Thursday, February 17, 2011
  Miners' Requiem by John Madden
Published NZ Herald February 12

Two weeks before the explosion at Pike River Mine, John Madden completed a painting of a mine rescue team, the "proto" men, waiting to go in. The son and grandson of West Coast coalminers, Madden has often painted mine themes, alongside his raw-boned investigations of the New Zealand landscape.

"When I first showed that proto painting, my speech was, 'Don't forget it can happen again,"' he says.

Growing up in Greymouth, Madden thought he was heading for a life in the mines, and he has worked underground. Mine miscellanea is scattered through his studio in bush above Karekare - his father's pick and banjo shovel, a helmet, old family photographs of uncles at Denniston and Burnett's Face, torn out newspaper articles and photographs, a proto breathing mask.

Outside, the jim crow he used to bend the rails for Barry Brickell's Driving Creek railway hangs off the side of a steel coal skip.

"Feel the thickness of that steel," he says. "When the Strongman Mine blew [in 1967], the steel wagons were shredded in the explosion. Rails were bent. Those explosions travel at twice the speed of sound through those tunnels, and they went around twice - through the workings and back out again."

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That's why he was mystified by the attempt to keep alive the hope of a "rescue" at Pike River. "Every mining son knew at that first bang they were dead, and why they carried on for days I don't know."

Madden had considered applying for a job as a roof bolter at Pike River - the six-figure salary would buy a lot of paint - but was warned off by a cousin still in the industry.

In response to the disaster, he painted a cross made up of the number 29 repeated. "I was driving along and it came to me. I couldn't wait to get home, sit there with a bottle of wine, and then it's done. Then you're disappointed because [the act of painting] is over, and you want it to go on."

What kept Madden away from the mines was an early exposure to art. He remembers Toss Woollaston coming to the door to sell the family Rawleigh's health products. "I saw his eyes and never forgot them, they just looked right through you."

But it was potter Yvonne Rust who first spotted his potential when as a third former he came into the art room at Greymouth High School.

"I was a loner. Rather than playing rugby on the weekend I preferred being in the bush with my dogs. She took me under her wing and next thing I was down at the old brewery where Barry Brickell in his little shorts was building a coal-fired kiln.

"My parents thought she was a witch. Sure, we did have sake after work and homemade bread and cheeses I'd never had before. Yvonne used to say, 'you're not a potter, you're an artist'."

Madden no longer works with clay - it was hard to sustain the collective effort required to keep a wood-fired kiln going for a week, and the bricks now lie scatted behind the studio - but the scattered pots display the same elemental forces he tried to capture in his paintings.

The work is clearly in the Bernard Leach-Shoji Hamada vein that influenced that pioneering generation of New Zealand studio potters, although Madden ruefully notes he seems to be missed out of the histories and major collections.

"People didn't get my pots. You had to approach them, they didn't seduce you. That's where it failed in New Zealand, because people want to be seduced ... the 'wow' factor."

When Madden left the West Coast he headed to Nelson and the home of Toss and Edith Woollaston. "What I learned from Toss was how to live as a painter. I arrived on their front lawn in my Volkswagen just as the petrol coughed out. I knocked on the door and said, 'Yvonne Rust sent me'."

By the end of the evening he'd been asked to stay on as a sort of unpaid "batman", making the coffee, keeping the fire stoked up, and driving the painter round.

"He fancied me as well. I was a beautiful young man, and he was writing [the autobiography] Sage Tea at the time.

"I stayed a year, and then I wanted to find a place for my pottery and painting, and found it in Whangamoa."

He was there for 20 years in an old house on a rough block that had been the site of a failed ohu commune, living off the land, digging clay and providing a haven for other artists.

Twenty years ago he came to Karekare to build a house for friends, met the mother of his children and stayed. He rejects comparison of his landscapes to Woollaston. Madden owes less debt to Cubism and hammers the underlying landscape harder.

As the cicadas sing their summer symphony, he talks about the mystery of painting.

"By the time I come to do the next painting it's like I have no idea and it feels like I have never painted before and I leave that naivete in myself. I don't write things down, I don't note colours, I just go by instinct.

"There's this interview with Colin McCahon where the interviewer says, 'I suppose you're just painting, painting, painting?' and there's this drawn out silence before he says, 'There's more looking, looking, looking in painting, the painting is very brief, it passes very quickly.' I had to learn that one too.

"I watched Woollaston do this massive Wellington landscape. He was just sitting there, and he picked up this tiny little brush, put a little bit of white on it, walked over to this massive wild work, makes a mark, and says, 'We're finished for today. We'll go for a drive up Mapua now.'

"I was awestruck, and I thought, now I get a little bit more. I spend up lot of time just sitting up in the studio ... thinking about where to go next."


