Judy, It's okay to not be contactable all of the time. In fact, it's better not to be contactable all of the time. There was a simpler time when people didn't expect you to be on call every second of the day. The bitter disappointment at not reaching you via the telephone was a part of life. People coped. In fact, they missed you all the more for it and, as we all know, absence makes the heart grow fonder. You'll probably find that some of the best relationships you have will grow all the stronger for it. Turn off that cellphone once in awhile or put it on silent. Let the battery run flat. Take the time to enjoy the people around you rather than relying on those that are not.

Okay... so it needs work. In fact, I don't think I've captured the style at all. Still... it's a start.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

My Attitude to Skin Heads

Recently I had the "pleasure" of running into a skinhead. She was the perfect caricature of one. I would have thought it a joke if it wasn't for my prior experience with skinheads. It's hard to describe them. If you haven't had the displeasure - just how willingly vile a person could possibly be - it's really hard to imagine.

My handling of myself during the situation was commendable I think. Rather than getting really upset by it, I tried to make fun of the situation.

Back in 2000 I moved to Christchurch. I had been looking for a change of scene and had been talking to someone online in Christchurch so it seemed the place to go. One day, while going up to the post box, I got popped in the jaw. There was no chance of retaliation. The "person" had a bunch of other skinheads sitting there laughing over the fact that I'd just been popped in the jaw.

It's quick to say... popped in the jaw. Getting over it was something entirely different.

For starters, I was in Christchurch. The people around me had no idea what had me so upset. It's not that they were particularly racist. It's just that they didn't really seem to understand how hurtful racism really is. Being prosecuted for... well... nothing. It was a pop to the jaw. Get over it. There was also a more... latent racism there. It's not that they were consciously racist. It's just that they didn't seem to know how to act around people they perceived as different.

There were the physical bits - difficult to chew. I lost quite a lot of weight. But there was also the psychological. I was only a couple of hundred meters away from where I was living when it happened. I went nuts. For about a month, I just didn't leave the flat. It wasn't worth the risk. That sense of helplessness...

There's an interesting term that's thrown around - reverse racism. I think it's a bit of a fallacy. It's not reverse racism - it's just racism. But then there's the hate that comes not toward a race, but towards a.... I want to say classless because I can't attribute anything near class to people who go out of their way to cause hurt to other people. It's really hard to see what circumstances leads to people to thinking in this way.

But then it wasn't that long ago that I was failing to see the circumstances around state dependency (though I think I was a touch better than most). The question is, are there circumstances in which a skinhead could be seen as a person rather than a vile creature who see themselves as completely different creatures above others (who may be similar but different)? And if they're able to be people, can they be helped?

The prosecution of the Jews was only possible by seeing differences between them and ... well... at the time, everyone else. The Jews weren't people anymore.... It's easy to kill bugs or animals (cows, sheep etc.)

Sound at all familiar? Here I am talking about a particular group of people and taking away their humanity. If I saw on the news that a bunch of skinheads had been targeted and beaten to within an inch of their lives, I don't think I'd bat an eyelid. I might even have a celebratory drink.

I hate them. It's not that they purposely hurt people so much as they have lives and they choose to be that vile - that just feels like a great big giant waste. Is there anything quite so vile as being a waste of life?

I'm now questioning myself. Are there circumstances I'm not seeing? Is there some way of turning these beings into people?

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Wedding Toast

A few years ago I was the best man at a wedding. Actually, I was best man at two but I used the same speech essentially. I thought the opening was a brilliant introduction for something I've been wanting to do.
It's not everyday you're told you're the best man. The very best here. Is there a man shortage? In which case, I'm going to talk about myself. Except that the best way to get to know a person is by the friends they keep so I'm going to talk about the groom, being one of my best friends...
Okay, so it doesn't quite fit the situation. I thought I'd do a post full of links of the blogs that have me interested at the moment.

I've mentioned Renedox in a couple of posts. I use his blog for jokes and the like. Getting them via email does my head in as it's hard to separate them out so that I'm only informed of waste of time/non-critical material on my computer. Such is the modern condition of cellphones that beep at you incessantly. I'm probably no where near as big a Game of Thrones fan (it's hard getting invested in characters when they may be killed off at any moment) but still.... the blog is good.

I met a girl at NetHui who I've been talking to over email. She's read the blog and has had me describing myself slipping in the shower (Don't try to imagine it. I'm still having nightmares about finding myself wet and naked on the floor thankful that my head missed the toilet and my shoulder took all of the impact. Oh.. and I found the bruises. Nowhere that will cause any serious discomfort) and she's still talking to me! Anyway, she sent me this link today - a blog for a family member of hers. I really dig the idea and will probably spend an evening just reading all of the posts.

I've been following (in a non-creepy Internet sort of a way) Lynda for a while. She's got two blogs I just think are brilliant. This one, her main one, while originally exploring beauty products, the ethics behind them etc. has since expanded to talk about other issues (probably not dissimilar from this blog. I was hoping she'd do a guest posting or three here but it's never happened). Her other one requires some context as on it's own, it's very very creepy. The actual blog is here - just remember, it does require context. The theme song is very cool too.

