Author Archives: robin

GNOME 3 – making it behave like GNOME 2

It seems that in a never-ending attempt to attract new users, get headlines on Slashdot, and generally be seen as ‘modern’, some free software projects will continuously change their software in quite radical ways, often to the cost of their users.  One is reminded of the Marx quote “All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned” (1848).  Ubuntu make more changes than most distros, and version 11.10 brought one of the bigger changes: the replacement of GNOME 2, with either Unity, by default, or GNOME 3.  I won’t go over the arguments again, but there has been much gnashing and wailing, and mini-flame wars on various forums, mailing lists and so on.  I upgraded to 11.10 this week, and have spent much time finding a way to get back to what I know.  Here’s what I did:

This site was a useful start, introducing me to GNOME extensions, specifically one to hide the panels, but it was written for Fedora.  Then I found this, which is a PPA repository of extensions for Ubuntu.  Close, but it still didn’t have what I wanted.

However, it pointed me to the dconf-editor, which is a part of dconf-tools, and allows editing of virtually every aspect of GNOME.  So, if this isn’t already installed, you can do so either via Software Centre, Synaptic or apt-get.  Then, launch it from the main menu, under ‘System Tools > dconf Editor’.

  • To make the panels autohide, navigate to: ‘org > gnome > gnome-panel > layout > toplevels > bottom-panel’ and select ‘auto-hide’.  Do the same for ‘org > gnome > gnome-panel > layout > toplevels > top-panel’. While you’re there, you might want to change some other settings, like the speed with which they disappear, although I didn’t.  If you go wrong, you can always click ‘Set to Default’ at the bottom-right.
  • To remove the workplace switcher (the buttons at bottom-right which let you use multiple desktops), navigate to ‘org > gnome > gnome-panel > layout’, click on ‘object-id-list’, and delete the part which says ‘window-switcher’, including the comma, so it looks like this: [‘menu-bar’, ‘clock’, ‘notification-area’, ‘user-menu’, ‘window-list’]
  • To move the clock to the right-hand side of the top panel, go to ‘org > gnome > gnome-panel > layout > objects > clock’ and change ‘pack-type’ from ‘center’ to ‘end’

If you have any other things you find in dconf-editor, to get GNOME 3 to look more like GNOME 2, let me know in the comments.

Marx, K. (1848). Girl Talk – The Communist Manifesto. Retrieved November 11th, 2011, from

Postmodernity and Girl Talk

This essay will carry out an analysis of the musician ‘Girl Talk‘, also known as Greg Gillis, to ascertain the relationship of his music to postmodernity.  It was written as part of my studies in Critical Theory at Auckland University.

Postmodernity developed through the middle of the 20th century, as a rejection of the grand or meta-narratives of that period, and the associated perceived failings of modernity (Lyotard, 1984, p. 37). There were a number of precursors to this development, including the counter-culture movement of the 1960s (Eagleton, 2003, p. 41), which espoused a rejection of the positivism and rationalism underpinning capitalism, from a perception that the grand projects of the world had not resulted in the emancipation of mankind, but instead the integration into a worldwide system of domination.

Postmodernity as a movement aims to question existing structures and fixed values, to accept that nothing can be taken for granted (Eagleton, 2003, p. 73), that there are no fundamental truths as ultimately there are no fixed foundations which anything can rest on. This promises radical emancipation from all existing structures, but instead leaves those who follow its values potentially more open than ever to manipulation by a system which does believe in grand overarching ideologies, and does act to further the reach of its ideology. Those who follow its values focus more so on the here and now, the immediate, the ‘pragmatic’, rejecting any grand, overarching value system which proscribes a general direction.

Girl Talk is a musician who produces ‘cutups’. He takes samples from popular music, and produces tracks from them, by recombining the samples into new pieces. The works are then released under a Creative Commons license, allowing others to remix the works as they see fit. Legally, permission is generally required to reuse samples of traditionally copyrighted works, although Gillis does not seek this permission, citing protection under ‘Fair Use’, which allows amongst other things small parts of works to be copied for the purposes of parody and satire – critique and commentary of the work.

