Archive for December, 2006

061216 – Saturday – One month

Friday, December 15th, 2006

Walking back from coffee this morning, I realized that it’s been exactly a month since I arrived here in New Zealand on the 16th of November.

Time is a strange thing – and getting stranger as I age. A month ago, I looked at my watch and it said the 16th, today I look and it says the 16th and it is as if I’ve just reached out and torn a gossamer veil between then and now. ‘Then’ was just a moment ago – hardly any further from me than now – and now will be just a moment away on February 3rd as I’m landing in Seattle having returned from this trip.

Christchurch is a beautiful city. A dynamic brew of old and new. Walking, I’ve several times looked down to see a brass plaque affixed to a small concrete block saying something like, “This tree was planted in 1885 by so-and-so” or “The first game of Rugby was played in this park in 1863“.

Here they have the concept of protected trees. This means that the trees cannot be cut down, pruned or dealt with in any way without obtaining a resource consent from the Council first. And, yet, the city grows and is economically vibrant. Historic buildings and trees co-exist with new flats and office buildings.

They have a bus system which allows you to get to nearly anywhere in the city and it is efficient and cheap – you can ride it all day for $3.80 NZD.

I have been less than happy with my broadband Internet service since I’ve been here. I had the bad luck, apparently, to show up just as they tried a major upgrade to the system and offered new plans. The upgrade seems to have introduced problems and they are having growing pains as their service grows. I’ve called Telecom (the local Internet service provider) and complained about my DSL signal dropping every ten minutes. This has been very frustrating but I have to say that the people I’ve spoken to a Telecom have been uniformly polite and as helpful as they could be, given the unfortunate circumstances. The truth is, I’ve yet to run into anyone unpleasant here in Christchurch.

The good news, at the moment is, however, that one of the people I came in contact with on-line in the course of my agitating on this issue has found a work-around and since I’ve reset my ADSL modem according to his prescription, I’ve had no drops.

Of all the people who immigrate to New Zealand each year, only 2 to 3% of them are from the USA. But, of those I’ve talked to, the majority cite their increasing rejection of the directions the US seems to be going in. The ascendancy of right-wing political and religious conservatism in the US is driving some of her best and brightest away and that’s unfortunate for those who feel driven to leave – and for those who are left behind.

The founding principles of the US are some of the brightest acts of pragmatic idealism in human history. But, things drift and change. The deep hold of basically unfettered Capitalism on the US and the rise of hugely powerful corporations there have diluted what was the best and brightest model of nationhood on the planet. I mourn these changes as all of us who love liberty should.

I’ve been talking with Sharon, my wife, back in the US. She’s stayed home this trip to watch over our nursery business ( Last night, western Washington had a huge wind-storm and she said that this morning, eight of our 54 greenhouse had the plastic ripped right off of them.

The winter weather at home this year has been outrageous, to say the least. As I was leaving in early November, massive rains had driven many of Washington’s rivers over their all time high water flood marks and created huge chaos. Then, a week of two later, they received an enormous snow storm that threatened to crush many of our greenhouses from the weight of the heavy wet snow. Our workers labored all night pulling the snow off the greenhouse tops until there was so much snow gathered in the spaces between the sides of adjacent greenhouses that its weight was beginning to crush them in from the sides. And now, a terrible wind-storm. I feel sorry for and very grateful towards my wife who stayed home to watch things and has had to suffer through all of this while I’m enjoying the Christchurch summer.

For those of you who have discovered the wonders of ShoutCast Internet radio broadcasts, I have a couple of recommendations for you. You can catch a low bandwidth versions of Seattle’s KUOW at and you can find an excellent New Age and Meditation music site from Auckland, New Zealand at

I use WinAmp to listen to Shoutcast broadcasts and it is a great combination.

Cheers from Aotearoa!

061214 – Thursday – Telecom ‘Go Large’ problems – continued

Wednesday, December 13th, 2006

This is my third post on this subject. My first post is here Part I and my second post is here Part II. Reading the previous posts is recommended before wading into this one as there’s a lot of history.

Rather than recap a lot of details that everyone is familiar with from the first two posts, I’m going to focus here on what’s new.

There’s been two interesting developments since my second post (though the bottom line is that I am STILL experiencing drops which is the core problem which has provoked these posts and the other measures I’m taking to try to get these problems resolved).

The first interesting development is that from 0830 yesterday morning, when I sat down at my computer to begin the day, until 1550 in the afternoon, I had NO DROPS – none. My signal was as solid as a rock. At one point, I downloaded a 156MB file from Microsoft in the USA and it came across flawlessly at 160+ KB/Sec.

