Saturday, November 8, 2014

This Is Why I Love Roller Derby

I've just finished watching the WFTDA Championship final and I'm buzzing. Buzzing with that excited "HOLY CRAP THAT WAS AWESOME" buzz. I'm shaking. Actually, literary, shaking. What a game!!!

Since I've inadvertently ended up with a bit of a roller derby following, and I'm excited and there's no chance of sleep (Where's the after party?!?!?), I thought this might be an opportune time to talk about what I love about Roller Derby.

I often find myself in the situation where people are saying things like "Girls in fishnets on roller skates. What's not to like?!?".  I find myself a little uncomfortable. That's not it. That's not what I love about it. It's part of it, I'll give you that, but it's for quite different reasons.

Here it is. If I were to put it into one word, it'd be "empowering". I love roller derby because it's empowering. I've seen people see what I see in them. They've started to realise just how awesome they are.

Why do I love that so much? In this world full of rape culture, it's.... comforting? Exciting. It's exciting to see something proactive happening. I recognise that things like woman's refuge is very positive. But it'd be much more positive if people felt empowered before the fact rather waiting to pick up the pieces. If they saw their own worth and said "You know what? I'm better than this!". That's it. That's what I love SOOOO much about roller derby

Yes, for the most part, the people are cool. And sure, I have my problems with individual leagues. And I think there's a lot of dumb stuff going on.

For example, there was a bout, earlier in the year, that I travelled to see. It was the first game of a league. The bout was okay... I was annoyed by the celebrity prancing around distracting from the bout. But the after party was much worse. When someone asked my opinion, I hesitated, and that resulted in an amazing amount of rudeness. There was the "You'll never enjoy it as much as I do because I play it and you ... you're nothing" attitude (If you want fans, that attitude SUCKS). Followed up with a solid "I don't know about what you write on the subject so obviously it doesn't matter" attitude. And a woman who claimed I stole her drink (or was it 2? It turned into 2 on Facebook. It's a long'ish story involving how I tend to have this whole "I want you to enjoy yourself" thing that I get when drunk and so, quite often, when drunk, clear empties and wipe down surfaces).

And then there's the conflict I have with the whole "roller derby won't be seen as a real sport if we're having fun" thing. Part of empowerment is being able to explore what you might be like and then discovering that it's the real you. i.e. Nevyn discovering what he's like outside of the family expectations and mockery by being able to use the name "Nevyn" to separate himself from those expectations... It's quite a personal matter to me. Being able to take on a different name, and a persona, and discovering that you can be confident... That's just awesome! So if that persona involves fishnets and a ripped shirt... Cool. That's your alter-ego. Go with it. Explore it. Learn to be a more confident you! In which case, I tend to avoid the leagues with a dress code. It seems to me to be anti-feminism to be dictating what a person should or shouldn't wear.

Oh and the pure dumb-arsery. Here's something that I'm sure there'll be a few comments on. "For the players, by the players". It's a phrase used to describe leagues. And it's stupid. They'll say that and then talk about how they're unable to get "bums on seats" and how it's unfair that people aren't interested. Don't EVER use that phrase. It implies a closed system.

I came across this thing with bar bands. I LOVE live music. I will happily listen to a band play songs I don't particularly like because I like the atmosphere. There are certain bands, at my local, that I will avoid at the pub (actually, I don't go to the pub much at all these days) when they're playing. It's not because I don't like what they're doing, but because they bring with them their own fans. Those fans aren't what I went to the pub for... The problem is that they don't get or understand the culture of a particular pub. Whereas, with some bands, their fans (friends and family) are actually quite big numbers, in which case, booking that band will bring in profits.

Apply that to roller derby. Who are the fans? What's their exposure to roller derby? If they'd never heard of roller derby, and didn't know anyone who did it, how would you hear about it? And once they were in, and you've been to an after party or two, and asked their questions, what response would they get? Those bums on seats? They're being told "You don't play it so you don't understand strategic play" or "it's for the players. It's not really meant for you". That's why people don't come back. They're not allowed to be fans. In kiwi culture, you have couch coaches yelling at the television screen during a rugby match. In roller derby you have people offering up an opinion and being shut down.

And there's an interesting cynicism. Which is weird. With Tangleball, I tend to be the person saying "nah... that's dumb. That'll never work". In roller derby everyone seems to be saying that and I'm sitting there going "But... it's a completely unnecessary  hierarchy. If you flattened things out (Get rid of the Administration Committee, keep the 2 positions that mean something but have them as part of the Management Board. Change the wording around notification for society meetings so that more than 2 members had to be notified of meetings, make anyone on the management board not the secretary or treasurer general members). Transparency a problem? Remove the hierarchy.... Don't have faith in others? Spread the 'power' out.

And despite all of these problems... I love the sport. Okay, given a previous post, it might not be all that clear. In fact, it's the post that probably got me a roller derby audience. The truth is, I care about the community. In fact, I will do what I can to help the community. I'm fairly confident I have done so even though it may not look like it... but I have. And I'm happy with my efforts. And it may not be for the reasons that the derby community imagine it's for.. but for me, empowerment. It's all down to empowerment. There's nothing quite as cool as a bunch of people being themselves.

Hell... even I feel empowered by roller derby... and I don't even play.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

On Incorporated Societies

I've been having a think on the whole "Incorporated Society" thing of late.

What is it?

Well... for a non-profit organisation, without jumping through the hoops of becoming a charitable trust, you can register as an incorporated society. The barrier of entry is REALLY low. This is why it's used for community groups (Tangleball is an incorporated society, as are most sports clubs).

One of the conditions to becoming an incorporated society is that you have to file rules. These rules are public record. You can find them here. Do a search for the society you're interested in and it will bring up any submitted documents.

This is where the low barrier of entry starts to become a problem.

While there are guidelines about the absolute minimum requirements you need to include in your rules, they're not really checked and they really are the absolute minimum. Instead, it's all rubber stamped and scanned and put online. Essentially it's a "It's your rope. Tie it in a noose or use it to mark a boundary as you wish" situation. You probably won't know it's a noose until it's time to pull them out and make sure all due diligence has been followed. And by then, it's too late...

So, for example, your rules could reference 'rules' which don't really exist. They may not offer any remedies to breaches of rules, in some cases, may not even define misconduct or gross misconduct.

BUT these rules are a legal document. They're going to suffer a bit of "legalese".

"When things go bad™", not abiding by these rules can make "things go badder™". Anyone who feels put out by not following these rules can cause no end of legal issues essentially resulting in an incorporated society liquidating.

It can be hoped that the members, those most likely to be effected by these rules, share a common goal with the incorporated society and thusly, if there are issues, will choose to leave rather than disrupt the incorporated society further.

This, patently, isn't always the case. These rules, as a result, need to be rock solid.

