Saturday, 22 August 2015

National Voter Promises to Use A New Flag Design

Politically, NZ's a pretty screwed up place. Sure, we don't have the insanity that is how Americans get around to choosing the people they will choose to be their president that has turned Donald Trump into a politician overnight but at least the US actually has something of a tradition of what we'll call discourse. NZ's a place where, well, newsreaders are simultaneously celebrities and intellectuals. I think it's in both aspects that Mike Hosking gets a prominent spot in the Herald (at least on its website) where his opinions get paraded. Have we, as a society, not heard the phrase "talking head"? For reference, he also gets to be in headlines for being accused of being a crony. Hosking is a talking head and he's talking for another one that also has a smile and wave function. The latter is, honestly, probably much more intelligent but just as dickish.

So, what's this got to do with the flag? And, more specifically, the title. Well, Eric Murray (who in his partnership with Hamish Bond is, without a shadow of exaggeration, easily the most dominant thing in world sports at the moment... and possibly ever) has recently announced that he is willing to wear an alternative design should he get a podium opportunity (i.e. this is going to happen if his convictions hold out/is allowed to). To give you an idea of what the Herald article I read this in is saying:
Murray and coxless pair partner Hamish Bond are gunning for a fifth consecutive world title in France next week and told Tony Veitch on Radio Sport this morning that if they get on the podium he'll take an alternative flag up.
Murray has previously been in support of the current New Zealand flag but has changed his mind since the launch of the flag referendum.
The article then goes on to quote Murray's stated rationale for wanting to change the flag now. However, there's not a single reference to who Murray votes for which, in the context of this discussion, is actually a pretty important thing. Here's an older article.
And Olympic gold medal-winning rower Eric Murray tweeted: "Get out & vote NZ! Plenty of time left #decision14 Don't worry @johnkeypm you got my vote! #sportfunding".
Murray actually got in trouble for that (not sure how much) because you're not allowed to make political statements on election day (i.e. electioneer). You may be able to encourage people to vote (I don't know and haven't bothered looking) but you cannot have that last bit about John Key. There was actually an increase (compared to 2011) of such problems according to that article and it notes the increasing use of social media in election campaigns. There's no problems with that (if you manage it well) but there are deep seated issues with #TeamKey, which was a big thing that National went with. But to get back to the point, this post is really an update on the flag crap.

We've known for a while, now, what the shortlist is. I'm not a fan, obviously, of them but I'm hoping one of the triangle ones gets in on the basis that all the others would be crap flags in terms of flag crap. I actually made a pretty angular suggestion myself and was intending on doing another more in line with these. The only issue with the current triangles is that black is an awful colour for a flag. I'd prefer, in fact, if the second one was chosen but amended to have the blue in both cases. I'd vote for such a design with a relatively eased conscience (you may recall that I am opposed to the flag change).

There are a few things to note about that shortlist (which is what it is, because the next list produced will be the list we vote on). Firstly, there are quite a few flags that incorporate green. I mean, why?

This design represents our clean, green and forward thinking country
Are they insane? Literally, this person is an idiot of the highest order and has been conned by the propaganda machine. New Zealand is very far from "clean" and "green" to the extent that a lot of our waterways are dangerous to swim in... largely because of dairying.
The green of the land and sea.
Yeah, okay. It's still pretty weird given it's "The Land of the Long White Cloud" and the rationale of "Too similar to Australia" so now we're introducing an important Australian colour?
The forest green alludes to the unique natural beauty of New Zealand, the outdoors, our sport and agriculture. The white represents the long white cloud of Aotearoa, our integrity, and peace. The two colours together can be seen as humanity in harmony with nature
I imagine we'll get quite a few similar sentiments. Land. Land. Another propaganda addled moron (and, again, no hesitancy in using the term). Land and Sea. Green Country. Not really explicitly explained, but internally consistent. 

Should green have a place in New Zealand's flag? Well, as I said, it's a little odd given the apparent reasoning is uniqueness/differentiability from Australia (let's be honest, this is what Mr Parociakey means). It's also a bit weird in that the only association of green and NZ are with pounamu (and putting this on your own flag, to my mind, seems to be akin to buying yourself one) and the aforementioned bull we spin to tourists. Hey, I guess we can suddenly stick green on the flag but it's just everything the flag shouldn't be: branding.

