Sunday, June 19. 2011
The better part of a decade back I was chatting to a bike mechanic about the way Yamaha and Subaru’s use of security dot systems—which spray scannable microdots into the undercoats that cover almost every metal part of a car or motobike—had apparently reduced the rate of theft in their newer model bikes and cars from “most stolen” to “barely ever”; he explained to me that this was simply that most thefts are by professional thieves; he could tell you off the top of the head which wreckers were fencing, in whole or in part, parts from stolen cars and bikes, and that’s where the money was. If you worked in the industry any length of time, apparently, you got a good feel for how many “second hand” spares had more to do with five-finger discounts.
Continue reading "Off the Piss"
Monday, December 13. 2010
“I’ll dial in when I get home from work.”
My first encounter with a modem was an old acoustic coupler my Dad would bring home in the early 80s as part of a briefcase-sized, wood-enclosed apparatus containing the modem and a terminal.
Cutting edge; while I got a modem of my own in the early 90s, I didn’t really ever dial into a workplace (although I supported journos who did); I leapt straight to VPNs over cable modems instead. But I still talk about dialing in, but there’s an ever-decreasing number of people who have any experience of it; soon, like trying to explain using acoustic tapes to save and load programs on my first computer, people will most likely think I’m trying to pull their leg.
“Time to wind up your window, honey.”
The first car I owned had winder-operated windows; my daughter sat in it to have a play before it was taken away to a scrap merchant after a shithead council worker dropped a tree on the rear window and c-pillar; it was a car I loved dearly (and, it must be said, irrationally, since there’s nothing inherintly special about a mid-80s Corolla).
That play will most likely be her only experience with manually-cranked windows, one of us starts buying vintage cars or veers into the world of ultra-light specialised sports/road hybrids like the Porsche 911RS3. Winding the window is, I guess, technically what happens, but the winding is at the behest of the button.
Friday, October 22. 2010
When people say, “Avatar had $50 million in subsidies” it conjures up a particular image: Joe Taxpayer ladling $50 million to a bunch of film moguls. It’s understandable, not least because it’s how things like SMPs used to work, but it’s not true. Subsidies are many and varied; I can think of at least three major types off the top of my head:
The aforementioned subsidy for film production is a great example of this; film-makers get a break on their taxes in New Zealand. The thing is that when people toss around the idea that these cost something in a direct form they’re being, charitably, economically illiterate. No-one gave anyone anything. We simply neglected to take something. There is, you could argue, an opportunity cost, but in many cases, we can have something we wouldn’t otherwise get (Avatar work), or we can get nothing.
Framed that way, they sound quite tempting, right? Not always. We don’t have a capital gains tax in New Zealand, which means a major sink for our investment dollar in the last 7 or 8 years, even more than in the rest of the Western world, has been property speculation - not even property development, but borrowing money to buy houses that already exist in the hope a greater fool will make us rich. Unlike making movies, it’s not an activity that really spreads the wealth around; a built house requires pretty minimal upkeep. It may even have a perverse result, as rents rise to cover the costs of mortgages taken out with a view to capital gains, more money goes to service debts raised with offshore borrowing, rather than into the New Zealand economy, and we skew the view of what we invest in from activities that generate good first-world employment (special effects, software development, what have you), and into hoarding bricks and mortar.
So if we do have tax exemptions to attract foreign dollars, we ought to be quite careful that they’re an overall benefit.
Paying Your Bills
You’re a high-carbon-output business. Well, in New Zealand, I’m giving you money. Lots and lots of loverly money. That’s because I’m paying for your carbon credits.
(No-one’s paying my employer’s carbon credits, we just hand to spend a lot of money doing things like reducing the footprint of our server rooms with virtualisation and consolidation programs.)
There are no shortage of activities like this. Cities build sports stadiums for profitable sporting businesses to use. We cover the costs of businesses that might otherwise go broke.
Giving You Cash
Our domestic cultural industries are beneficiaries of this one; we ladle money into TV, local movies, ballet, opera, symphony orchestras, you name it. Outrageous Fortune collected almost $50 million during it’s run; whatever my share of that was, was totally worth it to hear the word “nungas” on TV, I might add.
In business these used to be our standard subsidy for farmers and other industries we’d decided we want to cultivate but couldn’t actually, you know, turn a profit. Sometimes that’s a good thing - I’d rather live in a New Zealand with an NZSO than not, for example - but in the case of SMPs, it damn near broke the country.
The Bigger Question
Implicit in the criticism of subsidies for Jackson’s work is that this in some way proves his companies haven’t really added value to the New Zealand economy, that he’s bludging off us in some dirty, underhanded way, slipping dollars out of our pockets.
As I noted above, it’s not really true; tax breaks cost us nothing in and of themselves, and have arguably helped funnel hundreds of millions of dollars into the country for productions involving the likes of Jackson and Rob Tapert (remember him? Been making internationally-known and profitable TV shows in New Zealand for the best part of a couple of decades?).
