Monday, December 13, 2010
  Working class man
A Sam Harrison woodcut is a bravura performance - big, ambitious, the lines carved into rough plyboard building up a well-rendered form. His technical skill can make one stand back and ask "where's the art?" until you realise his is an art that comes first from the hands and the heart rather than the head.

At the Jensen Gallery is a selection of woodcuts and sculptures, a small sampling of the Christchurch 24-year-old's protean activity. So why the body as a subject?

"I've always been fascinated with watching people, observing them. I like the idea of it being something that's timeless, anyone can relate to the human figure," Harrison says.

While other artists talk of their "practice", Harrison talks about work. Doing a bachelor of art and design at Canterbury Institute of Technology was a way to keep working in the gap from school to what comes after.

"I just work, that's all you can do. It's nice dealing with people and having people round. I've got a lot of friends who don't do much, they're just there [in the studio] with their clothes off and I'm trying to make work off them," he says, laughing.

He's also hungry to learn from the work of other artists.

"I probably spend half my time getting books out of the library and looking at them, and people keep putting things in my face all the time. Since the fifth form, I've not really given myself anything else in life to do. I'm a bit dyslexic and struggled through everything else. I think I was just lazy, because now when I am interested I can do it fine."

Harrison finds out how to do things by giving them a go, or having friends show him. He's recently learned the traditional method of casting plaster for sculpture, having developed his own techniques using roofing silicon and concrete.

"It opened up new stuff I can do, so my brain is ticking again. The woodcuts look more anal than they are. They look very laborious and painful but I just do big graphite drawings and then, when the model is not there, I carve through the thing. Usually I have four or five things on the go at once, so when I get bored I jump on to something else."

A larger than life sculpture and a long woodcut of a reclining figure are both of the same model. "That's Vincent. I got him to lie down and he fell asleep. I think he likes sleeping."

The print has similarities to Durer's portrait of the dead Christ. Harrison says he didn't look at the Durer while he was doing it, "but it was in my head".

Harrison draws inspiration in his printmaking from the German Expressionists, and in sculpture form Italian Marino Marini, even if they don't come out that way.

"I struggle with the idea of the way I work most of the time. It irritates me. I do a tiny print and I just make it, and then I get to a big one and that changes the process."

He says much of what he does in the studio is about fighting control. "The first work [in a new direction] I am always really excited about, and then I somehow manage to control it, suck the life out of it, and then do another first work, so that process of letting go and tightening and letting go, I find it is opening up."

Harrison takes on religious subjects, such as the large crucifixion woodcut which is part of the James Wallace Collection in the Pah Homestead.

"My dad is the pastor of a small church, Judah, which he started in the 60s, and he's awesome. It's just 50 or so people, just simple. I think that's where the relevance is for me."

Meanwhile, he's looking forward to getting back to the studio for some concentrated drawing.

"All my friends from art school always talk about proposals. I've never written a proposal in my life. I don't even know what they're talking about. I say, 'Why don't you just do some work?' They don't understand the idea of work."

What: Sculpture, Paper by Sam Harrison

Where and when: Jensen Gallery, 11 McColl St, Newmarket, to December 18

Published November 27
  Refusing to do the frangipani thing
Residencies are a good way for artists to take stock of where they are in their career, tackle major projects, or just get down to the business of making art with fewer day-to-day distractions.

They are also an affirmation that the life the artist has chosen has been recognised as valuable by others.

Andy Leleisi'uao has strung together three residencies over the past year or so - at Beachcomber Contemporary Art in Rarotonga, as Taipei Village artist in residence in Taiwan, and over the winter the McCahon residency in Titirangi.

He says they allowed him to pursue a line of exploration, or rather explore the potential of a linear type of composition. Limiting his palette to black on white with touches of red, he divided each canvas by horizontal lines, like the pages of a school exercise book, and painted small figures and scenes along each line.

The figures seem to be engaged in work or play or ritual or conflict. The newspaper-strip format suggests storytelling and narrative, or even a multi-perspective view of village life.

En masse the paintings can be seen as an even field, broken up by the red highlights, like zooming out of Google Earth.

The work on show at Whitespace reads as one large work although it is in fact 12 individual paintings which can be hung separately or combined in a range of formats.

When the Taiwan works were shown in July at COCA, the Christchurch Centre of Contemporary Art, as Wandering through Pandemonium Quiet, they were hung in a line down the spine of the gallery. "This is the final part of the line work. I don't think I'll do any more. You sort of know when to stop," he says.

Leleisi'uao says he has worked with the idea of multiple interchangeable panels since painting a mural for the Mangere Community Arts Centre, which was rejected.

