iPhone prices – a failed experiment

It’s sad – but this great idea – a collaborative iPhone pricing spreadsheet for New Zealand – has completely failed. It’s a mess, there are people deleting things and Telco or device religion rather than science seems to be driving behaviour.

I don’t care how much Vodafone’s rates are – their network simply isn’t as good as Telecom’s XT network for the 3G radio frequencies used by the iPhone.

Posted in media, NZ Business, telecom | Tagged , | 12 Comments

Tuesday Three: 3 ways to improve your business

Think like you think for yourself

  1. Switch to Gmail
  2. Get a ‘best friends’ telephone deal for your work. Don’t use a business deal if the personal ones are better
  3. Get rid of almost all of your printers – and make the ones you have harder to get to, and track printing by person/cost center. It’s amazing how often you don’t really need to print.
Posted in NZ Business | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Why I don’t read Public Address

Via Not PC I see that there is a top NZ political blog ranking system.

That’s interesting.

Well not really – but I do like to read a range of views, and follow No Right Turn (#6, blogspot), Kiwiblog (#1), not PC (a rabble rousing #3 – also on blogspot) and The Visible Hand in Economics (#13). I also occasionally read Whale Oil (#8),  Roarprawn (#13 – blogspot) and rising star Offsetting Behaviour (#23 – blogspot)

I’m amazed at the number of blogspot hosted sites. I just don’t get it. WordPress is not only a far simpler platform to use, but it doesn’t show the blogspot toolbar on the top, and it makes it trivial to buy and host the site on a personal domain name.

Surely it is time for the better sites to move from something like norightturn.blogspot.com to norightturn.com?

I don’t read number 2: The standard, 4: Public Address or 5: No Minister. The Standard and No Minister have never compelled me to stay (especially versus No Right Turn and Kiwiblog – who really are excellent) while I have issues with  Public Address.

Let’s work through those personal issues I have with Public Address, because it is a much read and loved site by others, and people get really engaged there. Here are the top ten issues

  1. The front page has snippets of articles only. Reading shouldn’t be an active sport – but on Public Address I have to click multiple times to read the posts on the front page
  2. The articles are, well, articles. They are far too long for the internet media – seeming more suited to magazines.
  3. The articles often contain more than one topic – this one contains about 4 different thought streams. That may work for an email newsletter, but in a blog (or indeed a newspaper) the expectation is one story per story.
  4. Actually that link isn’t to one post – but to a series of posts (I was referring to the one on 7 July) on the same topic. That’s just weird.
  5. The link buttons and so forth under each post don’t look quite right – they are not standard and so I am not sure how they function.
  6. The comments are somewhere else – so you can’t read the article and see the comments straight underneath without clicking yet again
  7. Once you are in the comments section you can’t get back to the main Public Address site – there is no home link.
  8. It’s http://publicaddress.net – that’s weird. I still think of .net sites as being technical ones to do with running the internet. What is wrong with .com or .co.nz?
  9. The RSS feed is clipped. This is important as everything above is forgivable if I can read entire articles in my RSS reader. However like the homepage you can only see a few lines of the hundreds in each article.
  10. Overall it’s just too hard – the site makes me think too much about how it functions, and not enough about whatever it is they are talking about.

The solution is easy – move the site over to WordPress. There are plenty of people in NZ to help with the transition and even a WordPress camp coming up in Wellington.

None of these issues are to do with the actual content of the site – which is apparently very good. It’s a classic case of the usability getting in the way of the product.

I often wonder just how much traffic Public Address would get if they adopted standard usability and technology.

So is this just me – or do others have the same issues?

Posted in Internet Business, media, NZ Business | Tagged | 73 Comments

What’s wrong with Telco pricing and how to fix it

Via the tidbits newsgroup an Aussie (amacbell) succinctly points out the problem with Telco pricing:

I know of no other industry where you need to prepurchase on the basis of a best guestimate of the volume of units required for the month ahead.

If you guess wrong and don’t use all the units you bought then you lose your money. Tough.