They need to:
  • Find a balance between an individual's rights, and the rights of the society as a whole.
  • Be careful of any phrasing that gives management committees full rights to discipline or change rules as they see fit.
  • Be able to stand up to cases "When things go bad™". Never assume it's an if. Assume it's a when.
    • Define different levels of "When things go bad™" i.e. Misdemeanour could be a 3 strikes process.
    • Gross misconduct, which I would define as anything breaching the laws of the land, should be an entirely different process.
  • Be widely known. There is nothing worse than a set of rules that no one knows about and so those rules aren't at all, in anyway whatsoever, followed as "When things go bad™", you want to be able to say "We followed our own procedures". Going off script is not advisable.
  • Have a way for the rules to be altered. This HAS to be defined in your rules. Usually it requires a super majority to have voted in favour of a rule change.
  • Be updated. Update, at the very least, after every AGM to define the people in the various roles (chairperson or president, treasurer, secretary etc.). It shouldn't be a document that's festering away in a dark corner of the Internet. It should be one which everyone knows gets some attention. On this same note, if it's being updated often, it should hopefully make people aware of when applications for changes should be made.
  • The role of secretary is a burdensome one. Make sure the secretary has the authority to farm out some of their tasks, but ultimately takes responsibility.
  • Use references to working documents. Don't rely purely on your submitted rules. There's a cost to updating them. Instead, if it's rules around, for example, behaviour, these can referenced from the registered rules. This is important as it means you have more flexibility in defining them, BUT they also have legal standing. So, if a person were to breach rules stated in the code of conduct, defined as a misdemeanour, the remedies taken against them, as per the registered rules, can be applied without fear of stepping outside of the legal protections the registered rules offer.
  • Given that a registry of members must be kept, also make your rules around becoming a member are really clear and adhered to. This may be the processing of an application or a process whereby members of the society are given the opportunity to discuss the inclusion of a member into the society.
  • No body wants to think about it, but ... what happens if the society liquidates?
Are you a member of an incorporated society? I urge anyone and everyone to go and have a look at that societies registered documentation and have a bit of a read. Is it fair? Does it respect the rights of individuals AND the society as a whole? Does it cover fringe cases where legalities are likely to be an issue?

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

New Zealand Roller Derby - Paving a More Positive Way Forward

I've been engrossed in this issue for the last couple of days and I've come to a few realisations.

The NZRDA, while their statement was unfortunate in the worst possible way, are essentially trying to find their way in the dark. The words I've seen bandied about, that seem most apt, is "trial by fire".

It seems really important to note that, although this doesn't belong in any sort of press release, the NZRDA is made up of volunteers from the NZ derby scene. They're spread across the country (meaning anything they do takes time as it takes time to communicate).


More interestingly, the thing about being volunteers? The interesting part isn't the fact that they're not paid, but rather, they're the ones who volunteered for the task.

They're hindered by their own rules. It's that classic problem around control. The fastest way to get anything done is through a dictatorship. The least worst way to keep things honest is through a democracy. I've struggled with this one myself in various organisations I've been a member of.

The pitchforks and torches are now out. In this age of clicktivism, there's now a petition to remove Stacey Roper as head coach. It's interesting to note that after over 12 hours, it hasn't reached it's horribly low ball target of 100 signatories.

Which begs a few questions:
  • The people who would be directly affected by any such action are the final 20. Have they been consulted? Can they be consulted without fear of repercussion from their coach? People on both sides of the argument are making, what I think are, unsubstantiated presumptions on the effect this would have and what the options are.
  • What are the actions available to the NZRDA under their own rules? I would hazard a guess and think that ANY actions taken would have to adhere to their rules as they currently are. This is a difficult one as we discovered with Tangleball (though we didn't reach a crisis. It was realised that the society's registered rules did not reflect the practise as Tangleball is, by design, an anarchist society. It was decided to do a few review and rewrite of the registered rules due to possible legal repercussions).
  • Given the gravity of the situation, is this something that can be done quickly? A quick indictment, without having gone through due diligence, could be just as dire as being seen as complicit in discrimination.

I'm finding myself extremely conflicted on this issue.

Stacey Roper, from what I've seen, has gone about doing the wrong things willingly and without remorse. For example, I was told that she did issue an apology via her personal facebook page. The original comment was made elsewhere so this would seem to me to be underhanded. But worse than that, any such apology seems to either have disappeared, or to have been made private. Then calling discriminatory comments "off the cuff" would suggest to me that she doesn't understand the gravity of the situation.

I find it really hard not to condemn her outright. It's embarrassing to have this sort of controversy surrounding the only sport I've gotten invested in. One that's known for it's inclusiveness.

However, due diligence needs to be done and, like it or not, there are conflicting concerns. It's become an amazingly polarizing issue and there are no easy answers. This is where I think we need to address things. There's A LOT of anger directed toward NZRDA, but, if you step back and have a look, they've only really released a statement. It was a horrible, entirely regrettable statement, sure. But given the anger directed their way you'd have thought they'd had spent the intervening time killing kittens.

I found myself reading back through my last post. It's angry... really angry. Truth be told, I never really thought anyone would read it. I average around 30 hits a day though for the last month or so, that's dropped even further to around 20 hits per day. And then, suddenly, today... over 600 hits. I never got that sort of hit rate even when I was trying to do a post a day. It's an indication of just how personally invested people have gotten on the issue.

I'm really starting to regret the post. The problem with it is that I consider myself to be a ... positive entity? ... in (and kind of outside) the roller derby community. I don't necessarily get along with some individuals in the community and there are even a couple of leagues that I'm best to avoid BUT, for the most part, I would like to think that even my criticisms of bouts are all for the good. It's me hopefully offering an independent view into bouts. Away from the "Ra-ra! Look at how fantastic we are!" horribly biased write ups that seems to be the norm (I think there's only ever been one league that got took exception to this though they seemed to have issue with anything approaching criticism). But looking over that post, I can't help but feel that I've done the community a huge disservice. It's not in keeping with how I view myself within the community.

For that, I'm sorry.

Does this mean I don't think there's a case to be answered? Absolutely not! But it does mean that I think I, and I kind of hope I'm not the only one, should throw a lot more support behind NZRDA. For me, this means I'm considering becoming an "unaffiliated member". Hell, I may even offer to help where I can.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The New Zealand Roller Derby Community In Crisis

[Please note: I've come to regret this post. I'm not deleting it as I don't do that (it's a thing). I've written another post, as kind of a clarification, on my feelings towards this and what I hope is a more positive way to proceed.]

The New Zealand roller derby scene found itself on TV for the wrong things this week. It's been dreadful. A complaint has been placed with the Human Rights Commission for discrimination following the selection for Team NZ to represent NZ in the Roller Derby World Cup held in Dallas, Texas at the end of the year.

The complaints revolve around the head coach, "Pieces of Hate" (shortened to Hate).

Back in early October, the Team Manager, "Danger Spouse", quit, citing issues with bullying from the Team Coach and issues with the division of labour. She also went on to say that there was no supervision or mediation to settle the disputes and that key members of the governing body, the NZRDA (New Zealand Roller Derby Association) were caught in a conflict of interest due to their also trying out for Team New Zealand and "Pieces of Hate" having a big voice on selection.

Only a few days later, the final 20 (cut down from 30) was announced. The one player with disabilities, "Meat Train", wasn't picked. What followed though was an interesting response... the head coach wrote a facebook status which is the crux of the complaint. In it she said the following:
Liabilities: This one I hate because I tried so hard to make it work. If someone can't hear a penalty given to them and needs a team mate to skate over to them and shake their arm to get them off the track before an insub (short for insubordination foul) is given and while they do that they leave their position in the wall creating a space for the opposition to exploit, then we have a serious problem...
This is discrimination. It wasn't her abilities by which her selection or lack there of was based on. It was her disabilities.

Funnily enough, they would have been on better footing if "Meat Train" hadn't been selected in the top 30. Those issues cited by "Pieces of Hate" existed well before selection. But to lead a player on, ask her to travel around the country and give up weekends (which apparently she gave up paid employment for) to be rejected from the team based upon information that existed well before selection is cause for some serious concern.

The NZRDA had this to say on it:
In light of recent comments by the Team NZ Coach on her personal Facebook page NZRDA would like to make an official statement. We would like to apologise on behalf of NZRDA. Pieces of Hate's statements were not sanctioned by NZRDA and did not represent us as an association. Our task is to support all members.NZRDA offers congratulations to the 20 skaters selected to represent New Zealand in the Roller Derby World Cup 2014. We understand the extreme effort made by every single one of the 30 strong squad. Thank you for your passion and commitment.
"Pieces of Hate" was apparently also asked to issue an apology though I have not seen any such thing. The page, the Pieces of Hate fanpage, has disappeared from Facebook.