Moreover, the roots of the idea that there’s something wrong with encouraging particular industries is rooted firmly in the neoliberal religion that markets are perfect, governments are crap, and that governments oughtn’t pick winners. Now, if that argument’s coming from Richard Prebble or Roger Douglass, well, I think it’s a bunch of crap - after all, the East Asian neighbours, such as South Korea, we looked down on as third world countries when I were a lad have shot past us on the back of heavily controlled, directed, managed economies, not neoliberal paradises. Come to that, Britain’s economic rise was butressed by mercantalism, and China’s development is as a result of tight monetary control and a willingness to direct the economy whereever deemed strategic.
But I digress. I think it’s a load of crap. What’s odd, though, is that the flurry of concern about these subsidies so often comes from people who seem so otherwise uninterested in neoliberal dogma. The same line of thinking that argues taxs breaks distort the economy, the government shouldn’t pick winners, is the same line that says privitisation was and is good, that the Employment Courts are unfair and unreasonable, and so on. How many of the people bitching about Jackon’s “subsidies” are actually interested in that line of thinking in any genuine manner? How many are simply looking for another club to belabour someone who appears to have committed the great Kiwi sins of being very successful in his fields, wealthy, and uninterested in issuing grovelling apologies for daring to achieve these things?
Tuesday, June 22. 2010
Of all the Pythons, John Cleese depresses me the most. His wholehearted embrace of Americanisms—therapies, marriages up the wazoo, self-help, management videos, you name it—seems in some way the second most appalling fate of any member of the troupe.
I think it’s because so much of his finest humour flowed from venting his spleen at the most hateful characteristics of the Little Englander, the crawling, craven middle-class Englishman who licks the boots of his social superious, the uptight neuroses of the stiff upper lip. It was the high-octane hate that so brilliantly powered Faulty Towers. Now, it’s not really healthy to hold onto that, and I imagine that had Cleese spent the next thirty years doing so the results would be less than healthy.
But I have to wonder if replacing the quintessential English middle-class neurosis he grew up around with the quintessential SoCal neurosis is really that much of a win.
Tuesday, May 25. 2010
One of the more annoying arguments that I have noticed creeping into the arguments of vaccine deniers, as their arguments based on the fraudulent junk science produced by a shill for a law firm are being more widely understood as disreputable nonsense, is the notion of choice; choice is, apparently, an irrefutable, unassailable right; one may not over-ride the choices of parents who wish to expose their children to disease.
This one really gets on my tits.
My minor objection, one which is commonly voiced with regard to this line of argument, is that because vaccination relies to herd immunity to function effectively across a population this is a choice which is not self-contained. It’s an argument that ought to be treated with the contempt we’d hold for someone arguing they ought to be able to drive drunk because they’re only risking their own life—unless they only drive on private roads, that’s simply untrue. Even the most fervent libertarians usually recognise that the right to swing your fist ends at my nose; the right to kill your kids with whooping cough likewise ends at my daughter’s respiratory tract.
Which leads me into the second, less commonly articulated, but, to my mind, more important point. Children are, in fact “someone else.” We do not allow parents to decide not to educate their children, or to beat them, or hire them out as prostitutes. If parents claim this is undue interference in their rights we say, well, tough luck—because my right as a parent ends at my daughter’s nose. I may not starve her, beat her, or deprive her of an education. Why should I be allowed to prevent her from receiving provably valuable medical treatments?
Monday, April 19. 2010
I don’t watch that much TV any more, although we’ve been getting into the habit of sitting down in front of Country Calendar after dinner on a Saturday; tonight I flicked on the news and was reminded why.
Apparently, the TV tells me, there are serious concerns about the Commonwealth Games being in India after a couple of (small) bombs went off outside an IPL match. Local coverage was wall-to-wall interviews; should we be getting Kiwi players home? Should we abandon the Commonwealth Games?
This is the point where I started yelling rude words at the magic box, which is never a good idea with small ears ready to seize on them for future use, but I am afraid it was that or collapse in an apoplectic fit.
You will remember, of course, how New Zealand didn’t send sporting teams to the UK when the IRA were merrily blowing up bits of Britain. Or how we seriously mulled over whether the United States should ever hold a major sporting event when their domestic terrorists started blowing people up at an Olympic Games. We didn’t stop sending teams to South Africa even when their white government was telling everyone about those terrible ANC terrorists.
Horseshit. We’re happy to have sporting events in harm’s way. We have been for decades. The only “problem” here is that the people running security are brown instead of white.
Wednesday, March 10. 2010
I’ve been thinking that iPhone vs Andoid has more than a whiff of Mac vs PC all over again about it, and Apple going after HTC as a proxy for Google just bakes that impression in; I’m not the only one who remembers as far back as Apple’s look and feel lawsuits, although that seems to be rather undercommented upon these days, as is Steve Jobs’ apparent long-forgotten view that people making expansion cards for the old pre-Mac Apple platforms were stealing money that belonged to Apple (which was, presumably, part of the reason why the original Mac was a sealed box).
