Sunday, April 23, 2006

Peter Griffin: Back up before the big crash

The two words that flashed up on my laptop screen had an inevitable finality about them: "imminent failure".

My hard drive was about to give up the ghost.

I'd ignored the warning signs, the digital grating sound those old floppy discs used to make when they had corrupted.

Corruption. Yes, I was about to have first-hand experience of it. Data corruption, that is.

It had been months since my last hard drive backup. I'd been too busy to back up the contents of my 40GB hard drive to a safe location.

Computer technology is pretty reliable these days, so it's easy to become complacent about backups.

But the science of hard drives is an intimidating thing. Lots of magnetic particles constantly organise and reorganise themselves on your computer to store your information. We put a lot of faith in this weird metallurgy.

I made a dash for the closest computer store, P.B. Technologies, and bought a Maxtor 250GB external hard drive. It cost me $291. The laptop had crashed again by the time I got back so I booted it again - for the last time, it would turn out.

First to be evacuated was the My Documents folder which contains the drafts of all my articles going back several years. After the crucial Word and Excel documents came a large folder of important PDF documents.

Then photos from my recent trip away, spreadsheets and some website pages I'd been working on. I only had a reboot or two up my sleeve. The whole thing could fail at any moment. I started to sweat as I nursed my computer through its start-up process and through all the warning prompts telling me that various important files no longer worked.

The laptop hard drive was grinding away, taking an age to perform the simplest of tasks. It staggered on, against the odds for half an hour, then a blue screen, then nothing. It was dead.

That was it, or so I thought. As I later flicked through the folders of files sitting on my Maxtor external drive it was obvious that were many other files that were overlooked in the panic.

A folder containing dozens of free ebooks, the classics of HG Wells, Jules Verne and Edgar Allan Poe among them, are gone. I can download the books again, they're out of copyright so are freely available as part of the Gutenberg Project (, which seeks to put all of the world's out-of-copyright works of literature online. But it'll be a time-consuming hassle to rebuild the collection.

There are programs unaccounted for. All of the wonderful cities I built in Sim City 4 are mere memories.

The lesson you can take from my hard drive disaster is simple: back up your data regularly in a methodical way.

Don't leave it until the drive that holds all your crucial information starts showing signs of failure.

You don't have to invest in a large external hard drive to do so. If you have a CD or DVD writer in your computer you can burn discs. A typical hard drive of 40GB to 60GB in size will take eight to 10 DVDs to back up. CDs carry less data so you'll need a lot more of them for a full backup.

You can use a backup software package which will create an exact image of the contents of your hard drive, preserving all of the data and the file structure. Norton's Ghost, software originally developed in New Zealand, is one of the most popular backup programs.

It lets you back up to an external hard drive or to discs so you don't have to piece your hard drive back together, folder by folder, if your hardware fails. Life's best lessons are learned the hard way, but learning the value of backing up by losing your data doesn't have to be one of them.

Matt McCarten: Double standard on salary increases

The wages of greedy New Zealand workers, according to Statistics New Zealand, soared by 3.1 per cent on average over the past year. But before workers go off and bank their surplus value, they should know that the Consumer Price Index results released this week has inflation rising by 3.4 per cent. Effectively this means that workers on the average wage are actually worse off by $128 than they were last April.

Without trying to be a killjoy, I'm afraid it's even worse for workers when the statistics are broken down. Household costs jumped by 5.4 per cent, home prices by 5.9 per cent and transport by 6 per cent. The real bummer is that petrol prices have rocketed by a criminal 23.5 per cent. The petroleum barons are drowning in so much loot they don't know what to do with it. It seems every newspaper or magazine has these companies splashing out on wall-to-wall glossy ads trumpeting how the oil industry is protecting the environment. It's a bit like tobacco companies telling us how they are protecting our health.

But if you think it's hard to comprehend these contradictions, then I have a real doozy for you. The chief executives of our 44 largest companies have given themselves an astonishing 23 per cent salary increase in this past year, while over the same period paying increases to their employees less than the inflation rate. Apparently they can even keep a straight face when lecturing unions to show restraint on wage increase expectations for their workers.

The New Zealand Herald reported this week the windfall for our top business barons that takes their average booty to over $1 million each. It's like giving yourself a guaranteed Lotto win.

If you think this is one-off piracy you'll be impressed at their audacity, as they gave themselves a similar hike the previous year. What extra duties are our top bosses carrying out to justify almost a quarter more money for each of the past two years? If New Zealand workers on the average wage two years ago had got a similar rise they would now be close to $67,000 rather than the current $41,331. Even our most industrious worker, getting slipped another $500 a week for doing the same job they were doing two years ago, would know something dodgy was going on.

Our industry captains' salaries are now 25 times higher than the average wage. A few years ago there was a consensus in companies that no boss should earn more than 10 times their lowest-paid employee. That would put our current top business leaders on $250,000 a year, not a million bucks.

