Ex-punk makes surfing on turf an art

Ex-punk makes surfing on turf an art

2002-05-03 03:03:07

Exposures has been nominated in the Racing and Breeding Magazine Internet awards. The following article was published in the Sunday Star Times, April 8th, 2001

Dave Stewart’s been breaking the rules since he was a teenage punk rocker – waxing his hair bright yellow long before gel became de rigueur. You won’t find the Aucklander prancing around the stage any more with New Zealand’s first punk rock band Anti Music, but he’s still banging the keyboards. Only today, he does it from the confines of his ten by eight spare room, and the keyboards, while silent, are helping him make a noise all around the world. Stewart’s instrument of choice is the computer, four of them to be exact, and bit by byte he’s establishing himself as one of it’s leading exponents.

Last week, Stewart, 45, gained some long overdue recognition when named one of the finalists for a southern hemisphere Internet award. Expert’s chosen by racing’s largest Internet portal, Letitride, selected Stewart’s www.exposures.co.nz from nearly 1000 web sites on racing, breeding and horse sales. And on April 17 at a function in Sydney he’ll find out if his site is the winner for the best innovative use of technology. But, considering Stewart runs the site on his own, and is his spare time, and has few of the resources of his competitors, he already can claim a moral victory.

He’s not still using that first ZX Spectrum PC he brought in 1980 but he cannot afford the grunt others enjoy. And if the judges were to look at the achievements in the last few years, which have set New Zealand on a pedestal for promoting racing on the Internet, he would win hands down.

Stewart developed and still maintain’s a dozen web sites, among them those of New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing (www.nzracing.co.nz), the Auckland Trotting Club (www.harnessracingauckland.co.nz) , and Cambridge Raceway (www.cambridgeraceway.co.nz). On these innovative sites, you can watch video replays of races and trials, and view photofinishes within 12 hours of the action. It was his early photo finish work on his own site, exposures, that had the galloping and harness racing code’s administrators beating on his door. But ironically, it was the punk rock link that led to his turning surfing on turf into an art form.

When Stewart saw audio first hit the Internet, with early news bulletins, and CEO’s welcome messages, he wondered, “why not music?” So he dug up the old punk rock songs he’d taped and converted them from tape to CD. “Then I worked out how to put the songs on the Internet using compressed audio.I’m sure I was the first musician here on the Internet. I was never going to get a record deal but this way people could at least listen to my songs. One or two of them were even quite good.” On Stewart’s accompanying chat site, “Planet Dexter, and experiment in cyber reality”, he successfully predicted what was to come – musos recording their own songs and distributing them on the net.

Stewart, who worked part time as a photo finish operator at the races, challenged the accepted boundaries too when the digital photofinish system arrived. Used to breaking the rules of photography, cooking chemicals up for instant post-race prints, he found a way to extract the image and them compress them by up to 98%. From there, Stewart reckoned he was limited only by his imagination so he quit his job as a paint shop manager and went for it. And when people told him video wouldn’t work on the Internet he proved them wrong too – posting races from Auckland’s 1999 Interdom Carnival on the net, then doing Moonee Valley’s series last year too “for free, just to prove it could be done”.

“That was a big job. I worked through the night so that people could get up the next day and watch the races. I had hits coming in from all over the world.” “But someone had to take the punt and convince people this wasn’t pie in the sky, that the Internet wasn’t just for teenagers to download MP3’s.” “It was then that I realised that in the Internet I pretty much had a TV station at my fingertips”.

Stewart sees a logical next step in the progression – live New Zealand racing on the Internet. “If the Auckland Trotting Club wants to beam races live on the Internet, they can do it tomorrow.” If Stewart can be part of making that happen, he’ll be there – “and hopefully someone will pay me,” he says. For, while Stewart is managing to pay the bills, a few extra thousand for that new computer gear would help.

But he’s confident all the work he’s done gratis will pay off eventually, not just for himself but for the racing industry which is presented with a huge growth market.

As he reassures his wife on his rare sorties outside the spare room – “I’m not doing this for ‘nothing’, I’m doing it for ‘free’. There’s a difference.”

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