Indeed, Girl Talk claims a certain level of critique occurs through his music, such as when he states a desire to “put Elton John in a headlock and pour beer over his head”, suggesting a lack of reverence which is normally reserved for Sir Elton, a willingness to knock him off the pedestal he has been put on by the public. Further, the vim with which he samples other titans of the music industry, including Michael Jackson, New Order and Nirvana, mixing them in with such disparate styles as Radiohead, Rage Against the Machine and Hall and Oates appears to show little respect for those acts, their message, prestige or even legal issues (Illegal Art, 2010). However, Girl Talk is perhaps not as revolutionary as he would at first appear. Watching a live show, he rapidly sinks into 30 year-old rock clichés such as taking off his shirt, head banging, crowd surfing and exhorting the crowd to “put their hands in the air”. Similarly, the behaviour of the crowd resembles that at any other traditional rock concert, including those of the artists he samples, to the point of singing along to the samples as he mixes them together (Gaylor, 2008a). He acknowledges his love of the music he re-uses, distancing himself from “underground, cool artsy forms”, which he sees as inaccessible, preferring to celebrate the music he samples, rather than be subversive or respond to it in any substantial way, and stating that one “doesn’t have to be progressive to make important music” (Gaylor, 2008b). Rather than the revolutionary message that postmodernism was intended to stand for, a willingness to question everything no matter how seemingly untouchable and fundamental, Gillis instead represents a return to the past, a deference to existing power. Where he does make comment on works past, it is reduced to mimicry of the sampling innovators, to mere technique, to pastiche with no content, using the art of sampling in a way which has not progressed in 20 years. In what is perhaps one of his greater ironies, he heavily samples the likes of NWA, Public Enemy and Beastie Boys (Illegal Art, 2010), all three of whom were both highly political (Lemmel, 2001) and highly skilled at the process of incorporating other artists’ work into their own through sampling, commenting on the systems of oppression inherent in capitalism, pseudo-Maoist totalitarianism and other meta-narratives. Unlike those acts, Greg Gillis professes no particular political direction, preferring only that people have a good time (Gaylor, 2008b), thus reducing his work to that of focussing on the here and now, the immediate, while ignoring any overarching ideas of potential human emancipation. He readily falls into the postmodern trap of ignoring the grand narratives and concentrating on micro-narratives, while the centres of power in the world are willing to keep pushing for their own metanarrative and ideology (Eagleton, 2003, p. 72). Further, he states that the works should be free for all to reuse, remix and thus comment on, resulting in a plethora of opinions, all no doubt minor in their voice, none demanding any real change or questioning of the system. This quickly begins to resemble the “democracy of opinion”, a situation where all get their say, but all are subsumed under the bigger, dominant ideology (Lipovetsky, Charles, & Brown, 2005, p. 40).

Further, an interview with the man behind the music includes brief demonstrations of how the tracks are put together. He uses phrases such as “I just take 0.25 seconds from this sample, then 0.125 from this sample and mix them together” (Gaylor, 2008a), revealing a mechanistic approach to making the music, reminiscent of the novel-writing machines from Orwell’s 1984. The methods appear similar for each track, and listening to an entire album reveals the lack of difference between each piece at a technical or any other level, rendering his music still further as technique, assisted greatly by technology rather than skill, and pastiche.

Perhaps the biggest pointer to the reality of this lack of real critique comes upon hearing that, despite hundreds ff thousands of records sold, hundreds of concerts and huge awareness of what he is doing, there has yet to be a lawsuit challenging the work. The significance of this is revealed during an interview, when he states: “These people aren’t idiots; they see the value in the work, and how it turns new people on to the work” (Village Voice, 2008). Far from seeing a threat in what he is doing, the record companies of the world realise his ‘commentary’ on the works results in increased sales, further increasing their profits for no promotional outlay.