On the 15th of October, the NZRDA were sent a letter from Meat Train asking for a full investigation to be done on Pieces of Hate's conduct. The letter was made public on the 23rd of October. The story was reported on TV news on the 24th of October and the NZRDA finally responded on the 25th.

Their response was TERRIBLE. They apparently did conduct an investigation, and I'm told the investigation was fair, BUT it's a completely moot point.

The statement sounds like it's written by someone trying to do a terrible imitation of a press release. They got some things horribly horribly wrong. For example (the greatest hits):

  • In concluding we found that standing down Hate at this pivotal stage would be detrimental to the final 20 squad.
  • Hate was voted into this position from the New Zealand Roller Derby Community. Therefore she deserves respect in terms of her commitment and dedication to an unpaid NZ Head Coach position.
  • As a newly established association we have our own Code of Conduct which is stipulated in our Constitution.
  • In our findings Hate knew the final decision was going to be difficult due to the high calibre of skaters selected in the 30 training squad.
The first point reads as "we can't afford to find anything other than what we found". A strong reason for bias. And that was their conclusion?!?....

The second point... Where do I start?
  • In the entire statement they don't refer to "Pieces of Hate" but rather, just "Hate". Given that this has had national exposure, and it's pretty bad practise anyway, the term "Hate" should not be used. 'Pieces of Hate' or her real name should have been used instead.
  • This is sounding like "You, the roller derby community, voted for hate and hate is what you got. Your fault. Not ours".
  • Unpaid position... NEVER EVER do that in a press release statement. It reads as "we don't mind poor behaviour so long as it's for free".
The third point just has me scratching my head. What are they trying to say here? It's either "We're ill-equipped to handle this situation because we're a new organisation" or "Because we're new we have a new shiny code of conduct". I've been told to read it as "We acted according to our code of conduct to this situation by...." but that's not what is reads. A statement is about what's read into it and what is said rather than the intention. This is why they sound so guarded.

The fourth point: They used Pieces of Hate's words verbatim. That is no way anyone following this could conclude that this investigation was impartial based upon the information contained within this statement. 

The question remains if the NZRDA understand just how serious this is and if they do, why are they then not giving the situation the gravity it deserves? An ill-worded statement which highlights the issues they're choosing to ignore would imply that they're not taking this at all seriously.

To add to this, they deleted the comments off the post containing the statement with the following reason:

Hi all , Ive deleted the comments due to a physical threat been made and inappropriate comments made towards members of the top 20 .
I didn't see such comment and I watched in horror as the comments were deleted individually (A refresh showed some comments whereas a lot were missing. Another refresh, more comments had going missing).

The NZRDA have put themselves squarely in the firing line as they have been complicit to the bullying behaviour and discrimination through their inaction. Their soft stance has unfortunately been reinforced by a terrible statement. As a statement, it couldn't be better written to put the NZRDA further down the hole. However, given their "administering" to the comments made on the statement, it would seem that they stand behind their statement.

Pieces of Hate has been offhanded about the situation, saying this to "3 News":

It was a silly off-the-cuff comment. It meant no disrespect. It was just trying to explain to people the thing you go through when you are looking at considering people for teams.

"Silly off-the-cuff".... Regrettable, sure. Describing herself breaking the law, yep.. Silly and off-the-cuff, nope. She broke the law. There's no getting around it. Should she get away with it due to stupidity? She's basically the dumbarse who wears a motor cycle helmet with their name on to do a bank robbery. Given that there's a history of "disciplinary actions" i.e. asked for an apology that doesn't appear to be given, there's no defence that could possibly be made in "the post was made by someone else and had nothing to do with me at all". Ignorance of the law is not a defence.

Pieces of Hate, I fear, is going to have a really hard time of it. The NZRDA have, in their incompetence, put themselves in the same basket and are likely to struggle to distance themselves from it.

Roller derby in New Zealand is going to have to take a long hard look at the structure of such an organisation. If excuses are being made due to their being volunteers.... They are voted to their positions. If they are unwilling to act in the position they are elected to, then they should have not stood for the position... The New Zealand roller derby community deserves better.

[Update: 25th October 11pm - same day as the statement] 
The statement from NZRDA has been deleted. The reaction to the statement has been sour at best. While there were some people who seemed to be struggling to be constructive, the general consensus was "This is not good enough".

As in the investigation looked to be completely irrelevant and therefore the NZRDA was supporting what is illegal behaviour. The stupid thing is that a proper statement would have taken all of 10 minutes. It would have been a guarded "we are protecting ourselves" kind of a statement but, if done properly, would have served a few purposes.
  • Take a stand neither which way which seems to be what they want to do.
  • Distance themselves from the actions of Pieces of Hate.
  • Assured the community that they would be working to resolve this issue and any others in the future.

[Update: 26th October 2:30am]
I managed to find a full copy of the statement here. Which is a Canadian blogging about NZ's derby issues....
In light of the story broadcast on TV 3 last night featuring NZ Training Squad Member Marcia Taylor, NZRDA would like to publicly issue a statement surrounding this broadcast.

We apologise for any misunderstanding it may have caused and we appreciate the opportunity to clarify what happened.

We received a complaint from Miss Taylor in regards to the Head Coach of the New Zealand Roller Derby Team. We had notified Miss Taylor that a full investigation was to be undertaken by us. As a newly established association we have our own Code of Conduct which is stipulated in our Constitution. The investigation was time consuming and a 7 day deadline set by Miss Taylor was just not practical. We wanted to ensure that we gathered all the relevant information before reaching a decision. Upon our findings we actioned the conduct of Hate under our discretionary powers in accordance with our Code of Conduct. She was also very cooperative in our investigation and understood the seriousness of her conduct. She complied professionally with all of our demands and was told to make a public apology regarding her conduct. We followed suit and publicly issued an apology ensuring that she understood that her conduct was not acceptable.
In our findings Hate knew the final decision was going to be difficult due to the high calibre of skaters selected in the 30 training squad. It was made clear that 10 players would not make the final 20 and unfortunately Miss Taylor was unsuccessful. We have sympathy for all of the 10 players not selected to represent NZ in the 2014 Roller Derby World Cup. She selected the final 20 in a fair and logical manner based on their overall performance and stat results, and we support her decision. In concluding we found that standing down Hate at this pivotal stage would be detrimental to the final 20 squad. Hate was voted into this position from the New Zealand Roller Derby Community. Therefore she deserves respect in terms of her commitment and dedication to an unpaid NZ Head Coach position.
We do not support any type of discrimination and want to rectify any hurt that this has entailed. We have established a Mediation Committee to conduct a Mediation process. Once again, this was a time consuming process where we wanted to make sure the right persons were voted in to conduct this. We hope that the Mediation process will help us to rectify any future discrimination issues. We hope that we can resolve this with Miss Taylor and ensure that policies and procedures will be put in place.

- New Zealand Roller Derby Association
Stacey "Pieces of Hate" Roper has been referenced elsewhere in regards to this issue. A few comments on the statement indicated that there is a pattern of bullying.

[Update: 27th October 12:14am]

It's been kind of a busy day and I've been getting all sorts of interesting information. The statement exists on the NZRDA website. The reasoning for removing it from facebook is that with the structure of the NZRDA such as it is, no individual is empowered to speak on behalf of the NZRDA, thus, with all the comments flying about, no one could address the concerns. Thus social media was not the best of places to make a statement.

