Changing Places

Today (19 November) is World Toilet Day! Hurray! What are you doing to celebrate?

For quite some time now I’ve been working on a secret project which I had to keep under wraps until the formal press release. As of today I get to tell you, and I’m very excited.

Most people are unaware that standard accessible toilets (or “disabled toilets”) are not usable by people with high needs. For some people with a disability, using a public toilet may mean lying down on a dirty floor to change, or putting up with other conditions which are undignified, unhygienic, and unsafe.

What we need in these situations is a Changing Place, which is a special bathroom that contains an adult-sized changing table, a hoist, a shower, and plenty of room to move around. There are over 1000 Changing Places in the UK, and dozens of them in Australia. New Zealand has none. Until now.


New Zealand’s first Changing Place is under construction right now at Hamilton Gardens. I’m creating an information guide and a website to support the project, as my final portfolio piece in the Simon Fraser University Technical Communication Certificate (TCOM410).

I’m creating the Information Guide in Microsoft Word, and the website in Madcap Flare. Eventually I’ll shift all the content into Flare, and use Flare to generate both pdf and html output. Then I’ll submit this as evidence to get Certified MAD. That’s the grand plan, anyway. Here’s my project plan for phase 1: [download my documentation project plan]

Oh, and be sure to check out the website:

Happy Toilet Day!


Jilted (a poem)

Jilted by love, her once-fiery passionate sense of romance has stagnated.
  Armour up!
  Lock down!
  Turn inward!
Her once-light bilious frills are become limpid, heavy.
Her once-welcoming gossamer-soft layers, laid down by past loves, are become hardened accretions, cracked and scarred.
Her once out-reaching, light-seeking strands are become withered encircling vines.
  Armour up!
  Hold close the key to your heart!
  Carry the weight of your emotional herstory on your lumpsided humpback!
  Take care where you step, for the veil of love has left you blind!

(a poem for Margo JG‘s submission to World of Wearable Art, May 2017)



Hate is no joke

The story of when Salman Rushdie schooled me in authoritarian hate and intolerance.

One day, at 4pm on a Friday afternoon, around March 1996, I received a call at work from my mother. She had just heard on the radio that Salman Rushdie would be holding a public book signing in downtown Wellington on the following Monday afternoon. Invites were only open to members of the public who called some particular bookshop or publishing house phone number before 5pm today, and if I’d like the chance to go then I’d better act quick!

At that time I was a young, broke lab assistant. I worked up the courage and asked my boss for a couple of hours off work. When I called up to reserve my spot for the event, I was told that security would be tight. I would be allowed to bring one book with me to be signed, or else I could purchase a signed copy of his new book, The Moor’s Last Sigh.

I remember being excited that weekend. Salman Rushdie of course had been living in hiding since the Ayatollah (and Cat Stevens) had called for his assassination in 1989 after the publication of The Satanic Verses. Salman’s story had been sporadically covered in the media, with interesting tales of witness protection programmes, public sightings, and being hunted around the world by rogue assassins. It was clearly going to be a big deal—a personal historic moment for me—to get to see the man in person.

The big question for me was “which book do I bring?” Being an immature, naïve, self-absorbed twit at that time (I flatter myself that I have since grown up), I had an absurd and daring plan. A few years earlier I had picked up a beautiful old hardback English language copy of the Quran in a second-hand bookstore. If I brought this with me, could I maybe convince him to sign it? How cool would that be, to have my own personal copy of the Quran signed by Salman Rushdie himself! Would he go for that? Was it too bad taste? Would I be beaten up and ejected by his security detail?

In the end, I decided to bring along my copy of Midnight’s Children, which I had recently read (it won the Man Booker prize in 1981, and it’s a fantastic read). I turned up on the day, and after going through a metal detector and a bag search, I found myself in a small hotel conference room. Salman Rushdie was shorter than I expected. There were only about 30 or 40 people there. It turned out that the radio announcement on Friday afternoon had been a mistake—the message was really supposed to go out on Monday morning, so potential assassins had less time to plan. It turned out that this was his first public book signing, since the fatwa had been declared in 1989. It was calculated that New Zealand was sufficiently peaceful and far off the Ayatollah’s radar to give “appearing in public” a try at last.

Salman Rushdie was a wonderful speaker. I remember that he told stories about living in hiding, in different cities and countries around the world. He told a story about one time that he was living in London and his security detail had fit him out with a fake wig—people on the street saw through the disguise and pointed him out, laughing “Ha ha, there goes Salman Rushdie in a wig!” He spoke of how those people on the street were right, the situation was entirely absurd, to be living under fear of assassination by proclamation of a foreign leader.

But Salman Rushdie explained how it’s not such fun and games when your friends and colleagues start getting murdered. He told us about Hitoshi Igarashi, his Japanese translator, who had been stabbed and killed. He told us about Ettore Capriolo, his Italian translator, who was stabbed but lived. He told us about William Nygaard, his Norwegian publisher, who was shot three times and seriously injured. He told us about how an angry mob had burned down a hotel in Sivas, Turkey, killing 37 people, in an attempt to kill his Turkish translator. He told us how it was one thing to live with the extreme inconvenience of moving house every few days for years at a time, or having a personal 24 hour security detail, but it was another thing entirely to know that his friends and colleagues were in mortal danger without the same level of protection.

Salman Rushdie explained that his most vocal accusers had never even read The Satanic Verses, didn’t know what it was about, didn’t understand the major themes in his writing about cultural identity, fanaticism, forgiveness, living together in divided cultures… if only there was more listening and understanding then there might be less hate in the world.