Gaylor, B. (2008a). RiP!: A Remix Manifesto. Documentary, Canal D, B-Side Entertainment.

Gaylor, B. (2008b). Girl Talk Interview.

Illegal Art. (2010). Girl Talk – All Day Samples List. Retrieved August 7, 2011, from

Lemmel, C. (2001). The History of Rap Music. Philadelphia: Chelsea House.

Lipovetsky, G., Charles, S., & Brown, A. (2005). Hypermodern Times. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Lyotard, J.-F. (1984). The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Eagleton, T. (2003). After Theory. London: Penguin.

Village Voice. (2008). Interview: Girl Talk a/k/a Gregg Gillies – New York Music – Sound of the City. Retrieved August 11, 2011, from

A Free University for Auckland

The original Latin from which the word ‘university’ developed, was used at the time of the emergence of urban town life and medieval guilds, to describe specialised “associations of students and teachers with collective legal rights usually guaranteed by charters issued by princes, prelates, or the towns in which they were located.” [1].

An important idea in the definition of a university is the notion of academic freedom. The first documentary evidence of this comes from early in the life of the first university. The University of Bologna adopted an academic charter, the Constitutio Habita [2], in 1158 or 1155, which guaranteed the right of a travelling scholar to unhindered passage in the interests of education. Today this is claimed as the origin of “academic freedom” [3].

Further to this academic freedom is a demand from society, written into the Education Act of New Zealand, that the universities be “the critic and conscience of society” [4], to not merely accept society is what it is, but to critique and effect change.

In the intervening 1000 years, these twin ideals have become corrupted. Universities, particularly since the 1980s, have primarily become a system to create workers for the capitalist system. The focus is on technical disciplines such as engineering, chemistry, biology, and on business and economics. Any remaining notion of education in its pure form or critique of society is merely coincidental or fast being eroded [5].

Over the past decade, a number of free universities have sprung up around the world, including the ‘Copenhagen Free University’ [6] and the ‘University for Strategic Optimism’ in London [7], their aim being to critique the existing system of un-free, corporatised university and to offer an alternative.

We are creating a free university in Auckland, as an alternative to the current education system. This will feature reading and discussion groups, but will also include ‘interventions’ to highlight the failings of the system, through various means of direct action. The working title is the ‘University Without Conditions’, which is taken from the title of the Derrida text referenced above.

The university will become the critic and conscience of society.

The intention is to present the aims to interested individuals and gather feedback as to how we should progress. At this point, a meeting between these parties will be organised. If you would like to get involved, please leave a comment below and we will contact you.

[1] Marcia L. Colish, Medieval Foundations of the Western Intellectual Tradition, 400-1400, (New Haven: Yale Univ. Pr., 1997)
[2] Malagola, C. (1888), Statuti delle Università e dei Collegi dello Studio Bolognese. Bologna: Zanichelli
[3] Rüegg, W. (2003), Mythologies and Historiogaphy of the Beginnings, pp 4-34 in H. De Ridder-Symoens, editor, A History of the University in Europe; Vol 1, Cambridge University Press.
[4] New Zealand Government (1989) Education Act 1989, ‘Part 14: Establishment and disestablishment of tertiary institutions’, pp. 342-347. Reprint as at 1 February 2011 including amendments.
[5] Derrida, Jacques (2000) ‘The university without conditions’ in ‘Without Alibi’, trans. Peggy Kamuf, pp. 202-237. Stanford: Stanford University Press. ISBN 0-8047-4411-4

Including text from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Is free culture enlightened?

This essay was written for my sociology studies at University of Auckland – it will examine the concept of free culture from the point of view of the enlightenment, i.e. the idea that humanity can be improved through the power of reason, particularly the suggestion the latter demands critique of one’s surroundings and situation.