"They hated the idea. They hated the concept. They hated the images. They hated the artist," he says. "They ended up having a ballot about it, and some of the comments that came out: 'Go back to working in the factories,' or 'You're not a real artist.' Well, f*** you ... They don't get it out this way [in Mangere]."

Leleisi'uao sees his place as in the wider art world, not in some corner labelled Polynesia, even if much of his subject matter in the past has been about fa'a Samoa, social problems like suicide, the greed and corruption of churches and politicians, and the conflicts between immigrants and the New Zealand-born.

For him, art is not some feel-good manifestation of culture, but the creation of culture stroke by stroke.

He remembers going through school during the period when educationists incorporated Fatu Feu'u's frangipani patterns into the curriculum as a way to engage Pasifika students.

It was part of a trend by the Education Ministry to over-prescribe art education, which led to identikit portfolios of work rolling out of the school system.

"I refused to do the frangipani thing because it was too easy, just coloured patterns. I was more interested in what painters like Clairmont and Fomison were doing. Those kids who did were getting 80s and 90s, working to a system. But they had no interest in it, there was no soul in their work, and if they got into art school, they didn't last a year," he says.

He still sees a very short career span for young Polynesian artists, who show briefly before fleeing to the safety of a regular job. "I'd rather have the freedom to do my work. I have not had a proper job for years. That allows me to do what I do."

The main room at Whitespace is taken up by drawing produced by New South Wales-based expatriate Locust Jones during a residency in Seoul, South Korea. Like Leleisi'uao, there's a cartoony, calligraphic feel to his lines, and a sense that information is piled up on the viewer.

And while it was Leleisi'uao who had the McCahon Residency, it's Jones who is exhibiting the text-based works. Jones, who crossed the Tasman in 1990 when he couldn't get into art school in his native Christchurch, says his response to the media-soaked environment he was in was to pull images and texts out of television and newspaper photos and headlines.

"I was making my own poetry from the headlines. By the end of the residency, I was just making text. I preferred writing them to drawing."

Jones has always worked on paper, and being in Korea allowed him to learn more about the Korean hanji papermaking tradition. "These are made of mulberry bark, so it's the same material as tapa," he says.

He got local conservators to splice together some of the large sheets so he could have a continuous roll to work on, generating the large drawing which fills the gallery's long wall.

Korean colleagues also taught him traditional ways to dilute the inks, giving him a greater tonal range.

He works with bamboo sticks rather than brushes, filling in the outlines with eyedroppers or syringes of ink. In some works he uses sticks of graphite to scribble freely.

Recycling media images can be a way of the artist withdrawing from the work, a charge Jones accepts. "If I was to put myself in there, the personal, it would be a mess," he says. But with 16 million people living in a small space in Korea, there is a constant noise that made its way into the work.

In the Whitespace window, for those walking round Ponsonby at night, there is a video installation by Janet Lilo from 6pm to midnight of a group of dancers who perform at nights by closed storefronts and shop windows in Sapporo, Japan.

Who: Andy Leleisi'uao, Locust Jones and Janet Lilo

Where and when: Whitespace, 12 Crummer Rd, Ponsonby, to November 27

Published November 13
  Messing about with everyday things
Now that no less an art world figure as a former director of the Tate Modern has told us young men who don't clean their rooms are the pinnacle of New Zealand contemporary art, the latest show at Artspace is timely.

Koki Tanaka has made an art form out of making a mess. He's been funded by the Asia New Zealand Foundation to come here from his base in Los Angeles and reprise a performance/installation he did in Yokohama.

Tanaka takes stuff that's lying around, finds ways to trash or scatter it in a random way, and has a video of himself doing it. Which actually helps to make it make some sense. It explains how all that stuff got on the floor, and why it's damn well going to stay that way for another month.

Over in the corner is another video, a sort of greatest hits package of Tanaka performances: stuffing a large tarpaulin into a small car, jumping on a pile of cardboard cartons, squirting tomato sauces on the ground in a circle.

What supposedly ties Tanaka's work with the others in the show is that they offer "perspectives on the intersection of human and sculptural form".

Tanaka says he wants to make viewers aware of everyday things. "You normally ignore how you sit down, so even when we sit down in a chair, you can find something strange or something new or something fresh in that.

"I try to find something different in everyday routines, so in this work I try to use every object in a different way to show its possibilities."

The works, which turn out to be the products of three separate sequences of actions, and grouped around a pentagonal divider, which is imported from Tanaka's works about disrupting the linear curatorial flow that galleries get into.

His interest in what he calls "temporary sculpture" is a reaction to Japan's ongoing economic crisis.

