Hard News by Russell Brown


I had a dream in which somebody committed suicide last week. The room was a classic interior of the unconscious: the foyer of some grand theatre, primarily consisting of smooth, mottled, curving marble. We were looking down, a long way down, over a balcony. And then, suddenly, he dived over.

He was someone I know, or used to, but I think he was there for symbolic, rather than literal, value. I remember the sudden horror - it's fascinating the way our dreams can anticipate the feeling of a thing we haven't experienced - and then the clear, sharp, sickening smack of the body hitting a distant floor. That sound was truly awful.

The dream was mixed up in a week of doomy portent; in which the worst things did not happen but hovered on the edges. On Friday afternoon, I took some of the weight off my back, literally, by finally getting some treatment for a minor back injury I hadn't been able to shake off. Turns out it's the kind of injury that precludes, for the moment, two forms of exercise I enjoy: cycling, and shooting hoops in the driveway. The hoops, in particular, have been doing more harm than good.

There needed to be more. So I called Paul, who came around to watch the Blues-Highlanders game, with a mutual friend who works in the Internet industry. All this stuff about connection speeds was missing the point, said our mutual friend. What people needed to start asking questions about was contention ratios - that is, the number of broadband users served by each individual ATM circuit to a Telecom exchange.

Telecom won't reveal its typical contention ratio, although providers overseas tend to advertise theirs as a selling point. Word is, it can be in excess of 80. The standard in competitive markets is more like 50, and can be considerably better. The upshot is that if you buy JetStream via an exchange serving an area yet to awake to the broadband revolution, your results might be excellent. But if all your neighbours are getting broadband - look at Mt Eden, my friend suggested - then you're drawing water from the same, small pool. At peak times, your 2Mbit/s connection will actually be nothing of the kind, and your 3.5Mbit/s isn't actually going to improve anything.

I told our friend that if he thought members of Parliament were going to get their heads around that problem, let alone a solution, he was dreaming. But you can only try.

We watched the game. Can anybody tell me what the Blues' game plan was? Because we looked 80 minutes for a pattern, even a glimpse of a winning pattern, and we could not discover one. Basic errors at set piece, repetitive, lateral backline movements, frantic offloading, sure. But sense of purpose, there was none. And with Luke McAllister cracking his jaw, the unfortunate placement of Lavea at first-five is set in. We discussed how long this might go on before Nuciforia panicked and started Nacewa at first-five (which, apart from anything else, would add a goalkicking option by bringing Ward in at fullback). The Blues aren't going to win the bugger this year.

After calling a dial-a-driver for our friend, Paul and I headed into town, for the last couple of hours of the city council's Dancing in the Streets event, between the library and the St James in Lorne St. I love these events; they're mad and energetic, and Lorne St was packed with kids when we arrived. Paul and I found ourselves a spot on the balcony by the library, and soaked it all up.

Chris Chetland's Baiter Cell began life as a pretty stern business: hard, alternative beats. It is now a party experience, with MCs and vocalists and unabashed crowd favourites (there's never a wrong time to drop 'Blue Monday') spliced in among Baiter Cell's various student radio hits. It was good fun.

"We're so lucky to have this," mused Paul. "This is the best country in the world."

He got in a conversation with the young bloke next to him, which somehow got onto Paul being gay. The young bloke asked Paul what it was like being gay. Not too foul at the moment, Paul may have said.

Around us, kids hopped up on BZP hopped around and texted their friends. Then Concord Dawn came on and they hopped 30% faster. Drum and bass isn't my favourite kind of music, but I do love the energy of drum and bass crowds, and it's not hard to see why Concord Dawn are regarded as one of the top D&B acts in the world. Here and there, a pair of cops wove through the throng, seeming almost stationary against the hubbub and clatter around them.

Apart from a brief scuffle near the front, there seemed to be nothing to trouble the plod. But as we left afterwards, someone working on the production said there had been several people staggering away from the mosh pit (this is the kind of dance music that has the equivalent of a mosh pit) dazed and bleeding, on account of several other people - on the P, no doubt - going way too far. There had been perhaps half a dozen arrests.

In which case, allow me to salute some intelligent, organised policing. There was a time when New Zealand police would have piled in on something like this; aggravated people, created a disturbance, stopped the music. But not this Friday night in town. They appear to have dealt with genuine problems so swiftly and efficiently - whipping miscreants to vans round the corner - that we, and a couple of thousand other partygoers, had no idea anything was amiss.

Paul and I walked up to K Road for a drink at the Wine Cellar. I love this place. It's like going to someone's flat for a drink - because it actually is someone's flat. The concise, reliable wine list doesn't trouble you with labels - just a Marlborough pinot gris, thanks - and the servings are of a size you'd pour in your own house. Paul and I yarned for nearly an hour over one drink. On the way in we met some of the bFM party crew, who were amiably trollied, and as we left we bumped into Julian Hansen and the man formerly known as Otis Mace, who were arriving in their course of their own auld buggers' night out. We exchanged greetings and knowing grins.

We thought we'd have a drink at Family, the great gay bar on K Road that, if it gets any more popular, risks being a victim of its own success. It's a thronging, colourful, diverse place that attracts, it seems, quite a few hets - for the very good reason, probably, that it's not full of uptight wankers like most other city bars are.

It was home from there for me, although Paul decided he'd stay and chat to some nice boys. Saturday was quiet and stationary, largely on account of the back treatment catching up on me (I had to bail on a friend's stag do that evening - I just wouldn't have been up to scratch). I sat on the deck and read the new Bulletin, which has Murdoch on the cover and a fine essay on liberalism, democracy and the Islamic world by Fareed Zakaraia, reprinted from Newsweek. The cricket was good, because we won and because Jhetan Patel bowled Chanderpaul between his legs, hilariously exposing the batsman's innovative front-on stance. We watched some new television off the Internetweb until midnight.

We're off to lunch in a half an hour, with friends, old friends we haven't seen for years and some interesting people we haven't yet met. The cicadas are sounding, the sun is shining and there not much to do but lazy lunching. We've run out of time for a swim around at Pt Chev, but that's okay - Pt Chev beach has been very good to us already this summer.

Paul's right. It's not too foul around here.


Update: Turns out Computerworld has more on the way Telecom is running its wholesale services. Juha Saarinen looks at the new deals offered to wholesale customers, which come replete with such "fish hooks" as a cut in the monthly data allowance for each retail customer, from 10GB monthly to 4GB. Full-rate DSL (previously 7.6Mbit/s and eye-wateringly expensive) has also been scrapped, in favour of the new 3.5Mbit/s offering. There's also an updated story on the dreadful contention rates, including a claim that Telecom's network will not support streaming media during peak times. Editor Paul Brislen says it's time to get tough, really tough, with Telecom.

And after a second week, one or two high-fliers (that means you, James Griffin) have come crashing to earth on the Public Address Virtual Super 14 leader board. Our leader is Nic Jones, with a blistering 90 points from two rounds, heading off Michael Parry, Kathryn Dick and Francis Wevers. Special mention for Holly Walker as a well-performed newbie. I managed not to completely embarrass myself.

PS: Juha has just been in touch with a little more on contention rates. He says:

"It's actually worse than 80:1. Telecom provisions a mere 24kbit/s per user for its "broadband".

"This means that for the 3.5Mbit/s connections, the contention rate is an astounding... 148:1

"The 2Mbit/s connections are shared by up to 84 users.

"Needless to say, you can forget about streaming video and other media during peak times."