An in-depth definition of free culture is not of importance here, as it has been discussed in great detail elsewhere (Paulson, 2010; Stallman, 2002); suffice to say it involves creating works which are not under the monopoly control of one entity, as is the case for most content generated by the current capitalist system, but are instead owned by ‘the commons’. This content includes creative works such as films, music, photographs and computer software. The lack of monopoly control is achieved through a large group of individuals working on projects which are then released under a particular group of licences. These licenses allow other entities remarkable latitude to examine, use and re-distribute the work more or less as they see fit (Lessig, 2004; Stallman, 2002), albeit with some minor restrictions. This freedom to re-use these products appears to challenge and critique the existing order and the products themselves, thus somewhat fulfilling the requirements for enlightenment, as defined by Kant when he states “Enlightenment is the human being’s emergence from his self-incurred minority” (1996, p. 17), and “For this enlightenment, nothing is required but freedom, …” (1996, p. 18).

The suggestion of enlightenment as questioning religiously-held values is paralleled in free software, when Eco, albeit somewhat tongue-in-cheek, suggests that the choice between operating systems from Microsoft and Apple is akin to making a choice between religious denominations (1994). Free culture, which values control over the products used by the owner rather than a content company, could be said to sacralise the individual and to reject the notion of an omniscient, all-powerful entity (represented here by a large, opaque private company which dictates how a user will conduct him or herself in certain matters). In this regard, free culture demonstrates a turn away from religious-like behaviours, which concurs with the suggestion by Bronner that “the need remains for an unrelenting assault on religious fanaticism” (2004, p. 14), (cited in (Toscano, 2010, p. 98)). However, this do.s not tell the full story; free culture is itself highly ideological and involves adherence to a fixed set of values (although perversely, the tools and methods used to achieve this aim are continually in an unstable flux) – the phrase “information wants to be free” has become so embedded that it has become axiomatic, unquestioned and unchallenged. In rejecting the prevailing ideology (Microsoft/Apple), there is a move towards the questioning and critique demanded by Kant. Unfortunately, this appears to fail, as shown by examining Toscano (2010) when he admonishes Brenner for his stance: the old ideology is merely replaced with a new set of entrenched values which are not to be questioned, demonstrating tendencies towards fanaticism, and thus the somewhat un-enlightened nature of free culture.

According to Habermas, there are three ‘levels’ of cognitive interest which make up the enquiry required for enlightenment. The appropriation of knowledge can take three forms: analytic-empirical (i.e. the means to achieve some task); hermeneutic-historical (understanding the world around us) and emancipatory (freeing humanity) (1972, p. 308). Modernity mainly concerns itself with knowledge lying in the first level, with little attention to the other two – hermeneutic-historical and emancipatory. Within free software there are, broadly, two different camps – those who use the products because of their quality, and those who use them for more ideological reasons. The first group clearly fall squarely into the first category – the software is generally of high quality and superior to that produced by traditional software companies. The potential for emancipation is hypothetically high, although the tendency within free culture is to fall into the same trap as the rest of society – typical neoliberal values, such as personal responsibility (implicit in the decentralised, DIY nature of the products), efficiency and high productivity are often referenced as being benefited by free software. This implicitly suggests little desire to question the values of the current system, pointing to a lack of enlightened thought in this area.

The freedom to modify, re-use, remix and re-distribute the artefacts released under free culture licences implies a freedom to critique – the work is no longer fixed and defined from above as those created by traditional content providers are. It is free to be re-interpreted as anyone else sees fit – in this sense, this somewhat fulfils the definition of enlightenment put forward by Kant.

However, this critique is tempered; the freedom stated above is highly ideological – the majority of free culture works are only distributed online, and the class system, replicated somewhat in internet access, says that if one is Western, well off and educated, one will be more likely to have access to the works than someone who is not. This is compounded by the requirement for a set of highly technical skills necessary to modify the works – computer coding, graphics design, etc., rendering the potential for critique by the masses close to meaningless; even those who can access the works are subject to the same inability to modify, and thus critique, as those who use non-free culture products.