"When I was at art school in Tokyo from 1996 to 2000, I felt not only the economic crisis but that I cannot make any art. There are so many artists already, so many nice works, I cannot add anything new, so I start to focus on our everyday, because we don't need to do any art any more, so just focus on the everyday to find something different," Tanaka says.

He was inspired by a student exchange trip to the Vienna Secession in 1998, where American artists Mike Kelley and Paul McCarthy collaborated on Sod and Sodie Sock Comp. O.S.O, a giant installation and performance piece around the idea of a boot camp featuring cartoon character Sad Sack.

"I saw it and felt, 'I can do anything, make anything,"' Tanaka says. "Maybe it's a huge mistake but I keep going because I can't go back to making just painting or use my cultural background, making animation or whatever. I feel guilty if I make something like that."

Layla Rudneva-Mackay's work at Artspace is a large photograph of a figure trapped face down under the mattress of a bed.

The title work is a video of Korean artist Kim Beom talking to a rock in a classroom. Beom seems to have made a career out of Joseph Beuys' How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare. Maybe Anne Tolley could learn something.

Another Beuys work was a cycle of drawings he claimed was an extension, requested by the author, of James Joyce's Ulysses.

Walters Prize judge Vicente Todoli said Dan Arps' work was "a development of a concept first created by James Joyce in Ulysses, which is the epiphany of everyday life ..."

In the side room at Artspace, Arps has modified an insulated container.

A conversation with Dan Arps. "I've got a little cave going on."

Are you going to make it more cave like or will it be a room like that? "You know I'm kind of just making this up as I go along. Yep."

So you've got the space and ...? "I was kind of interested in the idea you have like, something that is one thing on one side and something quite different on the other side. So it's a facade and kind of illusionistic, kind of riffing on the way theme parks operate with almost full-scale representation of things, and everything is like a facade."

Have you spent much time in theme parks? "I've never been to a theme park. This is my way of going to a theme park. It's kind of the Against Nature way of working. I just make it for myself. There's probably going to be a few other things going on.

"The idea was that I have a mock Tudor face on the other side. I really like mock Tudor because it's like really hard modernism, like brutalism or something, and then it has this obviously thin facade layered over the top and what that does is connect it to a history so it's like a facade of being connected to a history."

So how will this relate to your Walters Prize entry?

"I kind of think of my work as being a separate thing from myself. The work comes from this other world so we say this thing comes from the same universe as the things in the Walters.

"The aesthetic will be similar. There's a kind of similar dirtiness, there's a similar approach to materials."

Or non approach? "Non-approach."

It's a bit more composed isn't it? "I wouldn't necessarily say that. I think the Walters Prize is very, very composed. I guess this has a much more directed narrative flow than the Walters Prize, maybe that's what you are getting at."


What: The Rock That Was Taught It Was a Bird, by Dan Arps, Kim Beom, Layla Rudneva-Mackay & Koki Tanaka

Where and when: Artspace, Karangahape Rd, to November 20

Published October 23
  Private agendas invade public space
NZ Herald December 8

As you pen that memo or email or confidential report, just ask yourself: What if this turned up on Wikileaks?

That's the position thousands of United States diplomats, lowly embassy officials and State Department staffers, not to mention the CIA agents secreted amongst them, must now be asking as the internet-based media organisation sets about publishing 251,287 leaked US embassy cables dating from 1966 to the end of February.

It's going to take some time. A week in and only about 1000 are up so far: like old magazines in waiting rooms, many will include stories that have lost their currency.

They may be useful for historians wanting to get a head start on their projects, without having to wait for such documents to find their way into the archives and then be declassified.

Others may cast light on current conflicts and embarrass some actors.

One aspiring German politician has already had to quit after admitting he was the party up-and-comer who went to the American embassy to deliver a detailed briefing on what was happening in coalition negotiations.

Wikileaks says the trove "will give people around the world an unprecedented insight into US government foreign activities".

Spying on allies and the United Nations, turning a blind eye to corruption and human rights abuses in "client" states, lobbying for US corporations and well-connected individuals - it's not that we don't know that's what they are up to.

The hysterical reaction by the US political and media establishment to Wikileaks is revealing and has wider implications.

A staffer for Joe Lieberman, who chairs the Senate's homeland security committee, asked Amazon why it was hosting the material, and the firm cut off the feed immediately.

Wikileaks tweeted: "If Amazon are so uncomfortable with the First Amendment, they should get out of the business of selling books."

Buying hosting from Amazon may have been part of a deliberate strategy to test the resolve, or the rhetoric, of such organisations.