Baillie, who used to write here, has this brilliant tumblr account too which I just love. It's a topic after my own heart. Bad News Puns. Unfortunately, it seems that have gotten a lot better at not using bad news puns and so material is far and few between.

She's gotten into roller derby in a big way. I've been seeing posters up all over the place and an International game advertised in Wellington. If someone wants a project, I think there'd be an opportunity for updates of events, links to be updated and the like over here. The site itself is essentially useless - it has pages for a bunch of leagues but doesn't have meaningful links for the ones I was looking at and has Google Ads - which are only useful if you've got high traffic (which, being a useless site excludes that).

And finally, if you want to potentially die of too much stupid, check out this link. Basically, people, don't take photos of your credit card. If you do take photos of your credit card, don't put them online. If you do put them online, make sure it's only viewable to a very select number of amazingly trustworthy people. If the pictures are broadcast to the world, cancel your credit card and get a new one and don't take pictures of it.

So... what do all of these blogs say about me? I don't know.. I'll let you, the reader decide.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

New Challenge

I've woken up with this sudden need to blog. I love blogging. It's one of my most favourite things in the world. The bitter note there for me is the fact that no one participates. It's me up on a soap box. But that aside, I love writing. Writing is just this huge pleasure. Anyone who emails me knows that I'm quite happy to do a "novel" of an email. I call this, loving the sound of my own fingers typing.

I was asked a few months back by one of the kids what I wanted to be when I grew up. There's been different stages:
  • I don't have any idea what I wanted to be as an actual kid. A fire engine?
  • When I got to high school, the other geeky type person in the class wanted to be a bank manager. I definitely didn't want to be that. I was endeared with Wanda Gillespie who said she wanted to be a Gypsy. I was more likely to want to be that (though I was WAY too shy and lacked any thing even close to confidence so it was this far off "I wish I was that free" kind of dream). Of course, reality TV and movies have turned the idealistic "living off the land" gypsy's of fantasy literature into ... well.... the reality TV version of gypsies. Such is the disillusionment of life.
  • When I first got into tertiary education and was doing electronics, I had decided that what I really wanted to be doing was writing. Sharing a perspective with people. The ideas weren't great - I had thought about a guy on his last day. He'd be climbing a building and the book would revolve around the various things that hurt him. The girl who'd said "If we took your mind and his body, we'd have the perfect guy" - which was almost a compliment (true story) except that.... well.... I really don't think I'm even close to being that hideous. He'd get to the top of building and would be looking down... and the book would end there... perhaps with a tear artistically floating down on the wind in a very Forrest Gimp kind of a style. No conclusion.... it was up to the audience to decide if he'd taken that last step or not... A to be or not to be moment (in VERY literal style)...
  • Everyone wants to be something cool when they start doing computing. Whether that's  to be a games designer or 3D animator or even... a games tester and/or reviewer. I wanted to do games but I wanted them to be smart games. I enjoy the good old run around killing anything that's different from me type of games, but I want something with politics and trading etc.
So anyway... I told the kid that I wanted to be an author. So the question came back:

"Why didn't you become an author?".
"Who said I'm not?"

I write on this blog and it's awesome! I can share entirely too much of myself with everyone. And that's freedom. That's having a voice.

But I've now got myself wondering about the challenges of the literacy industry. Why? I met a woman named Maggie Tarver at NetHui. She's the Executive Director for NZ The Society of Authors. Just watch me gush!

So the challenges (as I see them):
  • No secondary income. The cost to piracy for movies and music doesn't have as much effect on the content producers because they have other ways of making money off the "Intellectual Property" (that's not really a thing is it?) such as merchandising, spin-off's, concerts etc. So people MUST be given a legal easy way of purchasing material.
  • Copyright has become a commodity rather than a right. I am not entitled to sell off my rights but that's exactly what the creative industries have asked of the creators. The author is stuck with the cost of production (printing, advertising, shelf space etc.) and only gets a fraction of the profits all for getting those support services like copy editing, advertising and distribution channels.
I've had a few thoughts. While print media isn't entirely dead, it presents a great big ugly problem in that you are reliant on the publishers. The fact that they're asking you to trade away a right has the feel to me of signing your soul to the devil. It's an unfair analogy as the devil ain't people. But getting rid of the middle man clipping a ticket is surely one of the best things that could possibly happen.

So the Internet has done something for us. It's connected us. Baillie can be writing on my blog and get a response from Stella Duffy. Let's face it. This is all of the value that the publishing industry gives us and more. An author can now get online, promote their material, get copy editing done by the fans (the punctuation at least. There's probably a bit more onus on the author to get the structure right and find opinions that they trust to help them with this), sell electronic copies and collect funds for the works.

So I'm a huge fan of electronic copies. They're brilliant. E-books have the potential to be the greatest thing ever! Except... that we keep concentrating on e-ink which people have decided is a dead end - whereas I would love to see some interaction tools built in. Ever read a book and been tempted to go through with a pencil to fix up the typos? It's especially horrible in print. So if e-book readers allowed us to interact with the author to throw up some editing corrections (I reckon a kind of queuing system where the author can make decisions around what gets in and what doesn't and control over the users they trust etc.) that'd be brilliant! They lower the barriers. Instead of the cost on the pretty covers and hard covers etc. it's money that could go straight to the author.