Of course this has been taken with the hostility that you'd expect. Cries of censorship. I think I would have been okay with this whole episode if the statement had been done a lot better.  Communications with NZRDA have now defaulted back to the official channels i.e. Through representatives.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Becoming A Better Person

Earlier in the year I had great cause to consider the term "Rape Culture".

Now, before you do that dickhead thing of "What we have isn't technically rape culture i.e. rape isn't celebrated as a socially acceptable thing", one of the first things I learnt is that you just have to shut the hell up and listen. Before you manage to get that view across, you've just come across as a dismissive dickhead who should leave which ever communication you've just entered into very very quickly because you've just managed to dismiss an amazingly prevalent problem. And the point can be argued so all of those people can get off their high horses and just fuck off.

And just before I go on, I encourage everyone to add this blog post to their reading list. Basically it describes the great frustrating irony. While Emma Watson has launched #HeForShe campaign (I have to admit to having not yet watched the video) I am aware that there's a terrible irony in that I'm more likely to be taken more seriously on matters of sexism than a lot of the people around me.

It's not a comfortable place to be. For example, I came across a Facebook status about reporting post NZ Election 2014, which asserted that females need to get up and write pieces because "...the commentary is going to be dominated by male 'commentators' who feel entitled and confident that their opinion is spot on...". This came just as I was about to write my piece. My issue with the line was that it makes assertions as to the writing based on the fact that the 'commentators' are male. I wasn't the only one who got that feeling...

So that was a really long lead up to this...

We have a problem in society. It's big. It's everywhere. It's a culture of it. When articles come out about some celebrity being bullied on twitter - something along the lines of "you're ugly" - what is your first response? Do you look at the mandatory image of said celebrity and think "She's not ugly!!!" OR do you get upset because no one should ever talk to another person that way? That's a culture. It's a culture of rape. That a person's appearance is somehow more important than the horribly nasty behaviour of others. I kind of think we should all take it a little personally. To realise that we are part of this culture.

And sure, there are much worse examples out there. One of my initial reactions was "Rape Culture" is too confrontational a term. I don't rape, thus I am not part of rape culture. It's just not that simple. It's a culture that encourages rape. Victim blaming and the like. i.e. the question "what was she wearing?" when talking about rape being a somewhat institutional question. Does it matter? Should it matter? Aren't we blaming the victim for their choices rather than the perpetrator for theirs? Is anyone any more deserving of rape because they are wearing a short skirt?

The problem exists. I found myself in this rather awkward conversation with someone who I sincerely care about but she was accusing me of rape culture. What did I do? I was feeling depressed and what was hope that we could hang out and perhaps I could cheer up, was coming out as "I'm putting the responsibility of my depression on you". It was a real low point... I mean seriously. It sent me spiralling. One night while at a pub after watching some roller derby, a girl came up and talked to me and I ended up blurting out something about rape culture. She gave me this odd look and said "you think too much".

That one line is kind of the bane of my existence. I think too much.... Well yes... I do. But I have to go through it. The thoughts shared on this blog are usually the result of thinking about something too much. It's me processing. The fact that I found myself just kind of blurting out what was on my mind was incredibly unusual.

Soon after, a girl accused me of stealing her drink. It was a roller derby after party and I had found that the service was sucking, but more importantly, surfaces were fill of empties... and partials... and things were starting to be knocked down. So instead of waiting for a drink, I had found myself cleaning up a bit. It's kind of a drunken thing that I have. I want to be drunk. I don't want to be playing a game of jenga with empties. The problem is, once I start, I find it amazingly hard to stop. I'd apparently taken a drink that she'd been drinking so I offered to buy her another. The problem was, during this processing, I was really upset. I had come to realise that I was part of this whole rape culture thing and that it was a culture. It isn't just a case of changing my own behaviour, but rather, it's something that's likely going to be around me for... well... the rest of my life.

While I don't give racism that much thought these days, one of the big things the election revealed to me - not just in the reaction after the election, but some of the policies coming out (house prices - we should see the problem not as a foreign ownership issue but rather, the issue with seeing 'homes' as 'investments'. i.e. if I invest, I'm after the biggest possible return. And given that people can borrow a whole lot of money - well outside of their means - there's no stopping what price I set on that investment. i.e. housing prices is a result of our own greed) - during the election, revealed that there's an awful lot of xenophobia about the place. Racism isn't going to leave us anytime soon and neither is rape culture.

But at least with racism, we recognise it (at the very least I'd like to think that most of us do). This isn't the case with rape culture. And it's at least half of our population! Half of the people out there are having to suffer through these weird presumptions - "you will make me feel better" or "you're weaker than I am". Everyday interactions. EVERYDAY! Think about it. I mean, I can point to overtly racist moments in my life. Things like cops shining a torch in my eyes when I'm walking home (this was a fairly common occurrence when I was younger) or people yelling out something about Osama from their cars at me and even young kids on the street in Hamilton making assertions about my education or ability to speak English based upon the colour of my skin. But it's not everyday. It always leaves me feeling angry that this sort of thing happens. For myself - but also, given the frequency, the scope etc., it makes me really angry that it happens to pretty much every female I know (there's a selfish element in here too. It makes me REALLY angry that it happens to every female that I care about) on a daily basis.

And that's just not good enough. I'm better than that. Hell, we all are. We can be better people. We should be better people. We have access to other people's perspectives like never before and we shouldn't be trying to shut down those perspectives. We should be learning to shut up and listen. We have a sense of what's right and what's wrong and oppressing people based upon their gender is just plain wrong.

So let's stop stigmatizing the term "feminism" - instead, let's see it as a bunch of people who are getting really frustrated with having to yell at the world about what should be really amazingly obvious. They deserve respect. Not the kind of horrible fucktarded comments that seem to appear on every single female's (I'm not including males here because I'm fairly confident I can do this blog post without any serious negative reaction and I'm 100% certain that I will not be called any of the things that females are called when they write this sort of content) blog post or youtube video whenever they bring up this topic.

It's interesting watching the video attached (yes, I'm listening and watching while writing this). The delivery is perfect. The shaking voice while describing the various ages at which rape culture became evident. The anger can sometimes be the focus whereas anger stems from somewhere... hurt. We are hurting those around us. Let us all speak up when we hear/read something that contributes to rape culture. Let us all see this as a problem with our culture - it's not someone elses. We all own it. Let us all be better people.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Me Probably Getting Economics Completely Wrong


I've been thinking about economics of late. Not just economics, but rather, how the economy works.

We have a few forces at play. Demand, trickle down and flow upwards.

Money, when starting at the bottom, i.e. given to our most vulnerable, flows upwards and in doing so creates demand. For example, you go to a dairy to buy a can of coke. The money from that coke goes to the dairy who then buys more coke from Coca-Cola (Coca-Cola Amatil in the Asia-Pacific region).

In increasing the demand on the dairy, that dairy is able to possibly hire staff (multiplying this out to an entire community. Not as likely given the scale of a dairy vs. Coca-Cola - but the possibility is there. This possibility should not be ignored). The trickle down... And Coca-Cola presumably hires more staff to meet demand (multiplying this out to the world).

Suppose a can of coke costs.... $0.20 to make and Coca-Cola sell it in bulk at $0.40 per can. Their distributors then put their margin on top. So everyone in the chain is getting a cut on it. Presumably everyone who puts a margin on top is putting around 100% on top. So while Coca-Cola make $0.20 / can, by the time the dairy sells it, they're making around $0.80 / can - though it's distributed through A LOT more dairies at this point. So we have a pyramid...