Students have been warned they may blight their prospects of a career in government if they links to Wikileak documents, even though study of such raw material might be good training for anyone with such aspirations.

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has leak problems of his own, with prosecution files on the alleged rape cases against him in Sweden being released to the media.

Calls to, in some cases quite literally, "kill the messenger" have meant the substance of the leaks disappears.

The "Collateral Murder" footage of an American helicopter shooting up civilians and reporters on a Baghdad street belied the relentless Hollywood war porn and the language of "surgical strikes" and "surges".

The field reports from Iraq show American fingerprints all over the descent into a bloody ethnic civil war in 2004 and 2005, as tactics used in El Salvador were transferred over.

One of the great historians of our times, Chalmers Johnson, who died last month, said in Blowback that Americans are surprised when people attack them because they don't know what is being done in their name.

Wikileaks trades in raw documents, not editorial opinion. The internet allows a review process - if decisions were made on the basis of this raw material, were they the right decisions?

The Wikileaks saga has implications for anyone who wants to use the internet as a medium to publish, do business or conduct political debates.

That space for debate is now not a public forum but one owned by private companies, who may have their own agendas.

Internet service providers should be switches, not censors. But politicians see them as the throat to choke when they can't throttle critics.

The negotiations in Auckland this week for the Trans-Pacific Agreement on trade has also rung alarm bells on internet management.

The US has joined in the talks and New Zealand officials fear they are trying to import into the document some of the conditions on intellectual property and internet usage which have been kept out of ACTA, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement negotiated in Wellington this year.

According to a paper leaked via US consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, the New Zealand negotiators warned of "a tendency towards overprotection of IP in all our societies, particularly in the areas of copyright and patents".

They say intellectual property rights that are too strong detract from innovation rather than promote it.

Rights holders, such as the big music companies, are seeking more intrusive international rules on copyright. Treaties such as the World Intellectual Property Organisation Copyright Treaty provide stricter digital enforcement measures that are based on traditional concepts of copyright protection.

These treaties "have limited ability to recognise the reality of emerging new business models and new ways of consuming creative works via the internet", the paper says.

Such leaks give us a useful window into how decisions are being made that affect us all. They may even be welcomed by some negotiators as a way to get open dialogue with affected groups, getting round the constraints of official diplomacy.
  U2's costly tour envy of Irish Govt
By the time U2 finishes its 360° world tour in Pittsburgh next July, it's expected it will have generated about $1 billion in revenue.

That makes U2 one of the only bankable businesses left in Ireland (even if it now does its banking in Holland for tax reasons), and allows it to invest in the spectacle that draws people out to the stadiums.

It was the spectacle, or rather the technology behind the spectacle, that drew me to Mt Smart last week.

Dell wanted to show me how its workstations get used to process the video which gives those back in the stands something to look at.

Going over the lip of the bowl and I'm struck by the Claw, the 50-metre high, four-legged steel rig which holds the speakers and cylindrical video screen over the circular stage.

In the twilight Jay-Z was haranguing the crowd, his sound punched out by the Clair sound system, which is billed as the largest speaker assemblage in touring history.

The tour is U2's first in a 12-year deal with the promoter Live Nation, so expect them back before 2020.

Jay-Z's hits done, a swarm of black-clad elves cover the stage quickly hustling away kit and dismantling platforms to reveal U2's waiting amps - despite the millions of dollars in digital kit hidden away underneath the stage, the core of the sound is going to be the wood and wires of The Edge's smorgasbord of classic guitars processed at the first instance through Vox amps.

The sun drops over the horizon, Bowie's Space Oddity comes over the PA, the lights come up, the band comes on, all cocky strut and big gesture, the crowd goes into its roar.

Bono immediately sets off on a tour of the ramps which are connected to the main stage by two moving bridges.

Wireless connections mean bands are no longer tethered to their amplifiers, and Bono makes the most of it to preserve the illusion of intimacy among such a big crowd.

Cameras run on rails along the edge, sucking in images to be projected high above on the LED screen.

On previous tours U2 cancelled shows because of weather damage to video screens.

The 500,000 LED pixels in the transforming screen are weather resistant, and they're made up into elongated hexagonal segments mounted in a way that allows them to spread apart with a scissor-like motion during parts of the concert.

As well as live footage from the 14 cameras, the crew back in the tower mix in footage from previous concerts, news images, colour effects, and, after the performance of One Tree Hill, a roll call of the 29 miners killed at Pike River.

The tour's architect, Mark Fisher, told CNET News that while in general the technology behind U2 360° isn't new, the way it's being used is, from the large number of computers and electric motors that control the motion of the screen and the moving lights to the computers that map the video picture on to the transforming screen.