Apparently the argument these corporate beneficiaries are using to justify their largesse is that they have to increase their salaries to close the gap with their counterparts in Australia. Interestingly, these same bosses argue at pay talks with their own employees that Australian workers' wages have nothing to do with what New Zealanders earn.

It seems, as Ross Wilson, the CTU president says, we have a corporate culture where senior bosses lavish rewards on themselves at the expense of their workers. Even our top women are in on the act. The two top earners were Westpac's chief executive, Ann Sherry, and Telecom boss Theresa Gattung. They both took home around $3 million each.

A feminist friend of mine argues that this indicates New Zealand is evolving into a "bourgeois feminist paradise". Really? I always assumed greed was non-gender specific.

Most women of course are still slaving away at the bottom of the food chain. I popped into the launch of the "Clean Start - Fair Deal for Cleaners" campaign organised by the Service and Food Workers Union last Thursday - part of a worldwide campaign on behalf of cleaners employed in commercial buildings. This is the first time an integrated global campaign has been attempted by unions on this scale. Most of the cleaners represented are women on minimum wage.

So when our two new successful female money makers get to their polished and palatial office suites on Monday morning they should spare a thought for their sisters who tucked their children into bed the previous evening and travelled to spend the night cleaning up the previous day's office mess.

All women - and men - who work in commercial buildings should ask what their cleaners get paid. Then make a commitment to take responsibility for ensuring that these workers are paid a fair wage.

The fight for feminism was meant to be for all women, not the privileged few who got lucky enough to join the men at the top table.

Deborah Coddington: US friends left out in the dark

Anzac Day and Anzus - two separate but nonetheless connected entities.

On Tuesday, in what will probably be an increased attendance from last year, New Zealanders all over the world will commemorate Anzac Day - that Sunday in 1915 on which 2721 New Zealanders died 10,000 miles (16,000km) from home.

Anzus, on the other hand, in this so-called "benign environment" in which we live, is not fashionably revisited, at least while the current Labour Government rules.

While we strive to tell the truth about the events which led to Anzac Day, lest we be doomed to repeat such historical debacles, we have allowed myths and falsehoods to develop around Anzus, not the least the rewriting of history spawned by former Prime Minister David Lange.

They say truth will always out. Former head of the Prime Minister's Department and Secretary of Defence, Gerald Hensley, in a 2004 Stout Research Centre speech, touched on what really happened when New Zealand was suspended from Anzus in 1986. With Lange's full agreement, a visiting warship strategy was settled upon with the US which would preserve both our anti-nuclear policy and the American alliance.

However, the agreed plan was scuttled unilaterally by Lange himself - out of the country too long and typically uncommunicative with his own Cabinet.

Time became of the essence and the ageing, oil-fired destroyer USS Buchanan, clearly unlikely to be nuclear-armed as it was to come here direct from Pearl Harbour, was banned when Labour Party policy suddenly changed to exclude even nuclear-capable ships.

The Americans, who'd bent over backwards to accommodate New Zealand's anti-nuclear stance, felt deceived. One senior State Department official told Hensley: "We thought you guys must have been smoking pot, you were in some dreamland."

In essence, Lange's treacherous behaviour led to New Zealand's citizens being shut out of a defence agreement signed in 1951 which requires its parties to consult over aiding each other in the event of an armed attack in the Pacific area.

In 1989 Lange further embarrassed New Zealand in a speech at Yale University - on Anzac Day no less - calling the treaty a "dead letter".

Prime Minister Helen Clark perpetuated Anzus fiction as recently as October last year when, on television, she blamed the US for New Zealand's isolation, saying Uncle Sam had "chosen to make a dispute over the nuclear-free issue, which is 21 years old, an issue which prevents us being as close as we could be".

I hate to be pedantic, but it was this country which did the choosing.

The full Anzus breakdown story, as former diplomat and holder of a double posting to Washington John Wood said, is yet to be told.

Yet we continue to misrepresent the treaty, most recently when commentators expressed relief our suspension meant we were not required to send troops to Iraq.

Australia's haste in sending troops arguably had more to do with securing lucrative wheat export deals with Iraq than honouring its commitment to Anzus. Prime Minister John Howard conveniently invoked Article IV after the terrorist attack on New York's Twin Towers, but could the US east coast legitimately be called the "Pacific area" as required by Anzus? (Contrary to hippie folklore, the US didn't formally cite this clause when requesting military support from Australia and New Zealand in Vietnam.) In any case, New Zealand's Anzus membership would not force us to send troops wherever America drops bombs.

I have no strong feelings about rejoining Anzus, but I wish we'd grow up and dump what National's spokesman Murray McCully calls our "locked-in anti-Vietnam protest mode". It's time to stop allowing our contempt for President Bush and his disaster in Iraq, to prevent debate about our need not just for free trade, but also defence partners.

New Zealanders don't need to hate America. We love its great writers - Hemingway, Steinbeck, Mailer - and their music, films, art and architecture. Within the State Department, I'm told, some who thought we'd been treated too harshly won the opportunity to review the whole relationship with New Zealand, until Trevor Mallard at election time accused "American bagmen" of funding the Opposition's campaign.