We have one entity at the top, 50 on the next level, 500 on the next. Although the profit margin increases as we move down the pyramid, each entity makes less. Remembering that as we move further down, we're closer to the actual people. The dairy owner, for example, is looking to feed their family. As you move up the pyramid, the concern stops being about the individuals and their families and more about the business as it's own entity. A multinational is less likely to care about the individual than the local dairy owner or baker.

Now... the trickle down. Trickle down does not exist in isolation. If you were to give Coca-Cola $100,000,000, that $100,000,000 does not suddenly create jobs. It wouldn't be in Coca-Cola's interests to increase/expand their operations unless the demand existed. So in order to stimulate an economy, it seems to me that it'd be far better to introduce that money at the very bottom.... presumably the unemployed.

However, what happens when those unemployed are getting more than those who are working full time? There's resentment. So, we need a minimum wage. That minimum wage needs to be set at just the right level. Too low and people become disillusioned with working as they seem to be working very hard to be impoverished (the working poor). Too high and businesses start to "trim the fat" or rather, look for ways of cutting staff (this presents big problems if done on a long term basis). BUT if people are over the poverty line, they are also able to create demand. So it's in a businesses best interest to keep all of their workers above the poverty line. Perhaps their workers aren't their intended audience, but there's a very good chance their customers rely on those people. So either which way, if a business relies on the minimum wage level to stay in business, they are essentially exploiting the system. It's an absolute minimum.

So when the number of working poor is increasing, a government must increase the minimum wage. The current argument of "increasing the minimum wage will decrease jobs" is a self-serving short thinking fallacy. In the long term, assuming a business is still relevant, their demand should increase.

Business and government seemed to have understood this in the past though this seems to have changed in the western world around the 1980's. Deregulation of banking systems have lead to big problems. For example, the amount of money a person is able to borrow from a bank, as a ratio of their pay, drives up prices for things like housing. As the cost of housing increases, so does rent.

In New Zealand, with an average income per household of around $58,000 / year (taken from here. Unfortunately there is no mention of whether they're taking about mean or median), it is estimated that about 25% of that income goes on accommodation and utilities (power and water). As we go lower, those costs don't decrease much while the income get's lower. So on $40,000 / year / household, that's around 35%. Our most vulnerable, at around $18,000 / year (I'm taking this figure from when I was working in one of Auckland's most vulnerable areas. This was the figure that was often kicked around), that's approximately 79%.

Which leads us to tax. This is why we have a progressive tax...

Imagine we have a flat rate tax system at 10% / year.

Imagine I make $18,000 a year.
Tax at 10%: $1,800
Housing and utilities: $14,190.80
At the end of the year, for clothing and footwear, food, healthcare, transportation etc. I have around $2,009 for the year.

Imagine now that I make $60,000 a year.
Tax at 10%: $6,000
Housing and utilities: $14,190.80
At the end of the year, for clothing and footwear, food, healthcare, transportation etc. I have around $39,809 for the year.

This can be corrected, to some extent, by having a progressive tax system. That is, your tax rate being dependent on your yearly income. So the person making $18,000 / year can have their tax burden cut in half to 5%. If we have 1,000,000 people only making $18,000 / year, in the flat tax example, that puts $1,800,000,000 into government coffers.

And if we have 500,000 on $60,000, that contributes $3,000,000,000 to government coffers.

We have $4,800,000,000 in government coffers to go on things like socialized services like healthcare and education, infrastructure like roading, parks (Conservation land untouched by mining hopefully) etc. If we need to keep that level, then in a progressive tax system, ignoring the people in between, if the people bringing in $18,000 / year are only paying 5%, then they're contributing $900,000,000 to the coffers. Which means that each of those 500,000 $60,000 / year earners need to contribute $7,800 / year in taxes each. Which puts them on a tax rate of 13%. Their burden has only risen by 3% whereas the low income earners have had their tax rate cut in half.

Now those earning $60,000 may declare this unfair and unnecessarily complicated. It'd far be easier to just tax everyone at the same rate. Those earning more than $60,000 may even call for tax cuts because they don't think it necessary for the government to provide the services and regulation that they do (neoliberalism - as I write this, it disturbs me that the word isn't in my browser's dictionary). Basically, the level of education/healthcare/whatever should be based upon how much an individual is willing to pay for it. The costs of all of those things go up because the individual has no bargaining power. Look to the American healthcare system for how damaging this is.
I think, if a government is truly serious about creating jobs, they need to:
  • Make it so that the jobs that they're creating don't have people working in order to stay impoverished by making sure the minimum wage rates are set accordingly.
  • Introduce money at the bottom as a stimulus rather than expecting a trickle down effect to happen without taking demand into consideration.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Disappointment

It's a couple of days after the New Zealand election and the results are dire. Dire dire dire.

The western world seems  to be shifting to the right. Australia has a prime minister who is the very first to reverse climate change laws. Our neighbours. And we, in New Zealand, have been able to laugh at them. But then, Tony Abbott is only in his first term. We have no such excuse.

The National Party, our centre right, has been re-elected for a 3rd term with the special votes being our only hope of change. If you've been reading this blog for a very long time (I think I started back in 2010? There was an election in 2011) I've always stated that we could only ever afford the National Party to be in power for 1 term. That's it. After a term, we'd be in trouble.

And we are in trouble:
  • Poverty rates are high. Do a Google search on 'poverty rates New Zealand' and the first result is this page. While there are graphs up to around 2007, there seems to be little information thereafter except for the graphics on that page. The way to tackle poverty? Measure it apparently...
    • We have an all new class. The working poor. Basically, people who work, possibly more than 1 job, and are still impoverished. They're reliant on assistance such as food banks.
  • We're still very much in the middle of our recession. If it wasn't for the Christchurch earthquakes, our economy wouldn't have grown at all.
  • We need to look at the ways we measure our economy. It seems to me that our "improving" economy leaves a lot to be desired.
  • During this election we had several scandals.
    • "Dirty Politics", a book written by Nicky Hager revealed National's use of bloggers to influence the media. This included, and is not limited to, the GCSB (Government Communications Security Bureau), unclassifying documents and bloggers, such as Cameron Slater, being notified of the information's declassification. The National government also helped Slater write his OIA (Official Information Act) requests and on at least one occasion, Slater was given the information he requested within the day (37 minutes in one instance) rather than the usual 20 days.
    • Kim Dotcom, famed for Megaupload and the raid upon his home, and his newly established Internet Party (joined with the Mana Party), revealed information relating to the denied mass surveillance being carried out in New Zealand. John Key, at one stage during his denials, had said that he would offer up his resignation if the GCSB conducted mass surveillance on New Zealanders. This was called "The Moment of Truth" - presented in a way that I don't think had high impact for New Zealanders.
  • Our national debt is HUGE and climbing at an astounding rate. While National are talking again about tax cuts, services are being cut and the national debt is climbing. Reference.
  • National have made a mess of prior election promises. For example, UFB (Ultra-Fast Broadband). Chorus, the UFB main contract winner, and owner of most of the copper network in New Zealand, called foul when the Commerce Commission determined it's pricing for use of the copper network (what the majority of New Zealanders still use for Internet) is priced 23% higher than it should be. Since Chrous have a $1 billion interest free loan from the government for the UFB rollout, they can't let the company go under but it's a hot political mess if they interfere with the Commerce Commission's determination. Reference.
  • We seem to be moving to rather an extreme NGO (Non-government Organisation) controlled state with such things as:
    • The Trans-Pacific Partnership. This is of particular concern not solely on the basis the leaked contents, but more so for the fact that an agreement of this type is being negotiated in secret. To me, this represents an undermining of democracy as it looks to enact laws without citizen overview of what those laws are likely to be. From the leaked documents, corporations would be able to sue a government if they enacted laws which affected a corporations profits. This means that the government now looks after a corporation's profits before it's own citizens. The classic example is plain packaging on cigarettes. Reference.
    • Charter schools. New Zealand's schools have an interesting phenomenon of having a few different categories. A private school, for example, doesn't get state funding [I've just been informed that I'm completely wrong here. Reference1, Reference2. It looks like it's a reviewed decision which looks to be part of my "if you aren't able to stay afloat based upon the capitalist ideals such as you supplying something that's in demand at a price people will pay, then it's time for a great big review of what you're doing. Stop demanding the government protect you at the publics expense" ramble]. An integrated school, has it's staff paid for by the state. And a state/public schools are fully funded by the state. Charter schools are something entirely new and are widely criticized. The funds going into charter schools would have a huge impact on public schools in terms of being able to hire the staff to reduce class sizes (incidentally, back in 2012, National sought to change teacher:pupil funding ratios resulting in bigger class sizes and very likely less subject options. Reference1 outlines the issue. Reference2 reveals the thinking behind it - spoiler: it was about saving money rather than having any basis in education). The existing charter schools thus far average around 50 pupils each though a little under $20 million has been allocated for "establishment" funding. Reference.
  • Our economy's focus is squarely on unsustainable exports. Things like oil and dairy. Dairy intensification comes at the expense of clean rivers (waste) and oil carries with it the environmental risks that come with it. Reference1 - How the National Party are actively seeking to quash criticism of it's dairy intensification plans. Reference2 An opinion piece on a report about dairy intensification).
  • Services are being cut. Not bailing out Christchurch's ONLY rape crisis centre while sexual crimes have risen by 40% in the area for example. The Problem Gambling Foundation lost it's government funding - the largest provider of problem gambling services in Australasia (the most interesting line from that article: "...The report also noted that one disadvantage of the existing system was that PGF's independence meant the ministry had reduced "control over areas such as . . . political neutrality".
And so the left are feeling quite justifiably betrayed by the NZ voting public. Those unethical practices of the sitting government have essentially been rubber stamped as being okay. Our environment is taking a hit that is going to take a very long time to recover from. Our most vulnerable are being mistreated and misunderstood. What went wrong?