Print copies aren't dead. I think people will continue to want printed copies of work. There isn't nearly enough options in e-ink devices. Tablets and the like just miss the point (it's about being able to read for long periods of time). So books are kind of the fallback. Someone was telling me that in the mid 90's the music industry was talking about how they needed to kill the Internet. For me, going back to print would effectively be doing that for books. But there's still a market. Ever been tempted to buy the super duper special overly illustrated version? Yeah... me neither. I think, in a future where everyone is reading electronic copies of everything, print media will become that secondary income. The merchandising. The "everyone knows you're a real (not a fake one) fan when you've spent silly amounts of money on this novelty item" kind of thing.

Anyway... we're in New Zealand. I think we have a greater capacity to be agents for change here. We can do stuff and say "Look! It works!". So I think we can set up a few different business models around media and see which one works.

The big darling idea for this within the IT industry at the moment is the "give what you want" model. People can select how much they chose to pay. The computing industry is probably a little more affluent then other sectors so I'm not sure we can entirely trust to this to work elsewhere, but I think it's well worth the try. This would  hopefully help to foster a future generation of readers (actually, we read more now than we ever have. I don't know about everyone else, I haven't had the time to sit down and read a book for a while.... last year sometime. But ... the industry needs to foster a generation of people who enjoy books) by making things affordable for readers of all income levels.

There are various subscription based models out there. Pay a regular subscription, be able to download a certain number of content etc. I think this could work for comics (in which case, a tablet device rather than e-reader is a better choice) but I'm not so sure about full works. There's a couple of pitfalls in there. The market is based upon scarcity and we can no longer think in these terms. So watch out for traditional "we're going to restrict the content" type models. i.e. if you release a certain amount of content a weekly basis, and a new subscriber joins, do they get all of that old content essentially for free?

I'm at Baillie's at the moment and her first comment went to the "value add" model. Instead of having one stream for physical copies and another for electronic copies, sell the two together. Give the user the choice of which to read and which to lend (because this IS important). You can still have your shelf of funky looking books but also the convenience of e-book readers. When I last went overseas (that mystical land beyond our shorelines), my suitcase has half full of books which were all read by halfway through the trip which meant that I traveled with a bunch of books I wasn't reading for around half my trip.

So if anyone's looking for a new project... how about something in the authoring industry? Some really interesting challenges that could potentially pave the way for all things in the future. This sort of ties into my big take home from NetHui as well.... doing things for ourselves!

Friday, July 12, 2013

Bitter Sweet Nevyn

I've got the blues. The post-NetHui blues. The problems is that at NetHui, I'm someone. People seek me out and I have all sorts of really interesting conversations with people. This year I think there's going to be an online group formed around the idea of digital literacy as a way of enfranchising people.  So something really positive is coming out of it (hopefully). At one point someone actually pointed to me in a session and said "This is the guy to watch. This is the guy that's trying new things". Coming away from a conference where I'm celebrated to this extent always leaves me with a bit of a bump. Back to life and I'm surrounded by some brilliant people who do brilliant things. My views on pedagogy are infantile compared to those who I work with but I think are important concepts for geeks to engage with if working within an educational context.

This year though, it's hit me quite hard. This morning I slipped in the shower and found myself wet and naked on the bathroom floor of the hotel. Nothing bruised but a little damage to the hotel shower (they were appreciative that I sorted it out before I left i.e. told them what had happened and paid to have the part that had been damaged replaced). I mention this because it lead to something. While I'm telling the amazing staff member about what happened, she asks "Are you alright?". This hadn't really occurred to me. It was a really hard fall. I don't think I've looked after myself a quite a long time. Generally speaking, it's not a question I should ever ask myself because if I look too deeply..... well.... this happens.

I realise that I've been depressed for awhile now. This NetHui brought with it some real challenges. For example, I have to clear up the New Zealand Open Source Awards.

I was a little embarrassed accepting it given that it wasn't an award for my efforts. It was for Manaiakalani's use of Open Source Software in solving a problem. This is a problem because Manaiakalani doesn't use Open Source Software except for the netbooks - and that is about cost, not the freedom of the users (in the way that FLOSS people talk about freedom. There's something to be said here about contexts. When Manaiakalani talks about freedom, they're talking about enfranchising people so that they have a voice. FLOSS people are talking about the ability to do what you want to do) and were moving to Chromebooks (technically but not spiritually FLOSS). Teachers are forever trying to whittle down that freedom (and this has been accomplished with the Chromeboks). The only way I could reconcile that is to say to myself that the award was for my efforts. While I was embarrassed to receive the award at the time, I didn't find out until later that the award had been awarded for 2 things - the project and my efforts to the project. I don't believe we would have won the award if either of those elements (assumptions?) were missing - which of course made my heart sink just a little more. This came to light today when someone realised that Manaiakalani doesn't meet the spirit and ideals of the NZOSA's (NZ Open Source Awards). Questions were asked and there was no (I don't think) any judgement on me.