Secondly, some of these designs are far too similar. Congrats Dominic for getting two fundamentally identical flags in the shortlist. Those should be one flag in two different colour variations, as they are. This is exactly everything that the process has come to be... a quick get rich scheme for the panellists, excessive cost and a paternalistic assumption. To what extent, though, can we say that the similarity of the designs (although most of them are not so stupidly similar) are really a reflection of what NZers wanted? I mean, I reckon there's been some extreme filtering done by this panel in terms of how they've interpreted what people said. Here's a snippet from my design's rejection letter (I won't show you said design because, honestly, the triangles are much more what I was going for).
Each design was assessed by all Panel members on the basis of flag design principles and what New Zealanders have said they are looking for in a design for our national flag. 
Flag Design Principles (as interpreted from the panel's open letter, i.e. this gives us an inkling of what "flag design principles" means to the panel, what they actually are, in a real sense, is irrelevant if the panel's understanding, the one it used, is different):
A great flag should be distinctive and so simple it can be drawn by a child from memory. 
So, not a silver fern, then. They're distinctive but a bugger to draw properly and they're also like Apple's logo in that (well, hang on, they are a logo) remembering their proper orientation is much harder than you think. Also, NZ's far more than some sports teams, right? Well, probably not. Remember what I said about discourse? What does the absence of discourse actually say? A 0 is still data that matters...

Also, to be honest, a silver fern isn't that eye-catching and, well, none of the shortlist are... not really. On the other hand, few flags are. To some extent, we're importing what I'm going to call "logo theory".

Thirdly, why triangles? That is, what do I think NZ's flag should be saying? Well, I want a flag that says who we are, who we were and where we are. I think our current flag does this admirably but the triangles, with a red, blue and white colour scheme also achieve this... the stars being replaced by NZ's mountains in terms of symbological geography and the Union Jack being captured by the colours. I also think the vast majority of people want something similar and most people agree that the current flag does this. I know it. You know it. Everyone knows it. But still we have this cock and bull panel and this back-to-front referendum.

Mandate first!

In Sickness

I've missed only a few days of uni. Almost all of them have been this week (Weds, Thurs) or last week (Weds, Thurs, Fri) because I a) had a flu/bad cold (I was prescribed antibiotics and everything) and b) I didn't want to risk my recovery (so why am I awake?).

Missing uni, at Auckland at least, isn't really a big deal. Basically, only you and your friends will know and the vast majority of lectures are recorded. However, it's still problematic in the sense that you will have to catch up on things. To that end, some quick advice.

One, watch the recordings as soon as you are able to

I've been well enough to work since Monday and I am basically a week behind on lectures. This was great today because the Comlaw lecture I had made reference to a lecture I am yet to catch up on.

Two, if you have to hand something in: contact your lecturer

I had the great misfortune of being at my worst on the same day that two things were due. My awesome eco lecturer let me bring the relevant assignment for that in on Monday and probably saved a train full of people from catching whatever the hell it was that I had in the process (I had finished it by Friday though). The other thing I just handed in online because that's how AROPA rolls for Comlaw.

Three, if you have other assignments work on them

Yeah... I'm going to have a very busy weekend working on a Stats assignment due on Monday. Odds are you will be well enough at some stage to work in bed. I was. Still felt terrible though (honestly, for the middle few days I couldn't really work).

Four, if you're well enough for lectures, go to them

Some awesome sounding stuff was happening in those recordings that I've seen thus far. Really, recordings aren't as good. Also, I missed a guest speaker and that wasn't recorded and the Facebook group was very vague about what was said.

Five, don't read 1am blogs

Sounds obvious, is obvious. As a corollary, don't write 'em either.

Monday, 3 August 2015

Technical Anonymity

This has been floating around in my head for ages.

Basically, the suggestion of many people is that the internet is anonymous and this causes a lot of problems. Well, there's a few problems with that. Firstly, a lot of people have a very cursory experience of the internet largely restricted to social networking sites or non-account sites. As the term "social networking" probably suggests, the anonymous don't get too much from this. Although, of course, the whole catfish sort of thing and other variants of fake profiles are real Things. Secondly, for those people who aren't like this (of which there are also a great many, if not more) there's this idea of technical anonymity.

To understand what I mean by technical anonymity you must first grasp something really important about names. Names aren't information, they're data. .

In an academic context (i.e. Infosys 110), data and information are distinguished. A fact is a single idea and facts are data. Information, though, draws relationship between facts. Essentially, information requires at least two facts. (You can build on this foundation to derive knowledge and wisdom but that's just trivia here.)