What: Miners' Requiem by John Madden; 20pc of sales will go to the Pike River Fund

Where and when: Orexart, Upper Khartoum Place, to February 26
By Adam Gifford | Email Adam
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
  Rural broadband scheme destructive
John Key says he wants to "streamline and improve" bureaucracy.

Bill English says the country can't afford waffly policy.

Great. They can do away with the Ministry of Economic Development. That should save billions and get rid of policy that is not only waffly but downright destructive.

The decision to start commercial negotiations with Telecom and Vodafone about handing over $285 million to improve rural broadband services is a case in point.

Either the ministry supplied bad advice to Communications and Information Technology Minister Steven Joyce, or it is shielding a decision he made for his own political or philosophical reasons.

Because be in no doubt, this is a bad decision that will not only saddle rural areas with sub-standard service, it will entrench existing monopolies and blight international standing as a place to invest or do business.

The group which may have the biggest stake in improved rural broadband, Federated Farmers, isn't happy.

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It's trying to get Joyce along to a "solutions summit" with the successful and unsuccessful bidders, industry experts and other stakeholders, to thrash out the issues under Chatham House rules.

The most positive thing the Feds drew from the announcement was the promise to retender if the contracts can't be finalised by the end of March.

The successful plan will extend Telecom's fibre network to 719 rural schools and to 154 new cellphone towers that Vodafone will build.

Apart from the schools, the other 250,000 potential customers will have to connect through either ADSL on Telecom's copper network, or through wireless connections.

Joyce is promising at least 5 megabits per second to 86 per cent of rural homes and businesses.

Federated Farmers wants at least double that speed, for around $60 a month retail.

In reality the proposed solution may deliver 1 mbps.

Joyce says the joint Vodafone/Telecom proposal is based on proven, existing technology, giving the government confidence it will work.

He says it will ensure serious competition in the last mile, giving many customers a choice of fixed wireless, ADSL2+ or mobile broadband, and was the only one that increases mobile coverage.

Joyce said it with a straight face, although he does have a tendency to smirk when he's putting across something particularly outrageous. But he didn't make his fortune in radio by relying on outdated technology.

The unsuccessful bids, from the OpenGate consortium with Kordia, Woosh and FX Networks and from the Maori-backed Torotoro Waea group, were based on deploying 4th generation technology called TD-LTE.

Joyce says it's risky, while giving his preferred partners five years to roll out more of the old 3G kit that has so far failed to do the job.

A generational step in technology is exponential rather than incremental. LTE stands for long term evolution - this stuff has been a decade in development, so the bugs have been worked out of it.

TD, or time division, is a variant on LTE developed by China Mobile that runs on cheaper spectrum bands.

LTE has much faster speeds than the solution Joyce wants to lumber farmers with - easily 50 to 100 times faster - and it has a larger coverage area, with a single cell tower covering up to 100km. It can also support more users in an area.

One of the reasons it took so long to develop was future proofing. Networks were designed so it can be easily upgraded in future.

The equipment is cheaper, it works better, and it uses less power.

OpenGate would have its network complete in two years, not five, delivering more than Federated Farmers was asking for at the price it was seeking.

So why give a mountain of cash to two transnational companies with a record of failure in rural New Zealand?

Telecom has been subsidised for years through the Kiwishare to supply rural service, and has done the least it could get away with to keep the 111 service going.

Vodafone hasn't invested any fresh capital in New Zealand since it bought Bellsouth's network, merely reinvesting some profits and taking advantage of poor regulation to lock in customers.

The big loser in this, apart from rural New Zealanders, is 2Degrees.

Its investors have sunk close to half a billion dollars creating a mobile network, despite an extraordinary unwillingness on the part of the politicians to address barriers to competition that would be considered illegal in other countries.

Now Joyce is offering a dollar for dollar subsidy - to the multinationals using anticompetitive tactics to lock it out.

Call in the World Trade Organisation.
  Demands in city pipeline
Published NZ Herald February 16

With the super city a reality, there is a hunger for some big projects to turn Auckland from a disconnected series of villages into a properly functioning metropolis.

"City shaping is primarily transport. Other infrastructure tends to follow," says Stephen Selwood, chief executive of the New Zealand Council for Infrastructure Development.

Big projects include: completion of the western ring route, including the Waterview tunnel, over the next five years; completing the inner city rail route, the final piece of the commuter rail in the city; and the Auckland-Manukau Eastern Transport Initiative (AMETI) to improve connections between Auckland's south eastern suburbs and Manukau.

If that's done by 2025, a new harbour bridge needs to be built.

Mr Selwood believes getting consent will likely be a bigger challenge than engineering and construction.

"If you add up all those projects and consider conventional funding, existing taxes, road user charges and so on, there is a $5 billion funding gap over 20 years," he says.