I need a new project.

At the moment, every time I attend a meeting within the cluster, it costs me $12 in bus fares. I know... it's only $12 right? Someone asked me how I've managed to survive this long doing mostly volunteer stuff. The truth is, I don't really know. I've had to live with my parents and they're incredibly supportive. It's hard. It's really hard. It's soul destroying and frustrating. I'm starting to resent the expectations placed on me with no or little financial award. A meeting has a cost but you have to meet often to get stuff done ... but there's a cost... and while the cost is next to nothing given the right context, my rather "humble" looking bank balance makes the context all wrong.

There's a certain taking things for granted here. When I said to someone that a contract was over, she'd said "Good. Then you'll have more time for this". So I've had more time for the geek cafe... only... I'm broke and trying to make bits work and so am throwing a little of what little money I have into the project AND paying to attend the meetings and the like.

I think I've got a lot to offer but I can only really offer it in an Open Source environment. The reason?
  1. It breaks my heart that kids may be held back due to teacher's insecurities around their own knowledge. What do I mean by this? Teachers are quite happy for things to be locked down. It means that they have control. The problem with this is that you lose a lot of that ability to cater to fringe groups. Those kids who've used their netbooks not only for their school work (reading, writing and math) but have also started to explore computer sciences are done a great disservice by having a locked down environment.
  2. I have no ability to make things better in a closed system. Think Amy Adams vs. Clare Curren. Amy Adams came up on stage at NetHui managing to single-handedly depress a room full of people trying to make a change. Meanwhile, Clare Curren got up and said "We want you to communicate with us". In one system you can make a real change. In another, you can't.
I don't really talk about my personal life all that much. I'm a mid-thirties guy living with his parents. My love life should have been taken to back of the shed and shot to put it out of it's misery. I'm feeling pretty good in my own skin. My body shapes improving. I'm feeling quite a bit more confident. But then... something happened.

A very long time ago I went out on a date with a girl who I'd met over the Internet. We'd gone out to play pool. She talked about my best friend the entire time. A little while later I had met someone who has become one of the best friends a guy can have. I went to ask her out... and she told me she was into my best friend in a big way.

This week... I'm in Wellington, and this friend is talking to someone. She's quite funny. Intelligent. That's important. I'm flirting my butt off and she's only got eyes for the married guy with 2 kids and the coolest wife in the world.

While my parents are fantastic and supportive an' stuff, one of them has long term health concerns - so I'm going to have to be around for them too. Which isn't a bad thing. It does change the context of things a bit. It also means that I must become self sufficient. Something I haven't really accomplished doing the sort of work that I want to be doing.

So... the title... bitter sweet.

I'm doing some really exciting cool stuff. I'm am broke and taken for granted.

I won an award! I'm not sure I should have won it.

I'm feeling really comfortable with myself. But there's some quality about me that isn't at all desirable (I assume it's not looks because I'm much better looking than that guy). There was something a little over a year ago except that I'm terrible with geography <sigh  />.

All of those really great things just seem to be overwhelmed by that bitter note at the moment and I need to give myself a little time to just.... wallow in my self pity and actually think of myself and what I need.

For now though.... paint on a smile. Everything's okay! You've now entered
"The Depressed Zone".
We hope you resent your stay.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

NetHui - Missed Joke

So NetHui is over. The friend I dragged along is transformed - even if he won't admit to it (though he finished the conference with "Again, Again!"). There were awkward questions asked.

But more important, Michelle A'Court made a joke, mostly missed. The misquoted twitter feed had me wanting to scream at the heavens. Why did only a few people get the joke? Every time I asked people, they laughed as if it was the first time they'd heard it.

And here it is:

"I was thinking about the question this morning about whether the Internet was a place or a thing. I've figured it out. The Internet is a place  - but it's full of tools.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

NetHui - Parliamentary Internet Panel

Holy crapballs on toast batman! The parliamentary Internet panel is a result of past NetHui events where the question was once asked "Why don't you all work together?"

So we've got Clare Curren - who I often find myself criticizing (though I only ever criticize if I care). Gareth Hughes (that guy is a dude!). Tracey Hughes from NZ First just doesn't seem to be getting it (and is currently up there sitting with her arms folded - terrible body language. Basic politics...) and Simon O'Connor, who's a little .... well... lacking though he does at the very least look attentive.

Clare got up and started speaking and I start wondering if she's read my blog post. We're not celebrating Labour here. We're looking at the forum as a whole, not the interests of a particular party. We're here to engage and we want you to help us.

It's not outside the realm of possibility - we have communicated via email. Usually an uneasy relationship but kind of fun. I haven't seen a blog post from her in a while (I rely on an email to prompt me to go and have a look).

So.... if you are reading this Clare.... Hi.

Unfortunately, while I'm writing this post, I'm missing a lot of the content. The consensus seems to be "if you want help, contact us - anyway you can...."

NetHui - What Are We Doing Here?

Tonight was the cocktail evening. There was a comment a little earlier in the day about how the audience seemed a little flat and how this was possibly because the shininess of NetHui had, in it's 3rd year, worn off.

