Hard News by Russell Brown

Losing the Bird

So does Sky's satellite service count as critical infrastructure? Those of us tracking news of the Optus B1 bird last night were looking at a fairly extraordinary prospect: that, as NBR's site had it, the satellite "may be missing without hope of recovery." Just before 8pm, a post to the Geekzone forums declared: "Unofficial word at the moment from several sources is that the Optus B1 satellite has lost all ground contact and is probably dead."

As it turns out, it's not that bad, and service, albeit a little patchy, is back this morning. But it seems obvious that there were genuine fears that Optus B1 was gone for good last night. The satellite has been vulnerable since its main satellite control processor (SCP) failed nearly a year ago. PA reader Lex Miller noted that on this site (which is now password-protected) the status of B1 is reported thus:

"[This satellite] Lost its primary SCP on 21 May 2005 causing an outage. The satellite now needs an urgent replacement."

Optus has two new satellites in preparation, but they're months away from commissioning. If B1 really had been lost, there would have been limited capacity on the Optus C1 bird, but the only Sky customers who would easily have been able to switch are those MySky customers who got a dual-LNB dish as part of their install.

The other services reportedly down last night - Fire Service in-fill paging, some air traffic control functions and some interbank transmissions- and the radio stations that use Sky to trunk their signal around the country, would presumably have made similar arrangements. But for most people, there would simply have been no Sky Digital. For months. Phew.

Well done to whoever was manning the NBR site, BTW. Desfinitely the best mainstream coverage.

Staying with television, I believe I predicted some time ago that C4 would pick The Daily Show. And, now, it has. The Daily Show will screen at 10pm on Thursday nights (after Little Britain) from April 18. So that's the weekly Daily Show … I've tried to find out if it's the "international" edition already tucked away on the CNN schedules, but I can't get anyone to call me back. It's a bit of a shame it's not the regular daily programme, which is a lot better, but it's nice that it's turning up in some form.

Bloggers! Struggling to really nail that wise but forthright post on the fucked-up mess/gradual march to freedom [tick one] in Iraq? The Chaser is here to help. See My Column on Iraq Kicks Your Column on Iraq's Ass!

Jordan Carter notes the new OECD report listing New Zealand as one of the countries which takes the least tax off the income of its citizens (again). Won't stop people claiming precisely the opposite, of course.

Mirage Media in complimenting-a-talkback-host shock! Justin du Fresne, that is. He also says a bundle about two other ignorant radio loudmouths:

Martin Devlin (Radio Live) and Leighton Smith (Newstalk ZB Auckland) launched into a tirade against people with mental health illnesses. This, in wake of the incident in Rotorua where a woman was viciously attacked by her mentally ill son. I'm not saying this story doesn't deserved to be aired. Like other crime stories however it doesn't deserve to be debated above important political issues.

The only people who have an interest in the case are those who personally knew the victim and perpetrator (like other crime stories). Instead, Smith and Devlin used this single case as an empirical example of the dangers associated with mental health patients and the failings of the mental health system.

Objective and intelligent debate on the issue of mental health was unfortunately absent from their discussions, as real data and statistics weren't even considered. (There is research to suggest for instance that people that suffer from mental health problems are no more likely to commit violent crime than anyone else, whereas they are far more likely to be victims of crime).

Smith and Devlin do this pluralistic democracy a great injustice by ignoring the evidence, whilst relying on single cases and individual prejudice to shape debate. The event was a single case and deserved no more airtime than any criminal case (very little). If the hosts want to discuss mental health issues, I suggest they consult objective academic research in the area.

Very cool United Church of Christ ad from America.

More ZAP stories. Lee Wilkinson had a magical time:

One of the weirdest things I've ever experienced was attending some ZAP lectures around 1980. The point: the lectures were on a theme called positive action and that guy John Dalhoff was the lecturer, he said I'm going to show an example of positive action next month and I thought, show me. Well the next month he pulls out two cheques and letters from the "Golden kiwi" for 1st AND 2nd prize. I saw it man!

Btw, he was independently major wealthy inheritor of Dalhoff & King, the people distributing International Harvester machinery. Got no idea what happened to any of those dudes but those "both barrels bullseye" thickshakes from the doghouse rocked. I think for me I learned stuff from them that I've never seen disproved in life and I'm a sceptic/analyst type. I couldn't relate to their hard right ideology tho!

For the benefit of younger readers, the Golden Kiwi was the national lottery. In the days before we had a market economy, it was one of the most popular ways of getting rich (well, that and the ownership of import licences, as Alan Gibbs would attest) and Barry Crump even enshrined it in a book called The Odd Spot of Bother. But the fact that a number of the ZAPpers went bankrupt suggests that the special Johnny Ultimate magic was not a long-term thing. Damn right about the milkshakes, though. I recall one with icecream and an egg that was really very good.

Geoff Lealand was also in touch:

Interesting to read about ZAP after all this time. I thought (and hoped) that this mob of despicable people had died off long ago.

When I was a student at Canterbury in the late 70s, I wrote a one-off student guide to Christchurch, for the Student Union. I recommended avoiding places such The Dog House because of their association with unsavoury ZAP people. When the guide was published, I was warned several times that ZAP people were out to get me (in a dark alley, presumably) but, in the end, I was probably in greater danger of violence or death from The Dog House burgers!

There is probably a research essay- or dissertation- in investigating why Christchurch produces more than its share of right-wing lunatics!

And a little message:.

Dear Warner Music,

RB here. You sometimes gave me free CDs when I was in a different branch of journalism, way, way before you were owned by Edgar Bronfman Jnr. Good luck with that, by the way.

I'd just like you to know that the moment you can sell me a copy of the new Flaming Lips album At War With the Mystics, I'll buy one.

In the meantime, if you're going to let an "advance" copy fall into the hands of The People Who Upload Files, what's a guy supposed to do?

It takes maybe three listens to click, but, damn, this is a good Flaming Lips album. It's just as well that people can also preview it on the Flaming Lips website, by clicking the "audio" button.

I've been particularly enjoying the first single, 'The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song' which has more hooks than a tackle bag. Last Saturday night I helped my mates Andy and Dazza polish up their forthcoming documentary and there are pictures of us totally getting down to this bit while we worked:

It's a very dangerous thing
To do exactly what you want
Because you cannot really know yourself
Or what you really do
With all your power ...

Good old Wayne Coyne, eh?


PS: Don't supposed you guys have any idea when we get iTunes in New Zealand?

And in conclusion, happy fortysomethingth birthday to Big Gay Paul. See you tonight, pal …