The blaming is coming on hot and fast. And those things that I always found myself proud of are being challenged. For example, I've seen multiple comments on Facebook about how it's all down to "the immigrants". Here's what I think went wrong:
  • Kim Dotcom didn't distance himself from the politics. The Internet Party joined a partnership with the Mana Party which eroded the Mana Party's support. The Internet Party did not bring in enough support to push Internet/Mana over the 5% threshold.
    • The moment of truth was a miss. It was a media circus featuring Kim Dotcom (he REALLY shouldn't have been on stage for this), Julian Asange (his "lesser rape" charges are troublesome though I would argue that if we really want to criticize, then we should also be fighting for laws that recognize lesser rape here), Edward Snowden, Glenn Greenwald (a reporter who really had no skin in the election though was called a "loser" by John Key, our current Prime Minister, within 24 hours of landing in the country) and Bob Amsterdam (a lawyer for Kim Dotcom). One comment that I saw on Facebook was about "foreigners" telling us how to vote. *sigh*.
  • The Labour Party has looked like a Party in crisis for a couple of terms now. Their last leadership battle saw the entire Party split into 3 camps and some members even got punished for there allegiance after the battle was done. If they want to appear as stable, they need to be fully united. While I think they got there, I think the impression that leadership battle left is something that's going to be a little harder to shake.
  • The Labour Party had a "Vote Positive" message during this campaign. It was a great message but it lacked something. It distanced them from talking about the dishonesty of government at the moment.
  • The, excuse my language here, Fucking Media.
    • During the Nicky Hager "Dirty Politics" fiasco, the media actively tried to persuade people from not reading the book. Instead saying things like "The average Kiwi doesn't want to read a book" and even putting the daughter of a somewhat troublesome media personality on TV to show people what the 'average' Kiwi thinks.
    • It even ended up in advertising. I was shocked and stunned when I saw a billboard advertising the TV show New Girl. It had the statement "All the dorkiness without the politicians" on it. In other words, the current state of affairs wasn't dishonest. It was just politicians being a little dorky.
    • Mike Hosking, on election night (I don't watch TV normally so I have little idea he kept up this line prior to election night), kept repeating the line "hell in a hand basket" when talking about any party on the left.
  • Despite ALL of the dishonesty shown by our government, the "preferred leader" numbers for David Cunliffe, leader of the Labour Party, bottomed out. I'm not sure what to make of this. But it did lead to a lot of people voting for "John Key" rather than for "National".
  • The Green Party is an up and coming party. While the public view little difference between National and Labour (though I think they're doing Labour a huge disservice by thinking this), the Green Party is starting to take that place of "caring for the people" that Labour previously held. While the Green Party has a strong environmental bent, they have an extensive policy portfolio. Rather than being seen as a sensible, "we're the only party to get our economic policy independently reviewed" party, they're still seen as being very much left.
  • The National Party have somehow managed to make people believe that they're the only ones who can sort out the economy. The supposed improved economy is something that puzzles me. With the growing poverty, working poor (an indicator that the minimum wage must go up), national debt levels, unemployment rate etc. I just have no idea how this is being measured and judged.
What needs to happen?

Well... We've now got a National government for another 3 years and we can't rely on them to do the right things. We need to be pushing for certain things to happen.
  • Raise the minimum wage. As the income inequality gap grows, demand lessens thereby stalling the economy. The currently accepted way of doing "stimulus packages" is ineffective in creating demand. Furthermore, those who are working should not be stuck in poverty. It's not the governments role to maintain a company's profit margins and if a business can not operate in a moral way without staying in business, then they don't deserve to be in business.
  • Foster the growth of emerging economies. New Zealand's technology exports is now third of all of our exports and is fast growing and sustainable. Yet no consideration is given to it.
  • Take care of our most vulnerable. We need to understand that poverty is not just a state of having no money. It's rather more complicated than that. The lack of money reduces options. The "Weetbix" discussion (I found this whole line of thinking troublesome on several fronts but the most ironic bit about is that it's a breakfast produced by Sanitarium. A company registered as a charity and owned by Seventh Day Adventists. It does not pay taxes) completely misses the point. If you have no money (and have had no money for a long time) there's a very good chance you also have no vehicle. Such a simple thing as a car makes a huge difference in terms of options. A trip to the supermarket for example... Meaning that in areas that can be considered food deserts, a local dairy/bakery can be seen as the only option. Long term poverty can lead to no longer thinking in terms of options at all. They need to be seen as people rather than drug addicts. We need to be fighting for ways out of poverty.
  • The insistence of lack of government control has lead to a hijacking of the concept. Rather than providing more freedom for people, it's turned into this idea that things should be privatized. In other words, getting out from under government's thumb and under for profits organisation's thumbs (or NGOs as to distract from the fact the profits come first). We need to be aware of this and to speak up when we see it happening. Without the mass bargaining power in things like healthcare, for example, healthcare costs significantly go up.
I think I've now accepted that over the next 3 years there's going to be very little that I can be proud of in New Zealand. This election has highlighted a few issues for me. 
  • The amount of racism in this country is astounding!
  • Despite the fact that we were the first country in the world to establish a welfare state, we have somehow stopped seeing our most vulnerable as people. 
  • Our clean green image is all but dead. While we used to value our environment as one of our biggest exports (tourism), the draw of oil drilling and dairy with promises of an improved economy (again... I want to know what the measures are here) comes at an expense that the New Zealand voters seem to be comfortable with.
  • I can only expect to experience the status quo. No nurturing of sustainable markets.