Slashdot is a popular technology/politics website inhabited by a large number of free culture contributors, which hosts discussions on news topics of the day and thus forms an example of ‘the read/write web’. The site is well known for generating several memes in internet culture, including “First post!” (, 2000). Amongst a large number of users, creating the first post is highly sought after, something which must be done within seconds of the news item hitting the front page, thus necessitating one not read the article. In this forum, there is the possibility of extensively discussing and thus critiquing news items on highly influential topics, but for a significant number of users (enough for the site’s administrators to block this practise), speed is everything and content nothing, thus exemplifying “No one is concerned with the ideology, as long as it is expedient” (Adorno, 1981, p. 30).


On comparing the concept of free culture against several theorists’ ideas around enlightenment, it appears to offer much potential, but rather than this being fulfilled, it has instead repeated and reinforced the values of neoliberalism. The ‘freedom’ that it professes to offer is confined to those who have the skills to take advantage, leaving significant numbers of the population unaffected. Further, the views of those who follow the values sometimes border on the fanatical – free culture at all costs, regardless of the outcome. From a Habermasian point-of-view, the concept appears to reach as far as advancing technical knowledge, although this is hardly an area which needs any help under liberalism, while neglecting the higher, emancipatory values of knowledge.


Adorno, T. W. (1981). Prisms (1st ed.). Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.

Bronner, S. E. (2004). Reclaiming the Enlightenment: Toward a Politics of Radical Engagement. New York: Columbia University Press.

Eco, U. (1994, September 30). Eco – “Writings: IBM vs. Mac.” Retrieved July 27, 2011, from (2000). Net vs. Norm: The Slashdot Effect – Retrieved July 27, 2011, from

Habermas, J. (1972). Knowledge and Human Interests. London: Heinemann.

Kant, I. (1996). Practical Philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Lessig, L. (2004). Free Culture: How Big Media Uses Technology and the Law to Lock down Culture and Control Creativity. New York: Penguin Press.

Paulson, R. (2010). Application of the theoretical tools of the culture industry to the concept of free culture. Retrieved October 25, 2010, from

Stallman, R. (2002). Free Software Free Society: Selected Essays of Richard M. Stallman. (J. Gay, Ed.) (1st ed.). Boston, MA: GNU Press, Free Software Foundation.

Toscano, A. (2010). Raving with Reason: Fanaticism and Enlightenment. Fanaticism: On the Uses of an Idea. London: Verso.

Collaborative Writing, part 2

Last year, myself and a group of friends got together and wrote a story about…well, we wrote a story – let’s leave it at that.  Great fun was had by all, and we vowed to do it again.

A year later, we got round to writing more – this time, we created six stories, in tandem. Here they are.