So, back to names. If I told you my name, you'd know my name (i.e. Harry). You don't, however, know anything about me. My telling you my name says nothing about the person to which it belong. What you've got (i.e. Harry) is a simple, trivial little fact that doesn't help you do anything. However, if you know me and someone mentioned my name to you, you'd automatically recall a bunch of different facts associated with that name and you'd lump them together and reach some sort of conclusion such as "Oh, yeah, I know him: totally unreliable". In other words, the name by itself says absolutely nothing interesting.

People potentially get confused about this point because, in everyday life, we generally deal with names of people we know. Every time we hear/encounter these names we automatically recall all the different things we know. For instance, "Oh, yeah, Tom: tall, scruffy, wears glasses" or, "Ah, Gloria: tall, scruffy, wears glasses". The name is the fact which we use to organise these tidbits and create some sort of meaningful information out of. There's one big, initial, implication of this.

Anonymity Doesn't Depend on People Not Knowing Your Name

This follows pretty immediately. If your name is just trivial data to people who don't know you, what's the difference between being called, say, TaichiFan0111 and being just plain old Paul? Well, you say, the difference is that people who know plain old Paul don't know that Paul is TachiFan0111. That's actually pretty important, yet, at the same time, we know that the thing that matters is not Paul versus TaichiFan0111 but rather that people have a whole bunch of other things associated with Paul but not with TaichiFan0111. That is:

Trait(Knows) Paul(Doesn't Know) PaulTaichi0111

To be honest, there's more that I would like to do with this table but I am not that skilled with html and, currently, somewhat too time poor to research things thoroughly. For instance, I'd prefer to put the table in the centre of the document and, also, to have dividing lines but, and this is crucial, only within the body (i.e. between the columns "(Knows) Paul" and "(Doesn't Know) Paul") and only covering the size of the bottom two rows.

So what is Technical Anonymity?

Imagine that Paul uses the TaichiFan0111 (henceforth, TaichiFan) name/handle for a while on a particular website that has a number of fairly regular users. Furthermore, assume that these users have functioning memories and will remember the activities of TaichiFan over time. Sound reasonable? Honestly,. I am not sure to what extent that this is true of corrupted forums like Reddit or huge sites like, say, Twitter, but I have seen this in action in reasonably sizeable forums so that's something. Why does this matter?

Well, remember how names work? When you hear a name you associate a bunch of things with that name. Names are literally classifying tools, right? In that table example we see two aspects of Paul. One one hand we have something physical (i.e. Tall) and on the other we have some emotive/mental trait (Funny). That's a really important distinction to draw in considering technical anonymity. On a text based medium, such as this, it's pretty impossible to learn any physical facts about me (unless I choose to post a photo or something) but it's pretty easy to develop ideas about those other traits, isn't it?

As a quick illustration, look at the commonly used labels at the bottom of the homepage. We see education is way up there, so's New Zealand and so is "auckland university". You are already drawing some conclusions about me from this. I won't bother guessing at those conclusions but you understand, don't you? In some important way, you know me just from reading these blogs. You only know some stuff and only what I choose to reveal to you (whether explicitly or implicitly) but there's enough in that isn't there? In the same way, if I were going by TaichiFan then you'd still know those same things, it's just that they'd be classified slightly differently. (And, to be honest, TaichiFan0111 actually tells you stuff as well, probably. As should my choice of TaichFan as a hypothetical name.)

So, then, technical anonymity is the idea that even though you don't know who someone is, you can still know who they are.

Conversely, you can know who someone is, but not know who they are.


Someone who has been using a long term name (e.g. TaichiFan) has built up something in that, if you will, brand/identity and if they wanted to start trolling, for instance, they must sacrifice that in a way that is akin to (but not the same as) choosing not to use one's IRL identity or adopt another name (e.g. HMSYamato) to conceal their identity. That's actually a quite important thing to bear in mind when considering the dynamics of internet conversation.


I think this is a pretty interesting idea. It's not really trivial in that it does say quite a lot about how the internet alters our identities and our understandings of things like privacy. Naturally, this is going to be really big for people who will spend their really early formative years online. And it should be big for people considering these sorts of things (sociologists? managers? politicians? marketers? etc. etc.) as well.

In some ways, then, I guess, the internet means that how we understand anonymity should change, in at least some ways. That's probably as close as we're going to get to a proper big ending point.