At 1550 in the afternoon, I experienced my first drop and they have continued, apparently unabated until now at 0900 on December 14th (Christchurch, New Zealand time).

This tells me that Telecom’s equipment is certainly capable of providing the type of service I want and expect.

The second interesting development occurred at about 1615 yesterday. I received a call from Telecom inquiring as to how my broadband service was.

I quizzed the fellow who called me to determine if he was calling in response to my long standing ‘connectivity drop’ problems or if this was just an unconnected courtesy call from Telecom. He said his call was unconnected to my ongoing problems. Well, perhaps, but I found the timing to be remarkable, if that’s true.

He listened to my description of my problems. At the point when he called, I’d just experienced my first two drops for the day (at 1550 & 1604) after over seven hours of uninterrupted solid service. He gave me a new E-mail address which I can use to inform Telecom of my broadband problems ( and he also gave me three phone numbers which I might get technical assistance ( in addition to the one I’ve been calling thus far, 0800-00-30-40).

The new numbers were:

127 – call this for automated assistance.
0800-xtra – talk to human beings here.
0800-22-55-98 – talk to human beings here as well.

I made sure he had my problem case #, 129-33-084, and we rang off.

My drop problems continued continued through the evening yesterday and into this morning. It’s December 14th @ 0915 in Christchurch just now and I’ve been experiencing connection drops over the last hour or so for 5% of the time I’ve been monitoring with my pinger program.

This morning, I placed yet another call to Telecom @ 0800-00-30-40 and talked to Ashwini in first level broadband technical support. I gave her my case # and after she’d read a bit to get caught up, I told her about the 7+ hours I’d experienced with no drops yesterday and I asked her if she could carry that information to the Advanced Group and request they revert my line to however they had it configured from 0830 to 1550, yesterday.

She did this and came back and told me the following: She said that they are experimenting with configuration profiles in an effort to fix the problems that I and many others are having (her words, ‘many others’) and that this was probably why I saw my service improve. She also said that at about 1600 yesterday, they had a shift change and, at that time, the old configurations would have been put in again and that this is probably why my service had reverted to dropping again.

Again, as many other people I talked to have said as well, she asserted that they are “working on the problem” but that there is no ETA for getting it fixed. I sensed at that point, that I wasn’t going to get any more new information.

Before we rang off, I asked her for the spelling of her name and for her employee number. She spelled her name for me (Ashwini) but she said that she couldn’t give her employee number as they’d just had a directive down that they are not to do that. This is, apparently, a new policy as just a few days ago, I had a Telecom employee give me his employee number of his own accord.

Bottom Line

– Telecom’s equipment is capable of delivering good service as I experienced for 7+ hours yesterday.

– Telecom’s first level broadband technical support people continue to be as polite and professional as ever.

– Telecom is unwilling or unable to give an ETA for fixing these problems which have, for me, been going on since November 23rd which was the first day I was connected.

– I am going to continue to write these posts and continue to try to interest the NZ Herald, Stuff, Fair Go and other news and consumer protection agencies to become involved and interested in these matters until such time as I begin to receive the service I should be receiving.

I will remain polite and factual but I will also remain like a bulldog latched onto Telecom’s trouser leg until something happens beside genteel conversations with technical support people and refusals to give an ETA when these problems might be solved.

I encourage anyone else experiencing these same issues to speak out and contact the media and technical on-line groups and anyone else who might be able to increase the pressure to get these problems solved.

Kiwi mouse that waddled

Tuesday, December 12th, 2006

– It’s been the general wisdom that New Zealand did not have any native mammals other than one or two bats. Now, scientists have found fossils of a small mammal from 16 million years ago and they are having to do a rethink.


The discovery of fossils from a waddling, mouse-sized mammal in a New Zealand lake bed has stunned scientists, and could force a “rethink” on the evolution of this country’s animals.
The bones from the primitive mammal, described as unlike any mammal alive today, were discovered in sediment at least 16 million years old. They suggest the mammal was mouse-sized and walked by waddling.

More… and

061212 – Tuesday – Expatriates in New Zealand

Monday, December 11th, 2006

On Sunday, there was a gathering of expatriates in the Christchurch area which I was very happy to be able to attend.

Most of us who were there have been in contact through a Yahoo Group called Expats-in-New-Zealand. So, it was nice to actually put some faces to the names I’ve seen on the various postings.

This group serves both those who have already immigrated to New Zealand as well as those who are still considering it. it is an excellent source of all sorts of information about New Zealand from immigration requirements to whether or not one can find Fritos here on the market shelves.