Later on, when I stood before him getting my book signed, I was tongue-tied and humbled. I didn’t know what to say. I felt shame about the ignorant, offensive stunt that I had almost pulled. My heart grew three sizes that day.

Bigotry is no joke. Mob violence is no joke. Anti-immigrant hysteria is no joke. Sexual assault is no joke. Threats against the LGBTQ community are no joke. Openly talking about lynching members of the media or your killing political opponents is no joke. Donald Trump is no joke.

Hate is no joke.

Using text variables in Microsoft Word

Here’s another video that I created based on some tricks that I learned while taking a course in Advanced Microsoft Word. This one’s longer – nearly seven minutes long (I was aiming for six). I’m quite proud of figuring this out, I’ve been looking for a way to achieve this functionality for years now.

Like my previous video, I created this in Camtasia. Enjoy!

Putting diversity in the picture

Today I was putting together a presentation that I’m delivering tomorrow (at way too early in the morning – who schedules 7:30am meetings? wind turbine technicians, that’s who).

Anyway, I was poaching photos off the internet for my slides, and here was my shopping list:

  • Someone driving a car
  • Someone working on machinery while ticking things off on a clipboard
  • Someone pulling electronics to pieces or maybe doing electrical testing

Here’s the sort of screen which comes up in your search results if you search for “someone driving a car”:


My other search results were similar. Where the women at? I was scared to see what kind of misogynistic nonsense might turn up with a search like “woman driving a car”, but it turned out ok.


In the end I got the reasonable photo diversity I was looking for by just going a bit further with my search terms to get beyond the default “white guy” filter. The search terms that I used in the end went something like this:

  • “woman driving with a cup of coffee”
  • “working on machinery with a clipboard”
  • “woman electrical fault finding”

Putting a bit of diversity and inclusion into your content isn’t difficult, you just have to be aware that it’s something worth doing, and try to be aware of your own biases. Here’s that slide:


KiwiSaver and cluster bombs

A few days ago I saw an article which really threw me for a loop. It turns out that most New Zealand retirement savings schemes (“KiwiSaver” funds) have shareholdings in tobacco companies, and in companies that manufacture cluster bombs, land mines, or nuclear weapons. This article quoted an executive from my bank (ASB Bank) as saying that most kiwis weren’t too concerned with where their money was invested. I wrote a grumpy open letter in response, and here it is:

To: Jonathan Beale, ASB General Manager of Wealth, dated 18 August 2016
Cc: Barbara Chapman, ASB Chief Executive
Cc: Anusha Bradley, Radio NZ Journalist
Cc: James Shaw, Member of Parliament, Green Party co-Leader
Cc: social media

Dear Jonathan Beale,

I am writing this letter to you by hand to indicate how important an issue it is for me. I was shocked to learn in the news today that my ASB Kiwisaver scheme invests in companies that manufacture cluster bombs and anti-personnel mines. I was then appalled to read your claim, quoted in a Radio NZ report, that “most people with a Kiwisaver account are not too concerned about where their money was invested”.

I believe that most New Zealanders do care. I believe that banking executives who put profits before ethics, yourself apparently included, are on the wrong side of history.

As you are hopefully aware (if not, let me educate you) New Zealand is a signatory to the 1997 Ottawa Treaty which bans the use, stockpiling, or production of land mines. In addition, New Zealand hosted 122 nations for disarmament talks in 2008, which culminated in the “Wellington Cluster Bomb Declaration”, and the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions, which we have also signed and adopted as law. This convention prohibits not only using or stockpiling cluster bombs, but also assisting (or financing!) their production or use. Don’t tell me that New Zealanders are unconcerned with funding the production of horrific, banned weapons!

I stopped in at an ASB branch to ask for details of how my ASB Kiwisaver money is being invested, and was told by a helpful staff member that internal communications from head office said “there’s no proof yet that ASB is caught up in this business” and “people at head office are looking into it”.

When I got back to my computer, it took me less than five minutes of internet research to discover:

  • The largest single component of my ASB ‘Balanced’ fund is invested in Vanguard International Shares Index Fund (VISIF)
  • Vanguard’s Product Disclosure Statement for this fund states “Vanguard does not take into account labour standards, environment, social or ethical considerations when selecting, retaining, or realising investments in the Fund”.
  • According to the most recent fund holding statement as of 31 July 2016, the VISIF fund includes:
    Cluster bomb manufacturers: General Dynamics ($15,667,107.09), Textron ($3,848,995.46),
    Land mine manufacturers: Northrup Grumman ($14,538,622.02),
    Nuclear weapons manufacturers: Fluor Corp ($2,847,499.19), Honeywell International ($32,400,518.43), Lockheed Martin ($26,638,317.26),
    Tobacco companies: Philip Morris ($59,768,837.18), Japan Tobacco ($16,457,325.01), British American Tobacco ($45,687,607.78)
    …and that’s just for starters!

Jonathan, you have been on the ASB Kiwisaver investment committee for two years. Would you rather claim that in all this time you never took five minutes to glance through Vanguard’s Product Disclosure Statement and Holdings Statements, or that you read them thoroughly and found no cause for concern? Even if you were oblivious to the names of companies which produce illegal, immoral weapons, surely you would have noticed Philip Morris within the top 30 shareholdings?

I presume that you received a large bonus after ASB’s recent record profits. On your LinkedIn profile you indicate that you have two children. I hope you are investing this bonus sensibly and ethically to give them a fighting chance in this world that you are helping to create. Or, you know, you could use your powers for good, and become an agent for positive change. While you make up your mind, I will look for another Kiwisaver provider with ethical investment options.

Kind regards,
Dr. Nathaniel Janke-Gilman