Can you imagine the uproar that would ensue if petrol stations started selling fuel for your car ‘on a plan’. You would need to prepurchase say 150 litres a month, and if you use less you still have to pay the full price.

Let’s repeat that.

If you buy 100 minutes and use 50, then you have overpaid – by 50%.
If you buy 100 minutes and use 500 then you will be billed at the much higher 100 minute rate.
Either way you have overpaid.

Some telcos will even charge penal rates. (Telecom’s XT price plan does not – well done)

So let’s use Telecom’s XT network’s pricing plan, which is a big improvement, to look at how we can get better.

Telephone calls

Right now you need to select a plan based on your guestimate of what you will do.

But why not have one rate – and provide discounts for use based on what I actually use that month? Why not offer the ‘best price’ each month.

So if one month I use 500 minutes I pay 30 cents a minute, and the next month when I use just  30 minutes I pay 60 cents a call. Make it the same deal for everyone, and that way we don’t have to think – and not making your customers think is a great way to sell them more stuff.

Texts
Same with SMS – XT’s rates vary from 20 cents on prepay, and 4 cents to 1.2 cents on contract, but you need to predict what you will do. Why not just charge at the best rate for the use that month?

Data
Let’s turn to the real problem – data. Oh data.

Data ranges on XT’s pricing scheme from $300 per GB to $75 per GB. These are insane compared with regular broadband – and I mean it’s insane.

Meanwhile I have no idea how much data I use via XT’s network (I don’t see any warning texts – should I?), which makes this next bit scary.

The penalty rates for going over your data limit are criminal, and I use that word with purpose. There isn’t anyone that would deliberately go over their data limit (or extended data limit) and choose to pay, wait for it, $1,000 per gigabyte of data.

Go check – it’s on that same XT pricing plan, though they quote in megabytes. Megabytes – remember them? They were big back in the days of black floppy disks in 1995, but trivial in the days of 16 GB thumb drives and memory sticks, 5 Mb photos and a >1 Mb Stuff.co.nz home page.

Please Telecom (and Vodafone), and I say this with urgency – please fix your data rates so that using data is fun and not liable to end in penury.

There is plenty of room for improvement. Are you out there 2degrees?

Posted in NZ Business | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments

Fixing the Berl report – some progress made

Some good progress on the saga of the Berl report on Costs of Harmful Alcohol and Other Drug Use.

Berl have posted a response to criticism, including a letter of apology from Treasury.

They note that the request for tender stated “You shall complete a cost analysis using an accepted framework and deliver a report on the costs of alcohol and other drug abuse to New Zealand.” Further, the WHO International Guidelines was provided as an example of an “accepted framework”.

Berl used those WHO guidelines, however given the subsequent dismantling of the method this points the finger at the tenderers – the Ministry of Health and ACC.

Berl also push back on some of the Crampton and Burgess study, both pointing out errors and challenging their assumptions.

It’s an aggressive piece (Read it: Berl rejects criticism of study), and they point out that they do in fact have 50 years of reputation which they do not want to lose by writing results on demand. I hope that means they will keep on this.

However I’m not sure  that they are that close to reconciling with Crampton and Burgess (and others).

Meanwhile as Eric Crampton writes in the comments in the previous post that he had a beer (love that) with David Slack from Berl and subsequently made some adjustments to the calculations – adding back $36m in costs. However this was more than outweighed by the new subtraction of $197m in excise duties that Treasury had pointed out. Net net that means rather than showing a small net cost of alcohol to New Zealand, they are now actually showing a benefit – though Eric contends both are essentially zero with the margin of error in these sorts of studies.

Let me repeat that – one study says that the Cost to New Zealand of harmful alcohol and drugs is $6.88 billion, while another study says that it is zero, or even a benefit. The policy implications are huge – so we need to get this right, and we need to make sure that the Law Commission and legislators understand this discussion.

Crampton and Burgess are also re-writing their paper, which is good, publishing within days.

It is excellent to see this discourse from both parties – and I trust that it will continue, as ultimately the policy of NZ will be governed by the agreed answer, the right answer.