It's been really disappointing. The main auditorium has been, at most, 1/2 full (and that's being generous) at any one time.

Interesting... I had thought it was because it was feeling a little ... unstructured. While in previous years I'd have a solid day of focusing on one stream (with the option to go into other discussions if the particular subject in the education stream just wasn't doing it for me), there's been a rather rough smattering of sessions tagged with "education". Some of the titles for the sessions kind of left me wondering "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot" as well - e.g. Issues, issues, issues.

I got a little curious and started to talk to some other people about this. The first one shared the same concerns as me. It feels like we're talking about exactly the same old things. Nothing new is happening. In 3 years, we've managed to talk about the same problems and the same concerns.

I, tongue in cheek, mentioned that there is no real big driver for your average use for ultra fast broadband (UFB) during a panel discussion - something that was talked about in 2011 when talking about Pacific Fibre - which ceased operations in 2012. This dominated the rest of the talk on UFB. While people said we'd find a purpose for it, I sincerely believe that the uptake of UFB will be much slower than ADSL due to problems around content. i.e. Sky TV have deals that exclude the distribution of certain content within the country from any other distributor. Which basically means UFB is going to be a bit of a niche product. It's a niche over represented at NetHui. I for one can not honest see a compelling use for it as I've lived my life without it and it doesn't suck not having it at the moment.

The second person I spoke to about this said that she believed that the problem was that the subjects are structured around those same old problems. People are concerned about the same issues. We haven't gone away and produced solutions - and I would argue that we're restricted on this front to a certain degree due to government. Amy Adams' speech specifically excluded any sort of discussion.

The new CEO of Internet NZ, Jordan Carter, has been less than inspiring. He's given instructions like "raise your hand if you know what a domain is" - to which the whole room raised their hands in a less than enthusiastic manner. He's kind of come across as knowing something that we don't. The things that concern us don't concern him for whatever reason which then raises the question, is he representing the concerns of the average New Zealander? And if he's not, then what is InternetNZ really for? As bad as any politician in terms of getting stuck on semantics rather than taking the intent of a question.

For my part, I've tried to talk more about the Drop In Geek Cafe rather than Manaiakalani directly because I've already talked about Manaiakalani for the last 2 years. There isn't too much to report there. They've since shifted to Chromebooks. The community wifi is still a work in progress. I'm looking to move onto something more interesting and challenging.

The participants of NetHui seem to be quite endeared to the technical rather than the social. So when talking about "access", I think in terms of access to other people/stories/experiences rather than worrying too much about things like "fibre to the gate". Yes, there's an issue there - RBI (Rural Broadband Initiative) - is prohibitive at best. I was talking to someone who was saying that they're still stuck on dialup. BUT it's a bit like money. Is it about the money or what you can do with the money?. Same question. Is it about the connection or what you can do with the connection? You may have the fiber but if you're not talking to anyone, then what's the point?

There's been a little bit of debate around the idea that the Internet is a great big copying machine. It is... kind of... but that descriptive misses the communication point. It's a median for communication. It's always been about communicating ideas - and that's only getting better with the addition of collaborative features.

So what is my big take home from this conference? We're essentially on our own. I keep hearing "there's no leadership from the top" in education circles to which I say, stop waiting for that leadership and lead. But then someone said something along the lines of "How does fiber get poor Rangi a job?".

Boom! I know - right?

There's something there. Just at the edge of consciousness. We're starting to see it and while it's scary and new, it's also really interesting and could be really good. There's probably a great deal of you not seeing what I'm seeing here. It's there though. Just at the edge of consciousness.

Let's tie it into the International keynote. In the 1600's, a guy named John Wycliffe essentially upset the church by translating the bible into English. The (then new) printing press allowed him to replicate it and get it out there.

New technology leading to a great big time of change.

What did this do for people? The bible was now accessible. It was in "the vulgar" - i.e. anyone who could read English could read the bible. This decentralized the church to an extent in that people could have a personal relationship with god.

Jump to now. Government's telling us what's necessary and not engaging with us at all. People can't find jobs. What are we doing here?!?! There's no leadership from above!

Are you seeing it?

We are our own agents for change - we have our own destiny's in our hands. The conference is already full of people stepping up and taking on that leadership that they feel is missing. But it's more than that. Everyone is capable of leading. We've got the communication tools to be able to do it. We can no longer sit on our hands and wait for someone to tell us what to do. We can not afford to sit around bemoaning the lack of a job. We have to get out there and create our own jobs and opportunities and take on our those destiny's as our own responsibility.

Okay... so I might have overplayed my cards there. It may not sound all that interesting or exciting and at the moment it sounds like a whole lot more work. But I think it's coming... In years to come I'll point out this blogpost as a shiny example of this time of turmoil and how everyone had predictions and the like. If I am right though, it'd be quite the paradigm shift. We'd get to the point where it'd be hard remembering how we did things any other way. Much like how the Digital Information age has lead to us finding it hard to remember how we ever learnt anything before the Internet.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

NetHui - Political Speech

Amy Adams has gotten up at NetHui and I'm finding myself horrendously uninspired. Not quite as bad as David Shearer last year but pretty damn close. The government is doing stuff (what exactly, I can't really figure out). We've got TSO's and the TSO's specifications were written a while ago and Telecom are hindered by the low TSO specifications... The logic that Telecom can't do mre because of the TSO's just feels flawed.

