Sunday, December 04, 2005

Peter Griffin: Avoiding mobile madness

Mobile phones have really advanced this year, which is just as well because our appetite for them is insatiable. We bought an estimated 1.3 million of them this year and another 1.5 million are likely to sell next year.

Despite the fact that mobile calling rates are among the highest in the western world, we keep calling and texting and demanding new phones that play video and music and access the internet.

While subsidies for new mobile phones had all but dried up a couple of years ago, stiff competition between Telecom and Vodafone has led to heavier discounting again, which will benefit consumers this Christmas.

Naturally, discounted phones come with a catch: your signature on a long-term contract. So look carefully at what your needs are.

Some of these deals can more than halve the cost of buying a new high-end handset and be cost-effective when you use your bundled free talking minutes wisely.

This Christmas you should push for the best deal possible. Don't be afraid to haggle with mobile phone dealers.

They can't deviate too far from the path, but if you're a high-use customer upgrading to a new phone, they'll want to keep you on board.

If you plan to use your phone as a music player, the size of the flash memory card is all-important.

You'll want at least a 512MB card for long-term play and decent song selection. On the digital camera phone front, 1.3 megapixel is the standard but only produces low-resolution pictures good for sending as PXT messages.

The 3G (third generation) phones will cost you more, so make sure you really want to watch mobile TV, make video phone calls or surf the net at high speed on your mobile.

Remember that 3G phones use more battery power so you'll have less talk time, but a phone with better features.

Have a good play with a wide range of phones before you buy. Keyboard layout, screen size, resolution and menu design will determine how useful your phone is on a day-to-day basis and are often more important than the whizbang extras like Bluetooth and an FM radio tuner.

And as you'll still use your phone for talking most of the time, call quality is vital. The last thing you want is a phone that has regular dropouts. They do exist.

Make sure to do some research before you buy. Don't rely on dealership staff to give you a balanced view, they want to sell higher-value phones.

Find the model number of the phone you covet and do some research on the internet. Somewhere on the web, reviewers have analysed all the phones listed below to the nth degree and their conclusions are only a Google search away.

Deborah Coddington: Our man in London's a laugh

For a parliamentarian who lasted 38 years, Jonathan Hunt received remarkably favourable press. His only scandal - $30,000 for one year's taxi rides - indicates he was either impeccably behaved or did nothing.

Tom Scott wrote that the only sound coming from Hunt's bedroom at night was the noise of chocolates being unwrapped - though he did defy the Chinese in 2002 by refusing to remove a painting in Parliament by an artist who happened to be a member of Falun Gong.

Now he's in London, fast becoming a parody of himself with his pretentious pontificating as our High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, Ambassador to Ireland and High Commissioner to Nigeria.

He boasts he has saved New Zealand House from the clutches of British bad taste by personally overseeing its renovation and catering menu.

And that's not all. The nasty New Zealand Treasury had plans to do "something else" with the allegedly "beloved" 18-storey, 1960s eyesore on The Haymarket, but thanks to Prime Minister Helen Clark (says Jonathan) Kiwis get to keep a building they've probably never heard of, and care less about.

Yes, the view from the rooftop is spectacular but this is arguably the ugliest building in London; selling it and leasing back the space we occupy would help both our economic and architectural bottom lines.

Hunt's a pedant - spell his first name incorrectly and you're in for the high jump. But when fellow Act MP Heather Roy and I entered Parliament in 2002, Hunt confused our names for nearly four months despite the glaring differences in our appearance. It was a sloppiness Hunt himself would never have tolerated and was only terminated when Roy and I, fed up with being laughed at, dared to embarrass him over it.

Nonetheless, Hunt was affectionately known as "the Father of the House" or, less kindly, "the Minister for Wine and Cheese". Perhaps because as Speaker he oversaw payment of MPs' perks and living arrangements, few were game to challenge him. Winston Peters was an exception.

Five years ago, Hunt threatened to evict New Zealand First MP Doug Woolerton from his Bowen House office if he didn't stop smoking.

It was vintage red-rag-to-a-bull for Peters who stage-angrily declared that the threat would be defied, pointing out to the confused that Hunt was only the Speaker, "not God". Peters went on to accuse the Speaker of turning Parliament into a "red light district on a bad night" because smokers were forced out to Lambton Quay.

Combining wrath with humour, Peters took a delicious swipe at Hunt: "What if I put out a parliamentary edict on overeating - it's the same sort of arrogance".

Hunt, if he reads this, will be pained. He takes the mildest criticism to heart and lapses into sulky defence. He was reported last week as having stopped his $300-a-year donation to the Kelston Boys' High history prize, instead making a one-off donation to a new auditorium.

When someone accused him of being a "meanie", Hunt described the complaint as "almost harassment" and "just political". Of course it's political. As a Labour MP for 38 of his 66 years, who was given a sinecure in London by his own party, all his movements and statements are political. And just why Hunt so badly wanted the London posting is a mystery to those who remember him saying, back in 2001, that New Zealand should become a republic.