It was an interesting group of people. We had folks whose current or former careers included: an IT Project Manager, an Airline Pilot, Real Estate Agents and investors, Appaloosa Horse Breeders, a young gymnast, a Writer/Photographer, University Students, and University Professors among others. I can venture to say that it doesn’t look like there are many particularly dull people who decide to pack up and move to the other side of the world .

Kathi and Bruce, who hail from the Bay Area and have been in New Zealand for about six months, were our hosts and shared their beautiful home with us. In addition to our Bay Area representatives, we had folks from Washington, Florida, Texas, Idaho, South Africa, Portland, Chicago and Germany there. People’s time in New Zealand ranged from 2 days to 12 years.

And, did I mention that we also had a genuine Kiwi, Len, who is married to an American expatriate, there as well? Len makes his own liquor mixes and he was nice enough to share two of them with me and they were excellent!

There’s just not enough room and time to recount all of the excellent conversations I had at the party but be assured that I sincerely hope to see all of these folks again.

It was a great get-together. Here’s a couple of photos I shot at the party:

NZ Expatriates Party NZ Expatriates Party

Tom & Marie’s Photos are below:

Tom & Marie's Photo #1 Tom & Marie's Photo #2

Tom & Marie's Photo #3 Tom & Marie's Photo #4

Dilbert’s take on Voting machines

Monday, December 11th, 2006

Is here…

UN urges freedoms for Arab women

Monday, December 11th, 2006

– Discrimination against women because of male insecurity must stop in a world where all humans are recognized as equal.  Moreover, overpopulation is driven by problems that begin with women not having education, equal rights and the right of reproductive self-determination. We can no long afford cultures which keep women marginalized as a sop to institutionalized male domination and insecurity. How can we say it any plainer?


Discrimination against women is holding back economic and social development across the Arab World, a report by the UN’s development agency says.

Arab women must be given greater access to education, employment, health care and public life, the report says.

The Arab Human Development Report is an annual overview compiled by Arab academics and experts in the field.

Islam is not to blame for the problem, the report says, but rather political inflexibility, male domination and war.


The BBC’s Imogen Foulkes in Geneva says the Unite Nations Development Programme’s report, entitled Towards the Rise of Women in the Arab World, reveals deep-seated discrimination against women across the region.

Maternal mortality rates remain unacceptably high and women suffer more overall ill-health than men.


Water ‘flowed recently’ on Mars

Monday, December 11th, 2006

Nasa says it has found “compelling” evidence that liquid water flowed recently on the surface of Mars.The finding adds further weight to the idea that Mars might harbour the right conditions for life.

The appearance of gullies, revealed in orbital images from a Nasa probe, suggests that water could have flowed on the surface in the last few years.



Monday, December 11th, 2006

– One of the potential elements of the Perfect Storm is a pandemic like the one that swept the world in 1917. The current Avian Flu Virus, H5N1, could, with just another mutation, learn to jump from human to human instead of from bird to bird and ignite such a calamity. In the face of this possibility, the news in this article is good, indeed. They may have found a way to defang flu viruses in general.


PARIS (AFP)—Biochemists in the United States believe they may have found the Achilles heel of the H5N1 virus—and not just of the bird flu pathogen but of a wide range of other influenza strains.

The potential target is a long, flexible protein tail which is essential for virus replication, they report on Thursday in Nature, the weekly British science journal.

The so-called nucleoprotein (NP) plays its role after a virus has hijacked a host cell and subverted it into a virus-making factory.

The NPs come together in small rings, stacking up one atop the other to form a column. The virus’ RNA genome twists around this column before being shipped out of the cell in copies that go on to infect other cells.

The team, led by Yizhi Jane Tao of Rice University in Houston, Texas, believe the weak point is the tail’s loop.

Just a single mutation in the amino acids comprising the loop is enough to prevent the NPs from forming the building blocks.


061212 – Tuesday – in Christchurch

Monday, December 11th, 2006

An interesting day here.  A cold front is passing over the southern half of the South Island and yet here in Christchurch, it is 27C right now (or for my US friends, that’s 82F).  And it is windy!  We just had a huge gust a few minutes ago.

Here in the apartment, I generally leave the big glass doors open at the front because I like the sound ot the traffic and the wind and it sounded pretty wild.  Sometimes, I leave one of the smaller windows open as well for cross draft but I’d just closed them a few minutes before because doors were threatening to slam.  I think if I’d have had them open during the big gust, I’d have broken some windows as they slammed open or shut.