It’s a far cry from the USA where we often see “black” and “white” presented and no attempt to bridge the gap, and lobbyists pushing their own barrow to the exclusion of all else. If we can continue the ‘beers’ and academic discourse then once again we can all be proud to be from New Zealand.

I  hope and trust that the Law Commission hold off on their policy paper until the academic dust settles – let’s not make laws based on faulty premises.

Posted in NZ Business | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Tuesday Three: 3 ways to improve your business

Drinks are on the house, but only when in the house

  1. Buy staff beer and wine for Friday afternoons – but don’t put credit cards down at bars
  2. Cash in staff carparks – give them 50% share of the savings and encourage them to walk, use public transport, cycle or motorcycle
  3. Get everyone using IM – be it MSN, Skype or whatever. It’s far quicker than other methods and the new generation can’t functon without it. Oh – and it is free.
Posted in NZ Business | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Fix the Berl report on alcohol and drugs

The Costs of Harmful Alcohol and Other Drug Use report commissioned by the Ministry of Health and ACC has been the subject of some controversy. It was written by five authors from Business and Economic Research Limited (BERL), and they got support from a range of people, including 9 people from ACC or Ministry of Health, three from Otago University and two external reviewers – Prof. David Collins and Prof Helen Lapsey from Australia. The external reviewers are authors of a report that used similar methodology for a report in Australia.

While the level of professionalism to produce a credible report should command the (apparently) $135,000 fee, I am disappointed that people inside both Berl and the Department of Health are not reacting to the responses – indeed it seems defensive. While there has been some good robust discourse, but it seems a bit tit for tat, and much as we like to see a good fight, I’d rather see a quest for an agreed answer.

On such an important topic I feel that the only thing that matters is that we get the facts straight – and I would dearly like to see a re-worked and perhaps expanded paper that can be acceptable to academics, media, the public and even bloggers.

There is abundant material – so let me share the results of my own random walk through the topic by looking at each of the players involved.

The ACC is apparently a co-funder of the research, though there is no press release on the ACC website, and no mention in any recent speeches. From a public point of view they are out of it.

The Ministry of Health, through subsidiary National Drug Policy New Zealand, seems to be driving the activity. The NPD, which I was vaguely aware of, has the goal to:

Prevent and reduce the health, social and economic harms that are linked to tobacco, alcohol, illegal and other drug use. It does this through a balance of measures that:

  • control or limit the availability of drugs (supply control)
  • limit the use of drugs by individuals, including abstinence (demand reduction)
  • reduce the harm from existing drug use (problem limitation)

The NDP website is a bit out of date – showing former Associate Minister of Health – Jim Anderton – as the chair and eight other former minsters from the last Labour government on the Ministerial Committee for the NDP. It doesn’t bode well.

However the Berl report is on the site (reflecting their priorities perhaps), along with their latest report Research into knowledge and attitudes to illegal drugs which is not bad but by no means  flawless. For example they selected their sample of drug users from contacts and friends of contacts provided through drug treatment agencies – which is only going to capture those that have gone too far in their drug taking and their friends – not a representative sample. It’s liked selecting people for a study on alcohol from the people in a hospital detox unit and their friends, rather than from a pub on a Friday night.

That report also avoids digging into just why people take drugs – but only looks at the dark side.

Credit where it is due – the drug report does uncover that “just don’t do it” campaigns will not work – as people will do it anyway. It’s pretty good when it comes to formulating campaigns to reduce harmful use, just lousy as a policy forming instrument.

Back to the Berl report. From what I’m seeing on the NPD site it appears that the Ministry of Health is biased strongly towards stronger regulation of alcohol and drugs, whereas I would hope for a more nuanced approach from our normally balanced civil servants.

BERL

Business and Economic Research Limited has been around since 1958, and does, obviously, economic research. They clearly care about their reputation, and are, from what I saw at the Economic Conference, very good at presenting their findings. (Including a very entertaining and insightful one on the global financial crisis in NZ)

This reputation and lagacy makes the report and resulting kerfuffle all the more disconcerting. I am guessing that Berl are feeling a bit blindsided by all the media and academic reaction.