I had the same question... what the hell is a TSO? It's the "Telecommunications Service Obligations". The thing that says that Telecom must maintain free local calling and phone books (as well as an emergency service i.e. 111). Basically, a set of minimum specifications. If we're relying on a set of minimum standards dictated by the government, something is going desperately wrong.

It's prudent to point out that government screwed up around Telecom and it's unbundling into Chrous and Telecom. The cost of RBI (Rural Broadband Initiative - basically the rural part of the Ultrafast broadband project) is incredibly prohibitive mainly because Telecom still own major parts of the copper between main town centers - meaning that while Chorus are able to put lines in and meet their obligations, Telecom can charge insane amounts to use their copper lines leading to huge amounts of frustration to every one except perhaps Telecom shareholders.

I think the major disconnect for me around Amy Adams is that she hasn't moderated her language and mannerisms to non-politicians. We're assumed to know the abbreviations (such as TSO). There's a pretty good chance that quite a few of the people at the conference don't know what UFB (Ultra-Fast Broadband) or RBI (Rural Broadband Initiative) is.

The Q&A session is almost as bad as the speech. The punch line to EVERY question is "I think we're going in the right direction". Questions around things that are concerning people such as the GCSB (Government Communication Security Bureau) is met with talk about it being necessary. Lance Wiggs presses Amy Adams and she starts to become ratty - "I don't want to comment too much on someone else's portfolio". Someone asks her a question around PRISM - there's an interesting comment about how they have a longstanding policy of not commenting on what the U.S. might or might not be doing. I find myself desperately wanting to hear that bit back again - how does this long standing policy play out in terms of issues like Dotcom?

The politicians I've heard talking over the last few NetHui's leaves me thinking fondly of David Cunliffe's speech in 2011 which had one of the most.... disengaging powerpoint presentations for a keynote ever. He was humble and engaged with the audience. The horrendous nature of his presentation was felt acutely after having watched and experienced the amazing energy generated by Lawrence Lessig.

That's what's missing and what I believe people are looking for. The people element. Rather than politicians either trying to push the virtues of their party (Clare Currren) or talking at people and not relating to them (David Shearer, Amy Adams) what people seem to be looking for is people. Being humble would go a long way to instilling confidence in a technical audience. Welcoming feedback rather than pretending to have all of the answers... This is basic stuff.

I can't emphasize this enough. You've got a room full of technology/internet specialists and the approach of the politicians to this in the last couple of NetHui's has been disappointing. Essentially, we're not looking to engage. You will take what you're given. Which creates a great big disconnect. Here are people talking about the future off the Internet and how it can be leveraged in direct conflict with politicians telling us what they're doing and why we should be happy about it.

Tomorrow is a "Parliamentary Internet Panel" - I'm dreading it. If it's anything like last year it'll be a whole panel of speeches much like Amy Adams' one - "Our party is great and we want to implement X, Y and Z. Vote for us".

Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Drop In Geek Cafe

On to the next project! At the moment I'm working on something called The Drop In Geek Cafe. The premise is this. Getting a job can be really hard. Like really really hard. I know this. You've probably read me rant and rave about how the employment process just bites. If you have, just skip over the next paragraph.

The employment process bites because it focuses on all of the wrong things. We ask for CV's - but those CV's are styled in such a way as to remove any sort of personality from them and so you're wholly reliant on a cover letter to get some idea of the person except that even a cover letter is structured in such a way as to remove personality. So culling at this stage is based on superficial, easily fixed problems rather than on the real need of someone who can work within a certain environment with the right attitude. Then comes the Interview process and the applicant puts on their "interview clothes" which make them look dorky and purvey nothing of themselves. So it's down to a conversation and a couple of questions. With potentially hundreds of applicants, finding one that will fit into a company culture (I can just see Renedox's eyes rolling at those two words used together) based upon a 15 minute conversation (after culling based on silly superficial stuff) is just plain dumb. This is without talking about the abstraction that is need to HR to employment agency etc.

Right... so we've got everyone back here now? The Drop in Geek Cafe is a creation of jobs based upon skills that the kids already have. The idea is this. There are a lot of older people out there who didn't grow up with computers (I was INCREDIBLY lucky - spoilt as one of my sister's would put it - to have had that much money spent on me for computers) and could do with some help learning to use them.

The kids have not only grown up with a world of technology (there's that generation of people who've never known life without cellphones - this came up in a conversation the other day along with nothing used to be open on Sundays and the word "Geek" wasn't cool) but use it within their school work. They know this stuff. They can navigate an iOS or Android device as if swiping weren't this very new concept. They use Linux and Windows and Mac. They have the knowledge.

They're also within a learning environment. They know what works and what doesn't. And they're close knit families in which case they know how to deal with people of different ages.

This isn't good enough... being taught by someone younger than you is intimidating. It has to be comfortable. It should include tea and coffee and cakes and biscuits. It should be a chat over something rather than a "SIT DOWN AND BE TAUGHT!" kind of a situation.