I went out to lunch today and when I was walking home up Salisbury Street, a fellow crossed the street obviously meaning to speak to me and he asked if I had a cell phone rather urgently.  I looked to see what he was looking at and a house about four doors down from the building where I live was on fire.   We looked over the fence and the gate but they seemed locked, then we went into the neighbor’s place where they’d just noticed the smoke and she called the fire department.

Meanwhile, I went back and tried the gate a different way and found it was actually open and I went in.   Someone had set a row of Lavender bushes in the front of the house on fire and when we’d first looked, they were a roaring pyre of flames and it was easy to believe that the house itself was going up in flames but in the three minutes or so that had elapsed since then, the bushes were burning out.  The neighbor had a hose and the other fellow dragged it over and sprayed the bushes and then the house was no longer in danger.  About five minutes later, the fire department showed up and then a lady who was house sitting there and it was a bit of pandemonium with her crying and everyone milling about.   I told the firemen what I’d seen of the situation and as no one else seemed to want to talk to me, I came on home.

I’m thinking that if they’d set that fire just as the big wind gusts had come up, they could have really caused some damage to that house and the others around it.

061212 – Tuesday – Telecom ‘Go Large’ problems -continued

Monday, December 11th, 2006

This is my second post on this subject. The previous post is here Part I. This post will make better sense if you read the previous one first.

There’s also a third part here Part III.

The problem is, of course, drops. My broadband service drops me every five to 15 minutes and then reconnects me after 20 or 30 seconds. I run a pinger program that pings several sites out on the Internet and I can see by looking at its records that I am in the ‘dropped’ state between 5 and 6% of the time day in and day out. This has been going on since the first day my service was connected on November 23rd. I’ve called Telecom about this issue at least every other day.

It is actually a misnomer to call this a ‘Go Large’ problem. I’ve now learned that it is a problem in the exchange (perhaps in many exchanges) so it will affect folks regardless of their plan. It won’t even do you any good to change ISPs because, inevitably, your physical connection will still come through the same exchange and hence you will experience the problem. FYI, I live in the CBD where Peterborough intersects Park Terrace by Hagley Park. I know my exchange is 1.5 km away but I couldn’t tell you where.

Today, I called into Telecom to complain once again and to try to learn more about the problem. If there are any Telecom folks reading this, my case # is 129-33-084. The notes on this case are quite long.
Today, I talked to Aaron and then Jason. They were both quite helpful and professional as everyone I’ve talked to there has been. Along the way, I learned a lot of things:

– they confirmed, once again, that the problem is in the exchange. Therefore, changing ISPs would not help as they would all go through that exchange for this address. Internally, Telecom has a case # or a problem ticket number (25007296) which uniquely identifies this exchange problem.

– apparently, Telecom has installed new cards at the exchange (perhaps many exchanges?) in an effort to improve services and it is these cards which are suspected of being the problem.

– Telecom is working with technical reps in the US on this issue.

– They looked at my profile. At the distance I am at (1.5 km from the exchange) I should probably be on low power. I would have been originally, but at one point when they were troubleshooting my problem, they changed me to a higher power setting in my profile. Apparently, it hasn’t helped as I am still being dropped 5-6% of the time, day in and day out. They changed it back today to low power. I’ve been monitoring since then (1.5 hours) and I’m still being dropped 6% of the time so the profile is a red-herring.

– the traffic ‘shaping’ Telecom does to prevent peer-to-peer downloaders from overwhelming the shared bandwidth is based on what they see in the packet headers that identifies certain peer to peer programs. Therefore, unless you are using an identified peer-to-peer program, your traffic will not be ‘shaped’.

‘shaping’ goes on 24 hours a day but people will notice their throughput rates will be generally better outside of the 4 PM to midnight window.

If one exceeds 700 MB/day, they will send you a E-mail or give you a call but he said he doesn’t think this program is up and running yet.

– I asked how I might contact a supervisor in the broadband group to register my complaints at a higher level. They gave me the following E-mail address which is where people should write if they have complaints about Telecom’s broadband services:

They said that your should include the case number of your issue in the E-mails’ title. I am going to write this address and I am going to continue publishing here. I’ve also dropped E-mail to Stuff, the NZ Herald, Fair Go and others.

I think it is intolerable that Telecom is flooding the airwaves for their new suite of services while at the same time that have such a serious problem and are taking so very long to get it sorted out. In spite of all the times I’ve talked to Telecom, I’ve never found anyone willing to venture a guess as to how long it might take to solve this issue.

One good bit of news was that yesterday, the Telecom representative I talked to refunded my $49.95 for this month’s Go Large service.

You comments and suggestions are welcomed.