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Next Big Thing - A Small Whinge Expanded Upon

So after my last blog post, the one person who I know still reads this blog asked me a question... why does it matter?

The answer is something that I've seen in really BIG organisations. So I figured I should describe why it matters...

Imagine you're running a big organisation. Your computer systems are vital to the way that work. Computer down time isn't just me stomping around getting pissy about things not working. It's money. When I was working for one of those larger organisations, we were advised that it was our responsibility to have "Public Liability Insurance" to the tune of $1,000,000. That's because if through our actions we caused a problem that resulted in a lack of production, we would be held liable. It was a BIG organisation and so an hour or two could result in millions of dollars in lost production.

What this teaches you is that you ALWAYS have a plan. You should be able to go back to a state before the change. And here's the problem with APT. It's not, in any way whatsoever, enterprise grade. I could not, in good conscience, use it in that sort of environment.

Granted, my position in this organisation meant that I was often on the back foot. I was looking out for the changes to make the desktop software work. It was on me to make sure that part of it worked, the information got back to the software packaging team and the updates rolled out as quickly as humanly possible. React, react, react. I LOVED IT!

But that's beside the point. So the problem and why it's a problem. Imagine you have a package. We'll call it vital-software.

  • The initial version of vital software is 1.0.
  • All the clients have, in the lifetime of their desktops, upgraded to 1.5 without any problems.
  • No security updates have been issued.
  • A new version, 1.6, is available - but it's got a great big giant problem that means that vital-software is no longer working the way that it should... but it's absolutely vital.
Which means vital-software NEEDS to be restored to a working state ASAP.

With the way that apt currently works, apt knows about versions 1.0 and 1.6 only. So once upgraded to 1.6, you can't go back to 1.5. You can only go back to 1.0. What if file formats have changed in that time? 1.0 doesn't work either...

In reality, you'd have a small number of testing machines to mitigate your risk. One of those risks was me... if I didn't know what I was looking for in terms of functionality from an application, I had no idea whether something was wrong. A test lab was the only thing that saved me. It turned out that the software involved would have brought down a call centre... In the end the application had to be "ring fenced" (pinned in Linux terms) due to it having a requirement of an older version of mscomctl.dll. Luckily I had the vendor helping me with this one...

And it opens up opportunities... functionality changes in more recent versions (because the software is updated in the next release anyway... why couldn't you run it on an older release?).

I've been thinking about it and I reckon I need to fork the apt stack... call it RAPT (Really Advanced Packaging Tool) and hopefully have it merged back into APT (because forks are useful but generally should have different aims and/or ideologies behind them for them to be of any value)... Or risk producing my own distribution that leverages Ubuntu packages... In which case, it would have to be a rolling release...

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Next Thing - A Small Whinge

I've started work on what, in my head, is the next big thing.

Basically, what would it look like if the tools existed for Manaiakalani to do what I did for it?... I mean, what would it look like if they didn't have me? How should it look? How could they do.... well... everything?

While I'm working on this though, I'm wondering about the apt system. I mean, it's good. Or rather, it was great for what it was designed for, back in the day... But what improvements has it gone through recently?

I'm not comparing this to anything. I have no idea how yum or similar systems behave. But apt, which I've been looking at, kind of sucks.

Why?

When apt updates, it downloads a package file. And that package file is flat. It contains only one reference to a package. What does this mean? You can have a maximum of 3 versions (not strictly true - you could define a whole new "distribution" (I'm putting distribution in quotes here as I don't mean "distributions" as in lucid, karmic etc. but rather distribution channels (security, updates, main).

Anyway... it's a mess. We have the standards to be able to do much more descriptive package files so that a system has more options for versions of a particular piece of software... We have the technology. XML would do. Something along the lines of:

 <package>  
 <name>firefox</name>  
 <version>  
 <release-no>30.0+build1-0ubuntu0.12.04.3</release-no>  
 <depends>  
 <package>xul-runner</package>  
 <package>something-else</package>  
 </depends>  
 </version>
 </package>  

In which case, an arbitrary number of versions can be defined that your system can know about. Why? What if you like a particular version of a package? And if you want to install a more recent version of a package? Shouldn't that be your choice? And even better yet, if you want to be running more a rolling release? This would be a way of doing it except that you don't have to upgrade ALL of your packages. You could roll back to one that works better for you....

Of course, the main problem is that someone would need to rewrite apt to use an xml file... which is probably quite a big stack - but doable.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Getting Ripped Off Online

I've started to really hate buying things online. At one stage it frustrated enough for me to complain to the commerce commission.

The problem is the "hidden" costs. For example, when booking a flight, with every page you click to, more charges are added by default and you then have to make sure all of those check boxes are unchecked before you click on... Failure to treat a page like a game of "Where's Wally" results in paying more than you are lead to believe - generally for no value, fringe case items.

My latest gripe is over a ticket for an event. The ticket itself was only $15. Checking on the booking fee I was surprised to find it was only $0.35 for a payment processing fee. I'm used to the additional $4 or whatever.... but $0.35! That's brilliant.

After entering in my credit card details though, I realised I'd just paid $23.35! What the fuck??? I went over the receipt and found they'd slipped in a $8 "Order Processing Fee". $8 added to a $15 ticket after the fantastic misdirect of the payment processing fee... That's just scummy...

Okay, so I get the event organisers have no control over these costs. Oft times a venue stipulates the ticketing agent you must use in which case the perfect venue can end up screwing over the customer to events. This probably isn't so bad for high price events (what's $8 on top of a $100 ticket?) or one off events. If you're anticipating more events, and those events are contingent upon you getting enough interest for people to go to your events, that $8 on a $15 (more than half as much again for a ticket) costs a hell of a lot more than just $8. I'm finding myself a lot less willing in the future to pay for travel out of town, pay for accommodation and get stung on the ticket for the event. It's only $8... but it's $8 more on something that's advertised as $15... and that's significant.

But what really annoys me is that this is seen as normal. Especially over the Internet. If you walked into a store and saw an advertised price of $15, went to buy the item and they suddenly put $8.35 on top it, would you be happy? What makes it okay on the Internet?

Friday, April 25, 2014

Wordpress Notes 4 - Menus

It's taken me quite a while to figure out menus. Actually... that's a lie. I needed to do something to understand css based drop down menus. This involved mucking around with Wordpress, finding myself feeling a little frustrated and then going to pure html and css to get a feel for it. It still feels a little messy to me which is why I'm glad I've refactored  everything with a programmers perspective...

So there are 4 parts to it:
  1. Register a menu.
  2. Add the menu to your theme.
  3. Make it look like a menu.
  4. Add entries to the menu.

1. Register the menu.

In functions (for me it's in functions/header_menu.php) you need the following:

 <?php  
   add_action( 'init', 'register_navigation_menu' );  
   function register_navigation_menu() {  
     register_nav_menu(  
       array(  
         'header-menu' => __( 'Header Menu' ),  
       )  
     );  
   }  
 ?>  

If you want more than one menu, you can use the function "register_navigation_menus" like the following:
 <?php  
   add_action( 'init', 'register_navigation_menu' );  
   function register_navigation_menu() {  
     register_nav_menus(  
       array(  
         'header-menu' => __( 'Header Menu' ),  
         'footer-menu' => __('Menu in footer' )  
       )  
     );  
   }  
 ?>  

Within the array, you've got the menu's name, and how it appears in Wordpress. So in the example above I have two menus. When I'm doing anything with code, I used the names "header-menu" and "footer-menu". However, when I'm interacting with Wordpress, it shows up as "Header Menu" and "Menu in footer".