Story C

The chicken was salty; he was already beginning to regret his choice, when in walked a likely candidate for his contact. “How was the swim?” “Not bad” clucked Simon the rooster. “But the fricken sharks were a problem”. The contact didn’t look like the normal Head Office choice; for starters, he was a she. “Oh well, better take a walk on the wild side,” thought Simon, mustering his strength to finish the mission. He pulled out a shark tooth and cleaned his bill with it, looking to see if this got a reaction. His contact is playing with her notes; waste of a good pose really.
“The baron will be having his daughter’s wedding tonight,” she said. “You will be going as Doctor McNuggets; he’ll be expecting you”
“Oh, I really doubt that” said Simon, thinking back to the previous night’s excess at calendar Girls.
After which, Simon pulled out his glock-for-roosters and shot himself. Of course, not before saying to the baron’s daughter “Hope you ike KFC.” his body slumped to the ground, a trail of red liquid glistening in the flare of the gas light. The contact fled, to be caught near the dead body of one of Britain’s finest secret squirrel chickens would meanyears behind the bars of a medical testing facility. Simon sat up “Hah, those fake paint bullets worked a treat.”
Simon’s earpiece crackled. It was his handler at the home base. “What did you go and do that for you idiot? That was the fucking contact!!”
“Fuck” though Simon. “Now how do I get to the wedding?”
“What a cock up”, he muttered as he ambled off to the end of this chapter.
A new day dawned and a new chapter began. Baron Sanders was just beginning to prepare the preaparations to prepare the hall. Suddenly there was a crackle of electricity and a badly singed chicken blundered out of a hole in reality.
“Ah, good” said Simon, “I’m not late”. As the latest Paul McCartney offering dribbled out of the stereo, the flower seller approached with the usual array of cellophane-wrapped roses and carnations. “Flower for you hen, sir?”, he enquired brightly.
“No thanks, do you have a cleaver? We had so much fun last night with a cleaver, I tell you, the number fo things you can do with a cleaver in the bedroom is…”
“OK, TMI” exclaimed the florist and shot Simon dead, between the eyes and through his heart. an expert double-tap if there ever was one. but now Simon the incompetent spy-rooster ws dead, the florist was wanted for murder and no one was left to stop Baron Sanders daughter from marrying a man she had no idea was the reincarnated Osama bin Laden.
Luckily for her, simon was not dead, again, for the finagling florist was factually our feathered frined himself! But Miss Sanders was not yet saved.
Simon rumaged through the baron’s chest of magical objects and found the mmost magical of all, the keys to a large pickup truck. He took the keys, started the truck and drove it over a cliff; the brakes had been tampered with.

The end.

Story D

The sky darkened and Simon ran.  The pumice under his feet crackled and slid as he took each step, threatening to tip him over the low wall to his left and down the steep slope.  Then, all of a sudden, there appeared a mystical figure wreathed in the mist that was swirling down from the ravine. “Grab my hand commanded the misty figure, “Quick! There’s not much time!”. There was a widening chasm between him and the figure, and although Simon had never seen this person before, he knew he must trust him. Simon swallowed his courage and reached across the chasm.  He felt the icy, bony knuckles wrap his, and effortlessly withdrew him from certain death.  Simon met his rescuer’s eyes, or lack thereof.  “You’re a skeleton”, said Simon.  “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” They scrambled together up a clif.  Fromt he top Simon could appreciate his position for the first time.  The vilalge he had left in a hurry was off to the east of the volcano; the rocky cove clockwise wound the peak, accoridng to the map memorised from the table in the cottage.  Then, from absolutely nowhere, a ten tonne anvil dropped from the sky.  “Beep beep”, squawked Simon and sped awy ina  cloud of dust, away from Wyle Coyote and his evil tricks.  Luckily in his position as Regional Sales Manger for Acme Co. Ltd., Simon was in possession of the latest technology in Coyote-escaping technology. He pulled into the park beside a local inn and parked his Road Runner (TM) bike, which was aptented, naturally – or, rather, unnaturally; not to say that what is ‘natural’ us necessarily right, though it may be…but anyway, the local inn caught fire and burned down and he had to get on the road again.  Then the skeleton slapped him “Are you alright?” he asked, “It looks like you’re going faint from the gas”. Simon didn’t know waht he was talking aobut; he felt fine and his legs were made of ham.  THe skeleton waited maybe a second longer and then lifted him onto his shoulders.  Have to move, he thought, theis fleshy needs to breathe.  The skeleton jumped into the Transit van sitting by the kerb, throowing Simon into the gap between the front seats, amongst the a congealing, half-eaten cheeseburgerm fluff-encrusted Murray ints and a worryingly fresh-looking Curly Wurly.  Then, from absolutely nowhere, a ten tonne anvil burst from the ground beneath them.  The anvil attached itself to the engine of teh van, converting into pure energy adn rocketing the can through the skeleton’s own portal.  A portal to hell.  And back, if you pay 50% more for a day pass.  The sky darkened and Simon ran…


The Odd Couple – the John and Rodney show

Oh Mr. Key how you kid us about Rodney, the big bad wolf from the ‘extremist’ Act Party.  How the two of you bicker and squabble in public, how you dislike that dastardly Mr. Hide and all he stands for!