And it should add other bits of value. Ever tried to show someone how to use a scanner? You have to show them on a set machine. It can't be a different scanner on a different machine. The software might not match. In the case of Windows, the drivers may dictate the interface. The OS might be different. In which case, having things like scanning facilities - i.e. just drop on in and use the scanner for an hour or whatever - just adds value. It's format rot stopped in it's tracks (when is the last time you had a look at those old slides or that Super 8 film?). It's a real business...

What is one of the big factors limiting kids finding jobs? Genuine references i.e. references which aren't their mums or teachers... So a real business, with the kids working (and getting paid - i.e. a real job), with real expectations placed upon them.

Those expectations?

Well... I know they have the skills to use the devices. Next it's about people. Always deal with the person first. If there's a problem, talk to them. Listen to them. Even if you know what the problem is and they just keep going.... let them have their say. Only interrupt if interrupting disrupts them getting more upset (this does happen). Real genuine work skills and probably a good place to start in any people facing job.

Even if it is a bunch of adults kicking things off, it must be employee driven. i.e. the kids need to take over and manage things. The people on the ground should be able to figure out what the customers are after. It's a whole learning opportunity - leadership, initiative and management. In which case, the bunch of adults should be able to fade into the background as support only - if things go according to plan.


For the last few months I've been suffering some pretty serious allergies. Being around someone with the wrong conditioner has set my nose to instant clog and it leaks like a really leaky thing (there's a hole in my bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza).

I had to go to the doctors the other day. There was something lost in translation so I didn't see the one who threatened me with cholesterol control medication.

It turns out that while I've been trying to treat hay fever, my symptoms are actually kind of related to my asthma. I don't really think of myself as asthmatic as I've only really had to carry around my blue Ventolin inhaler when leaving Auckland or feeling sick.

It turns out, even though I've felt fine for years (mostly), a lot of the problems I've been having are related to a.... syndrome? condition? I thought I had kicked. Fixotide (the stuff that you stick up your nose and inhale and smells of marigold) is much like those brown inhalers I haven't used in years. It's a control (I prefer to think of it as controlling the problem rather than preventing the problem - the difference being that it still needs controlling even if you don't seem to be getting the symptoms all that much). It doesn't have immediate effects. It's apparently going to take a couple of weeks for my allergies to die down.

So now, approaching my mid-thirties, I'm on a regular regime involving inhaling on a rather phallic looking plastic contraption and sticking something up my nose and squeezing.

Getting old bites.

I mention this now as I'm in Wellington for NetHui. I'm in the hotel room and everything's (Well okay, not everything. They've got little cardboard tags around the place about why some of the experience kind of bites because they're all environmental an' stuff. i.e. no central light bulb for the room - the bedside lamps will just have to do) pretty good except for one thing...

They've used fabric softener on the bedding.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Spammed to Death

I just got an email from someone asking me to remove a page from a wiki that I've got.

The wiki has existed for about a year now and I choose not to put any real security on it. You could set up an account and be up and running in next to no time! It was inclusive and hey, I didn't notice anything astray until I realised that I was running out of space on my server. Uh-oh.

So about a month ago I realised that the wiki had been spammed to all death. The relevant pages have all been kept intact - but there are pages up the wazu! Basically, a whole lot of work to be done to clean it up.

Wiki's are designed to keep version control. And they're not made to have a whole bunch of data deleted all at once. Sure there are extensions to do it. But of course, this does take some time. Figuring out which extension is most likely to work. Installing it. Figuring out how to use it etc. I figure it might be faster to take the relevant pages (I think there's 20 or so?), remove the wiki entirely, and reinstall. That way, there won't be any residual crap in the database from the several thousand pages I never wanted in the first place.

Meanwhile, back to the email... Here's someone asking that I remove a link... which was put there by a spam bot or something... which would only happen if they were being complete penis heads and motivating spammers to do so. No apology for spamming my wiki. Just a request to remove their link.

The email was from a company that does search engine optimization... It turns out spamming lowers your ranking in Google. Whoops. I'm almost tempted to keep that one page there as a kind of "fornicate you".

Friday, July 5, 2013

Introvert to Extrovert Converter

It's only a few days till the NetHui and I've found myself a touch concerned. While I think of myself as a bit of a social butterfly at these things, I've got my best friend coming along with me (afterwards, I'll get to see Baillie! You remember her right? She used to write here). He and I used to go to parties dressed all in black with a bottle of horrendously hangover inducing, cheap bourbon in hand. And we'd sit in a corner and talk to each other...

Things have changed. For me at least. While I'm still awkward at a lot of events, within the geek community, I'm pretty well out there. I talk to people and find out what's getting them excited and what sort of things to watch out for. It's all networking. Meanwhile, this friend of mine is talking about spending some time in the hotel room doing some drawing. For my money, I never find the time at conferences. It's either at the conference listening to someone - whether that's someone I'm talking to outside of sessions, or in sessions hopefully gaining an all new perspective on something - or I'm outside of the conference having a meal or drink with people.