2. Add the menu to your theme.

Figure out where you want to display your menu(s). This is where things start to get a little hinkey. The names for the menu changes depending on what menu you've got associated with the widget. So, for the sake of styling, we need to put a wrapper around it.

It's probably not such a bad idea to talk about classes vs. ids. If you're referring to a specific thing, use id. It's only going to be used once. It's an object. It's a set thing. If however, you're going to be using something all over the place thing, it's a class.

Okay, so I want to put a container around my header menu... The code looks something like this:

 <div id="header_menu">  
   <?php wp_nav_menu( array( 'theme_location' => 'header-menu' ) ); ?>  
 </div>  

I think you can ignore the "theme_location" bit. I didn't find any information on that bit.

3. Make it look like a menu

 #header_menu>div ul {  
   list-style: none;    /*remove bullets*/  
   padding: 0px;      /*unordered lists normally have padding*/  
 }  
 #header_menu>div>ul>li {  
   padding-right: 10px;  /*Make a space between menu entries*/  
   text-transform: uppercase;  
   float: left;      /*Make the menu horizontal*/  
 }  
 #header_menu>div>ul>li a { /*Make links in menu look not so ugly*/  
   color: black;  
   text-decoration: none;  
 }  
 #header_menu>div>ul>li>ul {  
   display: none;     /*Hide sub menus*/  
   position: absolute;   /*Without this the flow of the menu can  
                affect the page layout*/  
 }  
 #header_menu>div>ul>li:hover>ul {  
   display:block;     /*Make the submenu visible when menu item  
                has been selected*/  
 }  

This is kind of an absolute minimum.. It only supports one level of sub menu. It's very specific about where the styles are being applied. I needed to refactor it for myself from the example I was working off.

The non-visible elements are ALWAYS on the screen. Which means that styles outside of making a drop down menu visible and how it becomes visible (transitions) should be OUTSIDE of any kind of hover block.

4. Add entries to the menu

Go into your Wordpress admin pages and go to Appearance > Menus.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Wordpress Notes 3 - Extreme Refactoring

I've been having a look at menus but while I've been doing that, I've been going through this whole "that's dumb" and "how can I make that a whole lot more modular in order to make it more reusable?" buzz. It's become a really good habit of mine to make something functional and then to go over it to try and turn it into something that I could hopefully use elsewhere.

For example, the presentation of the search box in my previous box is highly reliant on css... so why not separate off the css for the searchbox? And while I'm doing imports of css files, I might as well have them in their own place. I was similarly irritated by functions.php. Why dump EVERYTHING into one file? Can't I just have it all separated out? Make the file names contextually relevant - so it's no longer just "functions.php" but the file name means something about what's contained "

Well it turns out it's not quite that simple. Wordpress does expect certain things to be present in certain locations. So while I'd love for searchform.php to be somewhere else, it needs to be in the theme's root.

There's some options here:
  • Say "sod it" to the convenience "get_xxx()" type functions.
  • Over ride those convenience functions to look in the relevant folder for 


Anyway, this is how it's all looking at the moment (directory structure):

Theme_root
├[css]
│├ header.css
│└ search.css
├[functions]
│├ admin-bar.php
│├ header_menu.php

│└ footer_menu.php
├[images]
│├ favicon.png

│├ icon_search.png
│└ logo.png
├ footer.php

├ functions.php
├ header.php
├ head.php
├ index.php
├ menu-header.php
├ searchform.php
├ sidebar.php
└ style.css

Depending on how much this annoyst me, I may move things like footer.php, header.php, searchform.php etc. into their own folder - something like "elements". This would mean that the theme root could be concerned with the absolute essentials (functions.php, style.css, index.php as well as a few files that aren't there yet like single.php and comments.php). This could make things feel a little more modular. I could take the header, both the php and css file, and use it in a completely different theme without having to rewrite all that much...
Oh - and I made a few mistakes which I've since found in my last couple of posts... but we'll visit those in subsequent posts.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Wordpress Notes 2 - The Header (Mostly)

Given that I'm separating things out just a little more, I've got this whole "head" and "header" thing going on. The head has information about the page in general whereas the header will contain the heading (title), menu bar and search bar.



So for my header I'm going to have a white background (the body will be a light shade of grey to draw the viewer's attention to the content). In header.php I'm going to have the following:


 <section id="header_background" class="white_back">  
   <div id="header_area" class="header">  
     <h1><a href="<?php echo get_option('home'); ?>/">  
       <img src="<?php echo get_bloginfo('template_directory'); ?>/images/logo.jpg"  
         alt="<?php echo bloginfo('name'); ?>" >  
     </a></h1>  
     <?php include (TEMPLATEPATH . '/menubar.php'); ?>  
     <?php get_search_form(); ?>  
   </div>  
 </section>  



You'll notice I'm keeping things horribly simple - I've defined two more files to bring in: menubar.php and I'm using the "get_search_form()" convenience function to bring in a search bar.
.
The title is defined in the
h1 block. That's easy... I've hard coded an image in there. Given that this is a custom template for a particular entity, I'm not bothering to make it a configurable field (that's beyond me at the moment). I've also added in a alt value for accessibility more than anything - generated from Wordpress.

I'm going to leave out the navigation menu for the time being. Mainly because it requires
functions.php - which I'm going to have to look into. I don't like it all being in a single file so I'll probably make a functions directory and import files from there in order to be able to separate our functions - i.e. should stuff around menus be in the same place as code needed for putting widgets in the side bar?

The default search bar is kind of ugly...



Or rather... it's just lacks a certain something. For example, why do we need a button that says search? Wouldn't an icon do? And it just feels so.... boxy. What I really want is something that looks like this:


It's a much more minimal look with all the functionality we need. It would also re-size well - i.e. should we need it, we can make the search box a little smaller. In terms of structure, it looks like this:


So the search form gets a border and the search field doesn't which gives the feel of a the search field and submit button being all one control. The submit button is represented by a graphic - a magnifying glass.

searchform.php looks like this:

 <form role="search" method="get" id="searchform" action="<?php echo home_url( '/' ); ?>">  
   <div class=search_form>  
     <input type="text" value="" name="s" id="s" class="search_field" placeholder="Search" />  
     <input type="image" id="searchsubmit" class="search_button" src="<?php echo get_template_directory_uri(); ?>/images/icon-search.png"/>  
   </div>  
 </form>  

I'm not entirely sure if this is a functional search form - I need to do some testing around it. But for the time being, I'm going to assume that it is working and instead worry about it's appearance. Inside of style.css, we need the following:
 .search_form {  
   border-style: solid;  
   border-width: 1px;  
   border-color: rgb(234, 234, 234);  
   border-radius: 5px;  
   line-height: 30px;  
   height: 30px;  
   float: right;  
   margin-top: 30px;  
 }  
 .search_field {  
   border-width: 0px;  
   font-size: 14px;  
   padding: 5px 30px 5px 10px;  
   float: left;  
 }  
 .search_field:focus, input:focus{  
   outline: 0;  
 }  
 .search_button {  
   width: 18px;  
   line-height: 30px;  
   padding-top: 6px;  
   padding-right: 5px;  
 }  

So the border is on the form. I then remove the border on the search field and make sure the outline isn't visible when you click inside of it (making it feel like a single widget rather than 2). And the search button bits just make it kind of pretty...

I was going to talk about css and possibly moving it all into a php file so that we could use variables (meaning that the different parts where width are defined can be set as a variable). Of course, we could do something with the structure to make this completely unnecessary... Which would require some refactoring but nothing too major.