We’re led to believe our beloved Prime Minister, with his ‘ordinary New Zealanders’ line – because only a man with a $9 million dollar home in Parnell, not to mention other houses in Omaha Beach, Helensville and Hawaii – knows about the general population and what they want, think and feel, and is protecting us from the radical types off to the right.  The same party who they signed up to a confidence and supply agreement with; the same party who they gave ministerial posts to.

During the Auckland city shake-up over the last two years, various media types, opposition politicians and other commentators were quick to lay into Rodney Hide for his right-wing transformation of the city, against the wishes of the people, and asked why was Mr. Key not reigning him in?  Well, there’s a simple answer – John Key is quite happy with what Rodney did.  The National Party might be at odds with a significant number of the population, but they’re not so dim as to think Rodney Hide would do anything other than put in place right-wing ideals when working on the ‘super city’.  Let’s be clear – John Key chose him as minister for local government, gave him the mandate and let him loose.  For over a year there were constant attacks on the Act leader from the political left, even the NZ Herald portrayed him as undemocratic.  Did anything change in Government?  Did John ask Rodney to reign it in, listen to what the public were saying?  No, of course he didn’t.  The National Party led by John Key is as extreme as Act, but a hell of a lot smarter.  Rodney is quite happy to get publicity by any means, even if it means being seen as the big bogeyman – let’s not forget, this is a man who appeared on the TV show Strictly Come Dancing, was utterly hopeless as a dancer and dropped his partner on her head while attempting a far from simple manoeuvre – hardly the actions of a mild-mannered introvert who lets his work in public office do the talking.  So, John gave Rodney a position in Government, knowing full well what he will do, but not overtly backing any of his actions, remaining silent and portraying a shocked demeanour, implying ‘Oh, Rodney – what have you done! That wasn’t what we wanted, oh if only there was some way of stopping you!’.  Well, there is, and you didn’t take it.  The worst case scenario for National was Rodney doing something very dim, and being kicked out.  As he’s shown, he’s not the brightest kid around and sure enough he got booted by his own party.  Does Mr. Key care?  Not really – at the worst he’s lost a foil to blame all the radical right-wing policies on, but National still look clean and like they represent ‘ordinary New Zealanders’.  So Act have a new leader, and Rodney’s career is likely over for the short-term – will Don Brash fulfil the same role as his predecessor?  He’s never been the image-conscious showman that Rodney is, but I suspect he will still be more than keen to take the ‘credit’ for whatever unpalatable policies National come up with.  Maybe after the next election they will make Don a Minister with the mandate to sell off NZ-owned assets, and then sit back and watch us attack Act again?  National gets its wish to privatise everything including the air we breathe, and still looks like they are in touch and a caring Government.

Copyright Amendment Bill aka removal of basic human rights

The ‘file-sharing’ argument has rattled around the courts, parliaments and media of the world for the last 40 years – remember ‘home recording will kill the music industry’ in 197-whatever (and how it didn’t kill the industry, although perhaps it should have)?  Yesterday in New Zealand politics, things took a dark turn.  A bill, the Copyright (Infringing File Sharing) Amendment Bill, was passed.  On the face of it, this was nothing surprising – it criminalises the sharing of copyrighted material.  Hardly the most heinous of crimes, but in line with the state’s intentions to protect property rights.

What is outrageous, is the attack on basic human rights when a suspected infringer is identified.  Since the birth of liberal democracy, which New Zealand had a good claim to be until yesterday, one of the values enshrined in law, constitution or Bill of Rights has been the right to presumption of innocence.

This puts the burden of proof on those accusing a person of wrongdoing, and is an important part of our modern justice system – it protects all from frivolous and unjust prosecution.