True to form, Hunt was puzzled and offended at the fuss when he enquired about a British pension. As the late Rod Donald remarked at the time, the incident was "personally embarrassing", given his six-figure diplomatic salary and generous parliamentary super. Gerry Brownlee said he, too, was embarrassed; the British would laugh at us for sending a "hard-up pensioner to London to be our High Commissioner".

But Hunt has only himself to blame. How very clever of him to wander incognito around the Tory Party's annual conference and send the information back to New Zealand that "this guy David Cameron's gonna do all right." Our Man in London proudly has his "eyes and ears open".

Memo to OMIL: New Zealanders read the British papers on the internet often before the Brits - and certainly the Right Honourable Jonathan Hunt - have rubbed the sleep from their eyes. We stopped relying on surface mail for our news shortly after Mr Hunt was Postmaster General.

Hunt's self-congratulations go on and on. The All Blacks have him to thank, apparently, for securing an audience with the Queen. He professes to work "really very hard" at meeting people, collecting their business cards and adding them to his database.

And as for his lame excuse for sitting in his warm car during a wet London Anzac Day service: he didn't want the Queen to see him in a dripping wet suit - tell that to the boys and girls who laid down their lives in horrific conditions when you were a nipper, Mr Hunt, so you could enjoy the riches generated by the democratic freedom they defended.

Kerre Woodham: Nguyen took punt and failed

It's hard to feel sorry for the convicted Australian drug trafficker Van Nguyen.

I don't support the death penalty. It doesn't work as a deterrent in the United States, so it's pointless to suggest it would result in less crime if it were introduced here.

A clean, safe Singapore results from family and community structures that are different from ours, not solely from the shadow of the gallows. And if people wish to see it brought in as a vengeful measure, then that doesn't really put us much higher up the food chain than the offenders, does it?

But in Singapore they do agree with it. Enthusiastically so. Since 1990, about 400 people have been executed in this prosperous state and the government shows no sign of releasing the throttle.

Surely even the most simple-minded of individuals knows that you risk the death penalty in Singapore if you're caught carrying drugs. We know it through the media and travellers to Singapore get the message through the large signs positioned dominantly throughout the airport.

Van Nguyen took a punt. He thought he could get away with it, and he was wrong. He claims he was trying to pay off his brother's loan-shark debt, but as excuses go that was never going to get him off.

His lawyer says Van Nguyen went to his death bravely and well and that he'd accepted he was going to die. The only hope is that some good can come of this death - that young people will think twice before they head off to make easy money trafficking drugs for the filthy rich kingpins who never seem to get caught, and that Van Nguyen's brother can turn his own life around out of respect for his brother.

Kerre Woodham: Abuse fears flights of fancy

As the mother of a daughter who flew between Auckland and Wellington as an unaccompanied minor for years, I never, ever worried about the prospect of her being brutally assaulted by a paedophile. It didn't even cross my mind. And if that means I won't win Plunket Mother of the Year, well, so be it.

I've read the letters to the editor last week regarding this issue and I've noticed some mothers writing in applauding the decision as they believe it will keep their children safe. Well, for a start, flying is an inherently risky business. If they truly wanted to keep their children safe, they would demand that the plane never flew more than six feet off the ground.

Even travelling to the airport is a risky business. You've got more chance of having a car accident than you have of being interfered with by a paedophile.

Secondly, although the people who work in the sex abuse field believe that around every corner there are paedophiles slavering and slobbering in anticipation of getting their hairy mitts on children, most people aren't paedophiles. In fact, although some people find it hard to accept, most men aren't paedophiles.

They accuse me of naivety when I say the only men I know well are good, kind, loving men who would no more harm a child than they would cut off one of their limbs. I would accuse those on 24-hour paedophile watch of lacking perspective. Working in an industry where the men they meet are bad does not ipso facto make all men bad.

Thirdly, how many children have been interfered with on an Air New Zealand or Qantas flight? Go on, give us the figures. And when one softly-spoken woman told me that men could cause subliminal damage to children by sitting next to them and filling their ears with poison, I would suggest that the overt damage to children caused by inferring that no man can be trusted, is far, far worse than this imaginary danger.

Fourthly, some kids don't like sitting next to women. I received an email from a 21-year-old who'd been flying backwards and forwards across the ditch for years as an unaccompanied minor, and she said she far preferred to sit next to men. They grunted at you, picked up a magazine and then lost themselves in an article and left you alone. Women, she said, smelled far too strongly of Red Door and felt they had to talk to you for the entire four-hour journey or else they had failed in their feminine duty.

The feeling is mutual. Many women I spoke to also said they'd prefer not to be seated next to children and that it was gender bias to make them do so. I could go on, but I'm running out of space. Suffice to say, Air New Zealand and Qantas have handled this extremely badly indeed. Surely there are ways of looking after the children on their flights without offending and alienating more than half of their customers.

And if you have to send your children unaccompanied on long haul flights, where I do concede it's a slightly riskier enterprise, you might like to try Cathay Pacific. Depending on the numbers of unaccompanied minors, they have InFlight Guardians, usually the wives of the pilots, who will travel in uniform and take care of your precious cargo. Other airlines may have the same facility - so check it out.