"All of this automation and programming is possible because the computers available in 2009 (when the tour started) are more powerful and cheaper than they were when we created the Vertigo tour in 2005," Fisher said.

After the Vertigo tour U2 ended its relationship with Apple Computer, opening up opportunities for other vendors.

Dell's contribution includes off-the-shelf, rack-mounted Precision workstations that allow the crew to work with raw footage back in their hotel room, rather than be tied to the control room, as was the case with the earlier generation of custom-built systems.

While the high tech images are going off above, all around me people are using their phones to record stills or video grabs whenever Bono or The Edge or Adam Clayton or even Larry Mullen come out on to the ramps.

Such technology means the days of camera and recorder bans are well over.

Bono uses the ubiquity of cameras to provide light during the encore of Ultraviolet (Light My Way) - a step up from the cigarette lighter spectaculars of yore, but probably still making a contribution to the concert's massive carbon footprint.

In total, the tour is expected to generate as much carbon as flying a passenger plane to Mars - for which the band has bought offsets.
  Open source feats to be proud of
NZ Herald November 24

When Rob O'Callahan moved home to New Zealand five years ago, there was a feeling of pride in this country's small open source community at his achievements.

Like many of our top computer science students, O'Callahan had gone overseas to further his education.

Between finishing his doctorate and working in places like IBM's Watson research laboratory, he made significant contributions to the Mozilla project, which developed the Firefox browser out of the bloodied ruins of Netscape.

O'Callahan is the first winner of the University of Auckland Clinton Bedogni Prize for Open Systems, given as part of this year's New Zealand Open Source Awards.

O'Callahan got involved in open source while doing a PhD in software development research.

"I had no experience actually doing software development. I was feeling a bit of a fraud, so I got involved.

"I also believed in what Mozilla was doing, that there needed to be competition in the browser market," he said.

Mozilla grew out of the open sourcing of the Netscape code base after that company lost out to Microsoft's market power in what were known as the browser wars of the 1990s.

O'Callahan has played a major hand in developing Mozilla's Gecko layout engine.

"Most open source projects have a bug database, with lists of known bugs ... and there was a bug entry about text justification, where a Netscape developer said 'this is likely to be hard'.

"I said 'How hard can it be?' and a few months later I emerged with something that worked. It was hard, but I enjoyed doing it.

"I started taking over responsibility for bits and pieces, rewrote some nasty code and then became the authority for those areas."

He now works for Mozilla, managing the team that works on how web pages display items.

Mozilla's small Newmarket office also includes developers working on how video and audio works in the browser.

The job came soon after he moved back home.

"I was a contributor for five years and proved myself that way. It then becomes an easy decision to ring you and say 'We'll pay you to work full time on this'."

O'Callahan says it was humbling to win the Bedogni prize.

"It's sort of weird to have an award for an individual contribution to open source because it's such a community effort. I feel incredibly lucky to write software and get paid for it, and even to give it away," he said.

"Also, I think of all those people like me who spend a lot of time doing this as a hobby or on a voluntary basis.

"It means there is probably something else they are not doing. You are taking time away from family, from other people, so I also have to thank all those other people for bearing with us."

Wellington firm SilverStripe, which won the open source project category, also relies on the worldwide community formed around its content management system.

The firm developed the SilverStripe CMS to support the side of the business it gets its revenue from, which is developing websites.

It has since been downloaded more than 300,000 times.

Chief executive Brian Calhoun says it uses the BSD licence, which allows people to modify it for commercial use.

"We open ourselves up to the world, say 'Use it any way you want, you don't have to tell us, you don't have to pay us,' and that has an interesting effect.

"People have responded with feedback, with patches, with feature requests and new development, with showcase sites they have given back to the community," Calhoun said.

"Over time we are getting more developers who aren't SilverStripe employees contributing to the core product."

He estimates about 12 per cent of his firm's time is spent on open source work, such as adding new features or testing patches developed by the community.

Calhoun says open source is a pure meritocracy, which can lead to payment and careers.

"If you are a motivated developer and play with (SilverStripe), you get involved, you talk to our developers on email groups, if you make good suggestions, your ideas will get into the product."

He says winning the prize was humbling, especially since SilverStripe was up against statistical language R (whose instigator, Ross Ihaka from Auckland University, won the Catalyst Lifetime Achievement Award).

"It's testament to the strength of our community, the pride of our community," he said.

The People's Choice award went to Amie McCarron for the websites she built for Alcoholics Anonymous.