The Copyright (Infringing File Sharing) Amendment Bill passed yesterday allows a content provider to accuse a suspected infringer of illegally sharing copyrighted content.  The onus is then on the accused to show their innocence.  The copyright owner is not required to prove their allegation – accusation alone is enough alone to begin legal proceedings.  If innocence it not proved, punishment is handed out in the form of cutting off the user’s internet (as an aside, access to an internet connection is now considered a basic human right in some countries and protected under law – apparently we are not so enlightened in New Zealand).

Regardless of your view on copyright and illegal file-sharing, this approach of requiring the accused to prove their innocence, constitutes a significant attack on basic human rights – it opens the door for more legislation which puts the burden of proof on the accused.

We cannot allow this to happen, we cannot allow the law to stand,  or we slide ever closer to a dictatorship which benefits the few.

More to come.

Openstreetmap New Zealand – Auckland meetings

As discussed earlier, we will be hosting Openstreetmap New Zealand meetings from February 2011.  The venue and date are now finalised:

Where: Tangle Ball, 27 Edinburgh Street, Newton, Auckland
When: Thursday, February 24th from 7pm till around 8:30pm

The first meeting will discuss the general direction OSM New Zealand will take and future meeting topics.
We will also be pushing forward with the LINZ import – we need developers to put together a web application for importing and merging the data.

This is open to anyone who has an interest in Openstreetmap specifically, or mapping or free data in general.  We would also love to have developers along who can help with the import application.

OpenStreetMap New Zealand – website launch

Recently I talked about launching an OpenStreetMap New Zealand website, and holding monthly meetings for OSM in New Zealand, in a bid to expand our community.  The first part is done – click here for the temporary site address (until I figure out Apache virtual hosts).  Please test it, and let me know if you find anything wrong. I’m particularly struggling with getting OpenLayers to display the different sets of map tiles – the blue ‘+’ at top-right should allow the user to switch between different renders of the data, but there’s something wrong at the moment.

Any suggestions, please send them to the NZopenGIS group, or email me.

The first OpenStreetMap New Zealand meeting will be later on, more to come once it’s been organised.


Openstreetmap New Zealand

I’ve been involved with Openstreetmap for 3 1/2 years now, and there is only a very small contributor base in New Zealand (most of whom got involved through personal contacts).  I hear from members of the German OSM community about the thousands of contributors they have and the OSM groups in every major city, and wondered why we don’t have that in NZ.  There are already some resources for NZ contributors: a Google Group – which some potential contributors refuse to join, because … well, because it’s Google – and a few pages on the OSM wiki. However, these are rather dry and technical, and only appeal to those who already get/are involved in free software/open data, etc at a philosphical level – they don’t cater much to those who don’t know about Stallman/Lessig and the ideological underpinnings.  So, starting in the next few weeks, I will be launching, and holding associated regular meets in Auckland.

The site will be basic, with the following content:
*What is OSM?
*What is OSM New Zealand?
*A New Zealand-specific map. This takes lots of resources to render and host, so it will use tiles hosted elsewhere, probably a custom Cloudmade style
**Dual English/Maori place names
**Unusual geographic features – volcanoes, other geothermal activity
**Anything else specific/unusual to NZ
*How can I get involved with OSM?
*NZ-related news such as upcoming meets, mapping parties, the status of imports, etc.

As a start point, I’ll be copying the website, which is available and (of course) released under some liberal license.  As more people come on board, perhaps a better web dev than me will help improve it.

The meets will aim to be once a month, and now that Tangleball is running, there is a ready-made venue.  The LINZ import web application will probably be the subject of the first meet.  From there, there are other topics that may be interesting:
*The Zenbu import
*Using Potlach (the online editor)
*Using JOSM (the more advanced editor)
*Creating mapnik, osmarender and kosmos rendering rules
*How to collect mapping data
*Using a GPS to record tracks and waypoints
*Mapping party

If you’re interested in helping out, be it web dev, graphics design or ideas, let me know either by email, in the comments below or on the Google Group.