Quite a few years ago (am I really that old?) I found myself at a party kind of wishing my friends would go away just so that I could meet some new people. There's a kind of ... trap here. If I know too many people at an event, there's the risk that I won't meet anyone new. If I don't know anyone... there's a better than not chance of finding myself feeling horrendously uncomfortable. That is unless I'm able to break the ice in some way.

Am I an extrovert? A friend of mine is curious about whether it's possible to go from being an introvert to an extrovert. A couple of days ago I was in a school counselor's office doing some work on a student's computer and that student was saying that she wished she was a geek. The counselor said something about how she was better at other things. They asked me about my background.

It's worthwhile noting that things have changed significantly in the school yard. Being a geek doesn't have the same stigma on it as once it did. I don't know to what extent this is true - there's a pretty good chance there are still kids getting picked on for being above average.

I was a question mark i.e. I walked around with my shoulders hunched looking at the ground all of the way through high school. I didn't really talk to anyone as I was aware of the laughter that would follow me. The bullying was something I'd just kind of learnt to cope with (that is until when one day when I just lost it and threw what was rather a lame punch - I got punched back and it hurt like a hurty thing BUT I never got bullied at school again). Computers were a refuge. Something you could predict the behaviour of. Escapism just like reading a book, getting drunk or taking drugs. All things to get away from the suckiness of life in general.

By my last year at school people were less inclined to pick on each other and it barely happened at all when I got into tertiary education (though there was one guy in my year of electronics who was picked on mercilessly and even called up a radio station for advice).

The point is, you can grow. You can change. Do I believe you can stop being an introvert? Not entirely. I struggle a lot with it. There is the inclination to go to a corner. I can't handle situations where I can't see the end of people such as the lantern festival, or a dinner a couple of years ago where they had smoke machines around the edges so I couldn't see the walls (I ended up starring down at the table and when it got too much, outside for a cigarette). If I don't know anyone, I still seek out a corner (which is why I do better at geek events rather than teacher events) etc.

There's something here to be said about what we say to kids about bullying. Asking a bully to stop doesn't do much. Talking the bully's own language i.e. not being intimidated by them - is much better. If you need to throw a punch... make sure you only have to throw one because there's a pretty good chance you're going to have to face some consequences - either in terms of the bully fighting back or someone catching you at it. As it is, when I was 12, I did punch someone and was caught. The funny bit is that I hate violence and it takes something from me - So I punched this someone and then started to cry. I got called over by a teacher who had seen it - an older guy who I didn't really know. So while I'm trying not to sob, he's telling me it was a half way decent punch.

As adults, we know that sometimes, in the school yard, you have to stand up for yourself. I'm not advocating violence.... I'm just saying that it's better to get one punch out rather than.... it reaching critical i.e. it's not one punch anymore and is instead a cracking of someone's skull on the pavement or, those kids who never get reported on (I knew of one of these who a few years after I'd known him, he took drastic measures. While I probably wasn't the worse - I was way too shy for that - I still felt like crap for my part in his end to it).

Okay... so that was a tangent. But it ties in. Honest it does. There's a benefit to standing up for yourself. I know of a person who I don't think ever stood up for himself and instead has become a full sized adult who's horrendously over sensitive. i.e. don't ever jokingly pick on him.

So becoming an extrovert (or dealing with being an introvert better) - step one. Stand up for yourself. Those same insecurities you're feeling are probably felt by those around you. Your life isn't like a 16 year old's bad poetry. Your experiences are shared experiences. You're surrounded by a whole lot of people with a whole lot of empathy and so even if they haven't had the experience, they're trying to understand you. Standing up for yourself allows them to see you as one of them. You're no longer this lame creature. You're an actual person.

Step two - Challenge yourself. Don't always go for the most comfortable course. Do what you've always done and you'll get what you've always gotten. Switch things up a little. I'm finally getting haircuts that I like. It isn't a style thing but just how I feel about the cut. This was done by offering the hairdresser a coffee. The next time I bumped into her on the street she stopped to talk.

Step three - if you view every interaction as a flirtation, people respond amazingly well. You're telling them exactly what you like about them and your interaction with them. They're more likely to respond in the same way. You're giving them the attention they want - though this can work against you at times. The other day I was doing something when 3 woman stood there trying to get my attention. It was an incredibly inappropriate time to do it AND what they wanted was outside of my scope (there's a whole other blog post here about how I'm feeling about volunteer work when comparing the expectations on me to those on the commercial vendors).

Step four - it's going to take a crapload of time. Don't expect over night results. It's a bit like... well... anything you do. A friend of mine was saying the other day that he knew a whole lot more than he thought about something. I'm kind of the same. I never really realise just how valuable my skills are because it's all just this really simple progression. It's nothing to throw together a quick webpage. Or customize an image for someone. Or audit a server to see what services it's providing etc. One day you kind of just realise that those situations you used to really hate just don't seem to bother you any more. They're nothing! In fact, it's probably hard remembering why those situations terrified you so much.

I guess there's likely to be a follow up post to this one. Something that talks about the comparison. How I'm seeing myself in that great big scary world full of other people compared to how I perceive that friend's position in the great big scheme of things.... which really just saves me from trying to find a conclusion for this post...