McCarron has built her Bluebubble Design business around the Joomla open source content management system to build and maintain her sites.

"Most of my clients are artists and non-profits, so cost is an issue. Using open source means I only need to charge for my time," McCarron said.
  Risk in turning back regulatory clock
NZ Herald November 10

Bill English's response to New Zealand's third placing in the World Bank's survey of the best countries to do business in was instructive.

While attributing the result in part to the quality of our regulatory frameworks, the finance minister suggested improvement could come from cutting red tape - ie, less regulation.

Regulatory reform is, of course, the portfolio of Rodney Hide, who has yet to meet a regulation he likes. Steven Joyce intends to go one step further, changing the Telecommunications Act to remove partners to his Ultra-Fast Broadband Initiative from Commerce Commission scrutiny for the first 10 years.

These guys are hard wired against regulation, which is why we still have an unhealthy dependence on a hard-wired copper network.

The previous National-led government's failure to regulate meant the owners of Telecom were able to extract monopoly rents from existing infrastructure, while moving aggressively to stomp on challengers.

This approach actually made it vulnerable to technological shifts, as it sacrificed future growth in the pursuit of sweating the last drop out of existing assets. It also allowed Vodafone, taking advantage of Telecom's wrong choice of technology, to dominate the mobile phone market.

The result of this cosy duopoly has been high prices for both fixed and mobile services, and a lower level of broadband speeds and use than could be expected from New Zealand's history of early adoption.

Asked by internet New Zealand to analyse the proposal, lawyer Michael Wrigley concluded that Joyce's proposals would breach New Zealand's international legal obligations under the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) and be out of line with Apec's best practice guidelines, which both call for an independent regulator for all telecommunications services.

Joyce said his officials rejected the Wigley opinion, and that local fibre companies would in fact be regulated by way of contract, with Crown Fibre Holdings setting pricing through a competitive tender process.

Internet NZ chief executive Vikram Kumar agreed that there would be regulation, with the argument being which arm of government would do it: Crown Fibre Holdings or the Commerce Commission.

"Is it the independent arm or the investment arm? There are good public policy and legal reasons for it to be the telecommunications commissioner," Kumar says.

He says other countries have been able to attract investors without shielding them from ongoing price scrutiny, so it's strange for New Zealand to be so out of step.

Getting the price or services right is important because people need to see the value of switching.

"We really want [the Ultra-Fast Broadband Initiative] to succeed. We don't know what the Government's plan is for people to migrate from copper to fibre. It might be hidden in the procurement negotiations, but there is a big danger that in the hurry to get fibre out they will turn the regulatory clock backwards, and the gains of the past few years (since the passing of the Telecommunications Act 2006) will just wash away.

"The Government is creating unnecessary risk."

But there are people in Government who do get technology and want the rest of us to get it, too.

Digital New Zealand, part of the National Library, is one of a number of government and private sector groups behind the Great NZ Mix and Mash Competition, which aims to encourage the use of existing free digital content and data to tell New Zealand stories.

The contest's categories include remixing a poem from words and images, a poster design for the great Kiwi summer holiday and an open category.

Andy Neale from Digital NZ says the remix idea is in the spirit of the creative commons, where previous material could be used legitimately to create something new.

"The mash-up side is to encourage the development of new software applications that use public data, so that encourages Government to release data in ways people can reuse," Neale says.

He says the Obama Administration's initiative is creating interest worldwide in the sorts of data that governments collect and how it can be made accessible.

"The thinking goes it is not enough to release data; you have to encourage the use of it," says Neale, whose group was a finalist in this year's New Zealand Open Source Awards.

He says new devices such as tablets and smartphones are creating demand for applications which pull together data from multiple sources.

Entries close on November 30.

One of the judges, Nat Torkington, says the work done by the Digital Ninjas group over the past year has encouraged central and local government agencies to think about how they release their data.

Contestants can look at catalogue sites such as for material to mash up.
  Website usability team keeps you in mind
A bad website can generate frustration or anger. It creates a prejudice against the organisation whose brand it carries.

A bad application will die in the marketplace. A bad chair can cripple you. A badly designed car can kill you.

Usability, that combination of design and build that determines whether an appliance, software application or website becomes part of our lives, has often been a neglected part of New Zealand design.

Optimum Usability makes a business out of improving the experience of users.

It's growing fast as New Zealand organisations wise up to the limitations of the No8 wire mentality - the Taranaki gate may be okay for a little-used paddock but it's not what you need outside the milking shed.

Chief executive Trent Mankelow says the field has only taken off in New Zealand in the past decade, and he estimates there are only about 50 or 60 usability experts here.