On Anzac Day it's appropriate to reflect on whether we can afford such irresponsible, and to date groundless, accusations.

Last year, at Rotorua's dawn parade at Muruika, I listened to one of the finest speeches I've ever heard delivered in New Zealand. Judge Chris McGuire, a Territorials member, urged those present to understand the importance of having adequately trained and equipped armed services, to understand the importance of freedoms we take for granted, and to understand just how awful war is.

He paid tribute to local heroes who served in the European theatre of war, specifically Haani Manahi, Moananui Ngarimu, Nancy Wake, and Keith Park. But he didn't forget the allies who protected the mothers, sisters, young and elderly left behind in New Zealand: "By the grace of God and the blood that our American allies spilled at the titanic battles of the Coral Sea and Midway, the Second World War never reached our shores. People forget that American losses in the Coral Sea and Midway Battles that saved us, were in fact greater than those of the Japanese."

Kerre Woodham: War medals belong here

Everybody knows that Charles Upham chose not to profit from being a hero. As the only combat soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross and Bar, Charles Upham was forced to accept a level of attention from the country and the Commonwealth that he found taxing. When he was offered £10,000 on his return from war by his home province of Canterbury to help him buy a farm, he was adamant that he should not gain in any way from his fame. "The military honours bestowed on me are the property of the men of my unit as well as myself and were obtained at considerable cost of the blood of this country," he wrote in a letter to the mayor. "Under no circumstances could I consent to any material gain for myself for my services."

Over the years, he turned down many offers for his decorations, so his view on money for medals was clear. However, nobody, except his family, knows what his views were on the sale of the medals after his death.

He could have chosen to leave the medals to the Waiouru Army Museum which would have ensured the medals would never be sold. But he didn't do that. He left the medals to his three daughters. And for 10 years the family has had them on loan to the Army Museum. Now his daughters want to sell them. One of the daughters says it's a messy, awkward business that is only going to get more messy with future generations.

And she could well be right. I've heard horror stories of families splitting apart under the pressure of property division. Of course, bequeathing them to the Museum would solve the problem but everyone within the Upham daughters' families would have to agree to that and in this day and age, $3 million may well have more currency than a couple of pieces of bronze. We don't know whether Charles Upham told his girls to sell the blessed things and set themselves up for life or whether he assumed they would never let the medals out of the family. Only the family knows. But the matter went beyond the private sphere when the Upham daughters approached the government to buy the medals.

Then the sale of the medals became public property and everyone, it seems, has an opinion on the rightness or otherwise of flogging off a precious piece of New Zealand's history for profit.

Phil Goff's gone all terribly sanctimonious and pointedly referred to the families who have donated their medals to the Museum without seeking to gain financially and mused aloud as to whether or not it would be fair to pay the Upham daughters and not these other families.

However, a VC and Bar is in a league of its own. And Charles Upham's story is a special one too, beautifully told in his biography Mark of the Lion. The government had no compunction in selling off New Zealand's family jewels in the mid-80s and they've also had no problem in picking up the tab for other pieces of fabulous New Zealand art, taonga and property. So why are they so resistant to the suggestion that they pay to ensure Charles Upham's medals stay in this country, on public display, forever? Should the medals go offshore, Charles Upham won't be any less a hero. His iconic status is assured. And it's the family who have to live with their decision, not the people of New Zealand. The myth of the New Zealander is that of a brave, resourceful, anti-authoritarian, laconic and humble individual. In Charles Upham, that myth was made man. His medals are a powerful tangible reminder of an important part of New Zealand's history. They should stay in this country - no matter the price.

Kerre Woodham: Resorting to violence no way to solve anything

Nobody condones the actions of Daryl Falcon in grabbing an 11-year-old boy around the neck and prodding him in the face with his finger. Even Daryl himself says that what he did to the boy his daughter claimed was making her school life misery was wrong and the result of stress and frustration. He's paid the price for his actions - he now has an assault conviction and a $500 fine.

The family of the 11-year-old say they opposed diversion after Daryl badmouthed their son in the media. Dave, the boy's father, says his son has never been in trouble at school before, his reports had been fine with no mention of bad behaviour and that his son and Daryl's daughter were as bad as each other.

But Daryl Falcon has received loads of support from members of the community who have experienced the helplessness of seeing their child's life ruined by bullying or who were bullied themselves at school. The case has been the catalyst for hundreds of stories of parents who have been unable to get schools to take the problem of bullying seriously.

Every school has to deal with the issue - where there are pre-teen children, there are bullies. And it's how the issue is dealt with that is the test of a good school. It seems that at Mairehau School there was a lack of communication from all parties - Daryl Falcon, the school management and Dave the father of the 11-year-old.

The case should never have ended up in court. And when you think of the number of high-profile people who have appeared in court on real assault charges and been either diverted or discharged without conviction, it makes you wonder whether we really are equal in the eyes of the law. Nonetheless, this case proves yet again that aggression, be it child on child, be it adult on child, be it understandable or not, doesn't result in any winners.