17 April, 2006

Meeting the Prime Minister

There are probably too many opportunities to meet the Prime Minister, especially not outside of election time.

So although I regard politicians with a healthy measure of distrust, I couldn't help but be impressed at the sheer casual approachability of New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark, who fronted up to a small town gathering this weekend and got straight in amongst the crowd to chat, shake hands and have her picture taken.

The occasion was the 100th anniversary of the opening of the railway line to Waihi, on the Saturday of the Easter long weekend. We were in the vicinity having gone down to stay overnight at Rochelle's parents' new home on the outskirts of Thames (on the Coromandel Pennisula). Reading in the local paper that there would be steam trains running between Waikino and Waihi through the Karangahake Gorge over Easter, we were there like a shot. Far from being your typical anorak-clad trainspotter, I nonetheless have a weakness for steam trains.

The railway line between Waikino and Waihi is about 7km long and is run as a tourist attraction by a railway restoration society. Normally they operate a diesel engine, but for the 100th anniversary celebrations, a couple of small steam engines were on loan from MOTAT (Museum Of Transport And Technology) in Auckland.

We'd seen in the paper that the Prime Minister woulds be there to give a speech but I didn't pay this much attention. We were waiting on the station platform at Waikino when Helen Clark showed up with her husband and sister to join the rest of the passengers. No pomp and ceremony, no special treatment. Just three people in casul clothing ready for a trip on a steam train.

The train was fairly full, and the main crowd were waiting at Waihi, the other end of the line. We disembarked and joined what was a relatively small group of maybe two or three hundred people. Helen Clark moved effortlessly through the crowd, saying hello to everyone and shaking hands. Rochelle was keen to get her photo taken, so we moved in and soon got our chance. Rochelle got to shake Helen Clark's hand and exchange a few words while I took a couple of photos.

Later on Helen Clark gave a speech about the history of Waihi and the railway, and then after more meet and greet, she prepared to leave by car. Most of the crowd who were not making the return trip on the train had dispersed by this time.

I happened to be standing not far away from a mother was trying to help out her young son with his shoelaces which had become tangled in a tight knot. She wasn't having much luck and the boy was a bit tearful. Suddenly Helen Clark darted over and was down on her hands and knees trying to work the shoelaces free. It took a while but eventually she managed it and then retied the boy's laces for him. The mother was understandably deeply impressed to have the PM helping out with her son.

Great piece of PR, demonstrating that our Prime Minister is in touch with the little people, and win a bunch of Labour votes with the locals, right? The thing is, there were no reporters, no camera crews about to record this moment and most people didn't even notice what she was doing. I was probably one of only a very few people there who saw it happen.

The train ride back to Waikino was spectacular - we rode in the open truck with the steam and soot blowing in our hair as the train charged down the line. The railway line follows the main road for most of its length so we had a great time exchanging waves with car passengers as they passed us.

An excellent day out!

10 April, 2006

TSV 36 - reaching the halfway mark

TSV 36 is now online. This issue marks a milestone for the online archive project in that - numerically at least - we've now reached the halfway point (because as of writing, TSV 72 is the latest issue in print... but not for much longer).

There's far more material to cover in the thirty-six issues that have yet to appear online than in the ones we've already archived as recent issues are both considerably longer and also more densely packed with content than their earlier counterparts, but reaching the halfway mark is nonetheless an achievement in this huge project.

Issue 36 was a milestone at the time of publication too; it was published in November 1993 and as such marked the 30th anniversary of Doctor Who and according to the editorial it was mailed out just one day before the anniversary date. I recall stapling and folding the issues in the front room of the flat we'd recently moved into in Bayswater on Auckland's North Shore and Scott McPherson helped out with the envelope stuffing.

The content was geared to reflect the anniversary with a pull-out story guide, and a look back at the series' origins with a study of the differences between the pilot and the broadcast version of the very first episode. TARDIS Tales also got in on the celebration with a typically anarchic story featuring the first six Doctors turning up to an anniversary party in the TARDIS and discovering that Saucer has accidentally eaten the Seventh Doctor! The story also features the debut of an Eighth Doctor a couple of years before Paul McGann arrived on the scene.

The Space Museum, a long-running column that collected together snippets of Doctor Who cropping up in unexpected places, had its last outing in this issue. This regular feature relied entirely on readers' submissions and when these stopped, so did the column.

The front cover was the last in a run of artwork by Neil Lambess. Drawn with the anniversary issue in mind, Neil depicted the Time Space Visualiser (from The Chase), reasoning that it was an appropriate time for the TSV to make an appearance on the cover of TSV.

David J Howe's article on the making of his Timeframe book was written especially for TSV. Earlier that year I'd been supplied with galley proofs of selected pages from the book by the ever-supportive Virgin Publishing to use in TSV as advance publicity for Timeframe. The proofs weren't used alongside David's article due to a lack of space, but the online edition has provided an opportunity to dig these proof pages out of storage and finally display them in colour.

Jon Preddle and Graham Howard had both just returned from separate trips to the UK at the time of the issue's publication, and both writers submitted an article about UK conventions they'd attended, just in time to make it into the issue. Jon had a lot more to write about his trip, but this would have to wait for the following issue...

Read TSV 36 here .

06 April, 2006

Faster, Cheaper Broadband...?

We have a broadband account with Xtra, which is New Zealand's largest Internet provider, being the online division of Telecom.

Xtra have launched what they're calling "Faster, Cheaper" broadband services this week. I am of course interested to see how this would benefit us. How much faster, how much cheaper would our broadband access become? We've been paying $49.95 a month for the Explorer plan.

Yesterday we received a letter in the mail advising us of the changes to our account. No where in this letter is there any mention at all of it being "Cheaper" and indeed the Explorer plan stays at exactly the same price, so we're still paying $49.95 per month. How can Xtra claim that they're delivering "Cheaper" broadband?

And as for a faster connection, I know there are many factors to take into account when measuring broadband speed but I've yet to see any change at all in the speed of our connection.

Faster, Cheaper broadband? I think not. I feel duped.