"We were the first decent-sized usability consultancy when we started in 2003. In Australia, Telstra established a usability team in 1991, so we were far behind," he says.

He believes that as people start looking seriously at usability, things such as websites have improved.

"The quality of web design has improved because of the success of simple sites like Google."

About 70 per cent of his company's work is structuring websites or designing internet applications. It also designs retail stores, interfaces for automatic teller machines, information kiosks, iPhones, in-car navigation systems and even paper forms.

"We're starting to do more of that ... You need to understand the context in which something is used, and try to make sure it's intuitive."

He says the trend to multi-channel and cross-channel service, whereby organisations interact with customers in person and over the phone, email, websites and texting, creates challenges to ensure people get a consistent experience.

"For a long time we were mainly doing user work, but we are moving more to design where we can give more value to customers."

The shift to people accessing the internet on mobile devices and smartphones means website and application designers have to think about usability for a range of platforms. User expectations play a big part. Increasingly, if people see an information screen in a public place they will approach it as if it were a touchscreen - and get a trifle annoyed if they find it needs a keyboard and mouse to access.

In business applications, older users may still look for keyboard shortcuts while younger ones reach for the mouse.

"We will find that more people expect to be able to do swiping and pinching type of gestures.

"Devices are also becoming context aware. They are packed with sensors to measure motion or pressure or location. There's a Nokia phone out which, if you're on a call, will reject another incoming call if you turn it upside down.

"The essence of usability is asking, 'Who are the users, what are their goals, and what is the context of use?' When you find a system that is unusable, the designer has probably not understood the answers to those questions.

"They might understand all the information that needs to be on an immigration form, but they might forget the context - that this might need to be filled in in a dimly lit airline cabin."

Optimum Usability has been thinking a lot about travelling in its work for Air New Zealand. As well as looking at check-in facilities, it also helped design the Skycouch, which allows economy-class passengers to lie flat during flights.

It also worked on Snapper, the electronic ticket system used in Wellington. "We helped them figure out how to improve the on-bus experience. There used to be this annoying message when you tagged on, reminding you to tag off when you left the bus."

The next person on the bus could not swipe their card until the message cleared, causing interruptions to passenger flow. "We ended up replacing the message with a beep when the signal had cleared, and people loved Snapper for it."

The company is also turning its attention to service design, trying to understand why customer service in New Zealand is so bad.

Many of the company's staff are recruited from Europe and the United States. "We find it hard to find qualified New Zealanders. Usability consultants have a range of qualifications - we have cartographers, graphic designers, sociologists, psychologists.

"We're looking for experience and a sense of curiosity and empathy, and the ability to question how people use things and to find how to make them work better."
  Open source awards source of pride
NZ Herald October 27

It's time for the annual New Zealand Open Source Awards, and the 31 finalists show an extraordinary range of innovation and collaboration.

Among the three nominations for best open source project are: SilverStripe, a New Zealand-made content management system that has been downloaded more than 325,000 times globally in less than four years; Kete, a digital library project, and R, a programming language and software environment that has become the lingua franca for statistical computing and graphics.

Ross Ihaka from the University of Auckland started developing R 20 years ago, but it took off about a decade ago as the internet picked up speed. He said the university wanted to commercialise it.

"We got as far as buying a book on business and we could have gone that way and there would have been half a dozen people in Auckland using the software. Now there are thousands," Ihaka says.

He says open sourcing it means some of the best brains on the planet help to maintain and develop it. "These guys are at a level where money is not a motivation."

R was developed when statisticians had far less computing power to work with, and Ihaka is now working on tools to handle the data rates of today and tomorrow.

"We are now getting exabytes of information. Numbers flow in like a river. You have to reduce it down to something you can handle with a computer."

Nominations in the open source use in business category include Ponoko, which describes itself as the hub of a global personal manufacturing eco-system that brings together creators, digital fabricators, materials suppliers and buyers.

Co-founder David Ten Have says apart from using open source software to build its applications, Ponoko uses the same principles to change the design business.

"We use creative commons licences so we encourage designers to use open source to get their names out there. Obscurity is a greater risk than foregoing licensing revenue."

He says it's expensive and difficult for new designers to get licences or patents, and there is next to no certainty they would be respected.

"For things like medical products or drugs they are totally appropriate, but not for young designers."

Ponoko makes money through manufacturing and materials. Designed as an international company, it has production nodes in Wellington, Oakland, Milan, Berlin and London making things such as electronics, jewelry, and even models for architects.

Ten Have says there are now about 30,000 users. "We are starting to see users getting high five-figure and six-figure revenue," he says.