Apple’s hostility to openness is one of those odd features of the modern computing landscape; they are, to the best of my knowledge, the only company the FSF refused to have software ported to (because of the look-and-feel suit), and their modern-day developer agreements for their sealed platforms are fabulously Draconian. It was one of the weirder aspects of LCA2010 to hear people booing DRM, software patents, overzealous IP law, and Microsoft, while watching them poke at their iPhones and Macbooks. Disconnect much?
There is one thing I must disagree mightily with Harry McCracken on:
So here’s the grim and dystopian scenario, and it’s grim and dystopian for Apple, not for HTC or Google: A few years from now, maybe this new case will end up looking as ill-advised as the 1988 one.[...]Maybe people will see the iPhone as a breakthrough that lost ground to a less inventive but more pervasive competitor. I hope not.
I hope so. I mean, my preference would be for Maemo-MeeGo-whatever the fuck it’s called this week to win out, but I think Nokia’s recent record of shooting its toes off will probably carry over to what is, the bleatings of Google fanboys notwithstanding, the most open phone platform on the market. But as a realist, I’d settle for seeing Android crush the iPhone, if only as a consumer. Consider the iPhone: a sealed unit, no expansion, no replacability, what Apple think I need. It’s Apple 1984 all over again. Andriod, on the other hand—you want an expandable phone? Get an HTC Legend where you have SD card support, rather than paying Apple an extortionate sum for the igger phone option. And a battery you can change. You want to live in the future? How about lobbying Samsung to release their Beam as a product, rather than waiting for Steve Jobs to decide whether you deserve a projecter. That’s the nice thing about the ‘droid; like the PC universe created by the ubiquity of DOS and then Windows, you have multiple manufacturers vying to lure you to their product, and responsive to your niche. You want a better-than-shitty-2 MP camera? There’s a droid manufacturer who’s releasing those. You want a bigger screen? More storage? Longer battery life? Go nuts.
The Android ecosystem is far from perfect; Google are certainly nowhere near as open a company, or as good at playing with the open-source projects they crib from, as their more enthusiastic fans would have you believe. But they are a hell of a lot better than the sealed-hood world Apple would like you to live in. If Apple’s decision to wage patent war against Android backfires and consigned them to the (ultimate) irrelevance of their decisions to prefer litigation and owning a high-priced vertically integrated stack did in the late 80s and 90s, I, for one, will be delighted.
Wednesday, March 3. 2010
Friday, January 22. 2010
Monday, December 28. 2009
There are a number of issues here. One, of course, is the theat which IdiotSavant refers to; bullshit scaremongering by the celebrant mafia. The other is, more generally, how the business of providing celebrants is provided in New Zealand.
Let me tell you a little story. The better part of a decade ago I got married. We had a number of requirements for our wedding, and one of those was that we were not interested in any kind of religious ceremony. Given about a third of Kiwis identify as non-religious in any given census this is hardly an unusual situation; it’s also one that celebrants are tailor made for.
Unfortunately this is where theory and practise get all buggered up. A search of local celebrants revealed that the ones available were all what might be less than charitably described and evangelical New Age Fruit Loops, possessing both the unlovely habit of insisting that I really am religious if only I understood that I believed what they believed, and, more to the point, too addicted to their belief system not to try and inject it. Which is not only incredibly offensive, but it defeats the whole damn point of have celebrants available. If I wanted religious nonsense at my wedding I’d go to the Catholics. At least they have some style, a sense of occasion.
Where it went horribly wrong, instead of merely wrong? Well, we spoke to a relative who we’d be happy to have officiate. He has a certain gravitas, and passed all the requirements for a celebrant: a resepected position in the community, several other people had independently asked him to become a celebrant in order to officiate at weddings, and so on. When he started looking into jumping through the hoops, though, he was told to bugger off. Why? Because there were “enough” celebrants and if they let any more people become celebrants it would “undercut people’s living”.
Fuck that. Sorry, but need for a celebrant that’s interested in serving the (rather large) segment of the community that wants non-religious services is actually quite a bit more important than a government-sponsored monopoly for a bunch of religious folks to make a living when they can’t persuade a bunch of people to build church and pay for the lifestyle they want. And the DIA have no business acting on behalf of a cartel in defiance of the legislatively-directed requirements for celebrants.
I’d vaguely hoped that things had changed from when we got hitched—which ultimately involved us getting a formal doco done at a registry office and having the big event mock-celebrated with a non-celebrant to work around this flavour of bullshit—but if the tactics adopted by June Russell to put the frighteners on suggest I’d be dissapointed if I needed to inquire closely on the topic.
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