"The only way to bridge that is user pays on the roading networks. Though councils and government can borrow, there are limits."

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The projects will call for professionals, including engineers, construction workers, lawyers and bankers.

There will be operations and maintenance staff to manage the new infrastructure.

"The industry has no reservations about its ability to meet that need and it has a track record of expertise and capacity," Mr Selwood says.

"Five years ago there were questions about how it would cope with the increase in workload with current projects, but it has not been an issue. Things were tight at times, but it managed.

"Any cost increases have been the result in the change of scope of projects, rather than the inputs."

The strong caveat, says Mr Selwood, is that there needs to be certainty of timing, phasing and funding for the industry to be confidence enough to invest in the people and training required to get up to speed.

"It's not fair on people if a workforce has to be laid off because there are gaps in the pipeline. We can't afford that socially or economically."

"These are big projects on a global scale, so there is global interest. Chinese, French and other European firms are among those looking, but their interest will be conditional on there being that certainty.

"We have a tendency in New Zealand to find reasons why not. We say we don't have the money, we don't have the resources. If you say that, that's what you get."

He's worried the new council may come up with a motherhood and apple pie spatial plan, rather than trying to tackle real questions about what needs to be done and how it will be funded.

At Auckland University's Centre for Infrastructure Research, director Dr Jim Bentley is looking for ways to improve how infrastructure is built and managed.

As a former chief executive of Metrowater, Dr Bentley has personal experience of running an Auckland infrastructure service provider.

"I perceived it was difficult to find the right knowledge and skills to make good infrastructure decisions across their range and across their lifecycle," he says.

The challenge is often measuring value for money - reducing wastewater overflow onto beaches is good, but how much is it worth to society? How good does a solution need to be? Fixing 90 per cent of a problem may be enough, or all a city can afford.

"Answering those sorts of questions needs more than an engineering, construction or planning approach. It needs all of those things together," Dr Bentley says.

The centre also pulls in expertise in economics and management.

Dr Bentley says critical infrastructure decisions are often made by mid-level managers rather than at the boardroom or senior management-level.

Giving those managers value-for-money tests and tools can have a big impact on the public purse.

In Auckland, the fact there are now single organisations with regional responsibility for water and transport should allow for more integrated planning and development.

Dr Bentley says the centre wants to establish executive education teaching broader decision-making for managers.

"I think there is a gap there rather than with engineering skills.

"We have competent engineering schools, but the gap is turning those engineers into good infrastructure decision-makers."
By Adam Gifford | Email Adam
  Mobile browsers give power to the people
Published NZ Herald February 9

At Xero's partner conference in Taupo at the weekend, the online accounting software provider demonstrated taking pictures of invoices or receipts with a mobile phone camera and sending them to their Xero account.

This will be the year business embraces smartphones, and that means some hard choices for software developers.

Do they create versions of their applications to be downloaded on to the iPhone, the Android, the Windows phone or whatever, or do they make sure their web applications work on phone browsers?

Xero's Rod Drury is firmly in the latter camp, but he's willing to create a native phone application when there is no other choice.

"We see mobile as an extension of our core platform. It may seem attractive to go in and develop pure mobile applications, but it's hard to think of ones which will be an enduring business.

"We have built our (Xero web) application in HTML5, but you can't access some features in the hardware like the camera," Drury says.

"It's a nice compromise. We maintain our investment in the core platform, but we can deploy specific features as applications and get access to the native phone hardware."

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Xero used an open source mobile development framework called PhoneGap to compile the camera application, which created a positive buzz in Taupo.

"Instead of expense claims meaning a three or four hour catch-up on the last day of the month, people will be able to take a picture of the receipt as they leave the cafe or get out of the taxi in Sydney and send it off to where their accountant can pick it up."

Drury says Xero has largely completed the task of building its accounting engine for the web, and is now looking at more rich features.

"The big direction is mobility so we are asking what are the mobile scenarios our customers will use."

Apart from expense claims, Drury says there is business potential in the fact most phones know where they are.

"We are keen to build a location layer over everything we do. We have enabled geocoding for our contacts.

"That means you can get maps. It also leads to being able to report which regions revenue is coming from."

He says developers need to take advantage of the investment made by companies like Google, rather than try to compete or replicate cloud-based services.

For example, Google Places is overtaking Yellow Pages as a source of business listings.

Matthew Miller from Havelock North-based web development firm Mogul has also been weighing the pros and cons of mobile web apps versus native mobile apps.

He says a native mobile app is best suited for gaming and when the app needs to access hardware features of the device, such as the camera, accelerometer, GPS, or FM radio.

Native mobile apps need to be programmed for each mobile operating system, putting developers on the path of constant maintenance and upgrading as the systems develop.

Because the user downloads the app from the operating system manufacturer's marketplace, the developer must jump through whatever hoops the manufacturer puts up.