With Ponoko, people can start businesses carrying only a few weeks of inventory and can get access to expensive equipment like laser cutters.

Another firm bringing open source to business is Adaxa, which has pulled together a complete suite of applications including enterprise resource planning, customer relations, document management, web-content management, business intelligence and telephony.

Founder Peter Milsom was working as a consultant, advising blue chip companies on systems and implementation, when he came across an open source accounting package called Compiere. "I went up to Boston in 2003 and did the training, and we became partners," he says.

Milson said he was struggling to find solutions that left enough room for new initiatives, once clients had finished paying for licences and installation.

"As the web started to emerge as a business environment, you also had disjunctive licensing schemes where you were paying per processor, so when you wanted to head out to the web it was hard to formulate an economic answer."

He says the Adaxa Suite aims to meet about 90 per cent of the common needs of 90 per cent of businesses. The other 10 per cent is where the company pays for its lunch, by providing professional services such as installing software and training users. Also, any extensions made to users' products get put back into the original project, so the suite grows in power and scope.

Development was done initially under Milsom's McBoss label, but he swapped it for part of Australian firm Adaxa to get the business going further, faster.

Resolve Digital, which has offices in Christchurch and San Francisco, is nominated for the contribution it is making to Refinery, a content-management system for developers who use Ruby on Rails to build their web applications.

Developer Philip Arndt says Resolve developed Refinery because it couldn't find a suitable CMS for the websites and applications it was building for clients, and open sourced it in May last year.

"Since then, about 60 or 70 programmers have contributed to the code, so it's a win win for us and our clients," says Arndt.

He says Refinery is user-focused: "Our clients can do quite sophisticated stuff to maintain their own websites without having to come back to us."

The winners will be announced on November 9. Vote on the People's Choice category at
  Beat the Hackers
Published NZ Herald October 20

You've been hacked. What do you do? Who do you call?

It's good to know before time, because you can waste a lot of time, and do a lot of damage to your systems and your organisation if you don't, according to Paul Craig, the lead forensic incident responder at

There are people out there who will hack into your system with criminal intent.

There are people who do it for fun, or so they can skite about it on sites like - which will point other people to your servers, your databases and your credit card numbers if you don't move fast to secure them.

Craig says most hacking now starts with web applications, because the firewalls that aim to stem other types of network intrusion are now almost ubiquitous.

Once a server has been hacked, people need to work out what the hacker has done in the system, whether they have taken anything or made queries on the database, whether they have left any back doors so they can come in later.

Craig says a common response to being hacked is the worst one.

"People say, 'We've reformatted the servers, reinstalled from back-ups, the crisis was averted.'

"What they've actually done is destroyed forensic evidence, and they have no way to find out what the hacker has done."

He says in one New Zealand government agency where was called in, the security manager was unaware the website had been defaced.

The content manager was, but just restored from back-ups whenever it happened.

Craig says once he ran all the available data through his tools and in effect recreated what had happened by automatically sifting through gigabytes of logs to find out what, when and who, he discovered eight separate hackers had exploited a vulnerability in the DotNetNuke web content management system.

Hacker five had listed his exploit on, where hacking government sites earns extra points, and hackers six, seven and eight followed the link in.

He recommends organisations sort out their business processes and technical response before they get hacked.

If they identify a preferred forensic supplier, one with the trained staff, the equipment and the processes to do the job right, they can have emergency response numbers, pre-signed non-disclosure agreements and to-do lists in place if the worst happens.

Digital evidence degrades over time, so it's important to move fast.

Craig says if a server is hacked, leave it on and connected to the internet. That means the forensic examiner can look at logs and routing tables and get an accurate picture.

Action may need to be taken so the machine does not restart. That means disabling any automated shut-downs or patch routines.

If the incident responder can't get there for a few days, get a new one - and rip the power cord out of the wall.

"Don't do a shut down. When Windows shuts down, it clears a lot of volatile information," Craig says.

It's good if organisations know what their incident responder needs and have it ready. They will be paying big money for forensics, maybe $2000-plus a day, so why waste it by having the person wandering the building chasing up network topography maps and server logs.

Craig says he is still waiting for the job that leads to a successful prosecution.

If the hack came from New Zealand or Australia, that would be relatively simple, but most hacks come from places where local law enforcement doesn't seem inclined to chase down the culprits - such as when he identified a United States-based hacker who was even using his smartphone to grab credit card numbers.

And if the hacker comes from China, there may be a prosecution - but the sentence is to be drafted in to the army's cyberwar division.
An online possie for Adam Gifford, a New Zealand journalist specialising in information technology, Maori news and the arts.

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