Their paper was presented at the NZ Economists Association Conference last week, but sadly I only saw the last few minutes. (I was diverted by a macro economic discussion of the global financial crises). I did see the reply, given by Messers Crampton and Burgess (below) but sadly at this standing room only event, the question period was killed in favour of lunch.What I did observe from the back of the room where several covered smiles and quiet snickers – while the sheer number of people in the room made it feel like a veritable lynch mob.

More concerning to Berl is that my understanding is that Berl are not revising the report in light of the academic and media criticism. I could be wrong, and I hope so, but I had a very brief chat with one of the authors at the conference – but he wasn’t happy talking to “a blogger”.

The Law Commission has been part of the news on the Berl report – and I really didn’t know much about them. Turns out the Commission..

…is an independent crown entity funded by government. It is a central advisory body established by statute to undertake the systematic review, reform and development of the law of New Zealand.

They also cover alcohol and drugs, it seems. The Law Commission used the Berl report in a speech in Nelson and another in Wellington by President Sir Geoffry Palmer SC.

While Sir Geoffrey says, in the second speech:

I do not believe it is the Law Commission’s job to advise New Zealanders about how much they should drink.

He later says that

The Law Commission will need to make recommendation about the legal framework for the sale and supply of alcohol.

The publicity arising from the first of these speeches is perhaps the reason that some, including the NBR, (and myself) initially thought that the Law Commission had paid for the report.

The Law Commission is publishing a “Review of the regulatory framework around the sale and supply of liquor” this month (July 2009). This is the policy response to the Berl report – and an important document as it feeds recommended law to the Government.

I’m a bit concerned that the Commission may be exhibiting a bit of anti-alcohol/drug bias, as evidenced by the paper published in May recommending that parliament does not use conscience votes for alcohol related laws – as they see that this makes it harder to pass strong anti-alcohol laws. This seems to be a disturbingly strong and one-sided recommendation that will help to ensure the next round of laws are passed. It may not matter too much, as the Government Whips managed, it seems, to have every National MP vote against a recent (albeit very poorly written) attempt at legalising medical marijuana.

Eric Crampton and Matt Burgess

Eric is from the Department of Economics and Finance at Canterbury University and Matt from iPredict [edited – I said both were from Canterbury earlier], and they wrote a compelling rebuttal to the Berl report, backing it up live at the NZAEC conference.

We find substantial flaws in BERL’s method that together account for well over 90% of BERL’s calculated costs of alcohol use. Corrected external costs of alcohol use amount to $662 million [Berl recorded $4,791.5m lw] and are roughly matched by the $516 million collected in alcohol excise taxes. The BERL report is wholly inadequate for use in assisting policy development.

Their three main issues with the report are:

  1. It uses a threshold for health costs to define a cutoff for economic costs
  2. It assumes anybody who drinks enough to cross an epidemiological threshold is
    irrational
  3. It assumes anyone who is irrational enjoys zero gross (not net) economic benefits
    from drinking

They are particularly concerned that the Berl report does not match any benefits with the costs, and point the finger at the Law Commission for referring to the Berl report’s ‘dramatic findings’, which, when you add the benefits back, are not a big deal.

They are also concerned (as am I) at the line by line calculations of the costs (and they apparently don’t reference well.) In the hope that people will actually read this I’ll leave out the details – they cover it well. Once systematic error is that they attribute 100% to alcohol costs from people that are already costing society through another condition, like mental illness.

Finally Dr Peter Bushnell – Deputy Secretary of the Treasury was pretty scathing in an NBR article:

the onus should be on the Law Commission to be rigorous ….”

“..What we’re saying is it’s your reputation that’s at risk here. It doesn’t reflect well on the Law Commission if it … backs [work], that doesn’t have a sound basis.”

doesn’t look like it meets the “normal standards you would expect”

Where to next?
We are now waiting for the Law Commission’s policy document – and the reaction to that will be interesting. Indeed the Berl report has probably had the effect of increasing awareness of the forthcoming policy and thus activated many people whom otherwise would not have been engaged. Like me.

<update – see the later post>

Posted in NZ Business | 4 Comments