In contrast, while a web app working through the phone's browser may not be as well integrated with the device's hardware because it's not written specifically for that device, it's cheaper to develop and maintain ... write once, run anywhere.

It's also easier to program, because universal programming languages like HTML, CSS, and Javascript are used, and increasingly some of the phone or pad-specific features such as geolocation and swipe functionality are built into the languages.

"Native phone app development is inherently riskier than web apps," Miller says.

"Some people call mobile app development a crap shoot, because for the few apps that take off, there are thousands of apps out there that get used once and never again."

He says demand is growing from clients to incorporate mobile devices into their digital strategy, but the big drivers in smartphone uptake are social media such as Twitter and Facebook, and content consumption such as news or celebrity gossip feeds, rather than specific business apps.

"The mobile browsers are a lot more powerful than people give them credit for, so the important thing for developers is to make sites look good on mobile," Miller says.

Mogul has produced a website for the
  12:03 pm 0 comments
  Data dolled up and delivered to the eye
Published NZ Herald February 2

Eight lanes running straight across the Hobson Bay lagoon; Auckland city ahead under a glowering grey sky.
That picture on the front page of the Herald in 2004 spelled the end of the Eastern motorway. It sunk John Banks' first mayoralty and won Richard Simpson and his Action Hobson colleague, Christine Caughey, a term on the Auckland City Council.
"Christine said we needed a picture so people could see what was proposed and engage with it," says Simpson.
As co-founder of one of the first computer graphics companies, Cadabra, Simpson was a dab hand at delivering data to the eye.
Cadabra's innovations included modelling the shade cast by office towers around Auckland and creating visual representations of the effects of the various planning codes governing the central city.
His spell in local government has given him an even greater appetite for using graphics to inform planning decisions.
He's now doing business development for NextSpace,, a company formed out of a partnership between Right Hemisphere and the Ministry of Economic Development to find more applications for Right Hemisphere's world-leading 3D visualisation technology.
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Right Hemisphere's focus is on industries such as aerospace, to which it provides the software now used by companies such as Boeing to render and manage their designs.
"We want to be a catalyst for the expansion of the computer graphics industry here in New Zealand. This could be the next Fonterra," he says.
One of its major projects is the Visual City, creating the next generation of digital tools that cities can use to do their spatial planning. "If we can get this right, there are 1000 cities bigger than Auckland it can be taken into, as well as any number of smaller ones. It's a billion-dollar opportunity for New Zealand Inc."
It's an opportunity our cousins across the Tasman seem receptive to, with a major investment in Virtual Australia. That's part of the wider Digital Earth project that Simpson is also involved in, as the chairman of the International Society for Digital Earth's working committee on the digital city.
NextSpace is working with water authorities in Melbourne and Sydney on projects to upgrade water and sewerage systems. The NextSpace tools allow them to incorporate and correlate any number of rich data sets.
On top of basic topographical maps, LiDAR or airborne laser scans allow them to add in the built environment, with hyperspectral imaging adding further layers of textures.
That means planners can not only get an idea of what sort of ground cover exists but even the types of trees and the likely root patterns which might affect their networks.
"Sydney spends $600 million a year on tree-related problems," Simpson says. "With the greening of cities, a lot of trees were planted along sewer lines and they are getting big now.
"Planning is not a 2D problem, it's a 3D problem." Broadband will add more opportunities for real-time data collection which can be fed into such models.
The new low-pressure sewer networks that South East Water is building in Melbourne will use information collected at street and house level to determine the best times to pump waste out of smaller holding tanks to lower the use of energy.
"With Auckland, there are opportunities to create models in 3D, so people can see what the city might look like in 20 or 30 years. It also allows for the creation of consultation tools so homeowners can see how a development is relevant to them."
One such project Simpson is promoting through visualisation is a bridge over the Auckland Harbour, to mark the Anzac Centenary in 2015.
In some ways, it's a metaphor for what he's trying to do. The current tunnel project is about trying to hide as much of the infrastructure underground as possible - at great expense in construction and maintenance costs - while it doesn't do everything a harbour crossing needs to do.
Simpson says the Visual City model of bringing together a wide range of data and working with it in a more understandable way will improve not only the design process but the consultation required to get public acceptance.
He's concerned the structure developed for the Auckland Super City could encourage the sort of disconnected mentality that precipitated the push for a super city in the first place.
The greater use of geospatial data could be what's needed to break the document-centric approach that locks council thinking into narrow silos, Simpson says.
"The Auckland council, because of its size, should support innovation and local business because part of its mandate is economic growth.
"I'd like to see a [council-controlled organisation] for the Visual City, so it's not just seen as an information technology thing ... this will be the new digital infrastructure."
  11:59 am 0 comments
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