Saturday, December 31, 2011

Fuel Of The Future?

Many NZ waterways suffer from nutrient-rich farm effluent run-off.
Because cows produce an awful lot of poo, many farmers spray it as fertiliser. Those poo nutrients leach into streams, rivers and lakes. The water becomes nutrient-rich, whereas most water plants have adapted themselves to nutrient-poor waters. So other plant species start to develop and the original plant species die. The water becomes foggy, which leads to a lower oxygen production in the water and the fish die, all due to effluent run-off.
Here in NZ, duckweed is being used for wastewater treatment, as it's able to digest nutrients at tremendous speeds, but overseas research indicates it can then be harvested for biofuel processing. Duckweed can store at least four times more starch per surface unit then regular crops, thus making it a good candidate for biofuel.
Biofuels have grown in popularity over the last few years with viable options now in production. However they're also surrounded by some controversy, because the biofuel crops are grown on land that could be producing food. This wouldn’t occur with duckweed, coz it grows on water and it’s four times more efficient!
University of North Carolina researchers have conducted lab-scale tests to convert duckweed starch to ethanol, using the technologies used for corn ethanol. They're now moving to a pilot-scale operation on a commercial farm.
Of course, there's still the issue of duckweed blocking sunlight to the water below. But if that can be resolved, perhaps by cropping duckweed in commercial-scale ponds on non-productive land, it may be a viable part of our fuel future.
For more info: [1], [2], [3].

Friday, December 30, 2011

Death Awaits Dickhead Drivers!

It's not just intersections that're deadly...Most NZ drivers will recall last year's unnerving road safety campaign, saying "Intersections: Bad Calls Can Be Deadly". Various ads featured an ominous Grim Reaper-type character beside a roulette wheel, emphasising the dangers of chancing to luck when crossing intersections.
I reckon there's one local driver who must think this applies only at intersections! I was cruisin' through suburbia recently, Jack Johnson on the CD, thoughts of bunnyrabbits and butterflies in my head...all was nice in the world. Saw a car up ahead, easing out of his property. The driver edged his front wheels over the curb, saw me...thought...stopped.
Clack – clack – clack – clack...
I got nearer, he edged his car further out (whole nose of car now out into road), saw me even closer...thought (or did he?)...stopped.
Clack – clack – clack – clack...
I got to within maybe four car lengths...and then DICKHEAD decided the roulette wheel was spinning in his favour!
Clack – clack – clack – clack...
So with great squeal of tyres he shot the rapidly closing and now very small gap! Not bloody thinking at ALL!
The only reason he didn't end up with my modus transportus right through his driver door was that I'd seen his crawling progression and did some thinking myself.
Clack – clack – clack – clack...
Mr.Grim Reaper spins the wheel every single moment of every single drive. Safe driving is not rocket science. But some DICKHEADS just don't get it! Grrrrrrrrrrrrr!!!!!
How hard can it be??!!

Thursday, December 29, 2011


They call themselves the thin one and the fat one...
They are Nicole Nesti, a photographer, and Barbara Dardanelli, a communications expert. The two friends have launched a Facebook appeal for fuller-figured women and girls (over US size 14/NZ 16) who live comfortably with their curves. Their idea is to create a photo project, using no retouching, to show that another form of beauty is possible without becoming a pretzel.
The name of the project is Grasse! (which is Italian for "Fat!") and it's a work-in-progress. The aim is to create an exhibition that will tour Italy and show people a new way of seeing beauty. Lots of women so far have joined in through the project's official Facebook page.
Although the idea of using images of proud oversized women (who are often absent from the media and advertising), is a good one, they hope the message doesn't stop at the exhibition itself but becomes a vehicle for promoting healthy, balanced habits.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

X Marks The Spot

The first-ever private attempt to dock with the orbiting space lab draws near.
NASA says SpaceX will fly its Dragon capsule on an unmanned mission to the International Space Station (ISS) in February, probably on the 7th.
SpaceX's made incredible progress over the last few months preparing Dragon for this mission, but says a significant amount of critical work remains before launch and warns the date may be adjusted.
In Dec.2010, SpaceX - owned by Elon Musk, Internet entrepreneur and founder of PayPal - became the first commercial outfit to send a spacecraft into orbit and back.
The main goals of the February flight include a fly-by of the ISS at a distance of two miles, and a berthing operation in which Dragon will approach the space station and the ISS crew will use a robotic arm to help it latch on.
After the test mission, the ISS crew will reverse the process, detaching Dragon from the station for its return to Earth and splashdown in the Pacific. If the operation is not successful, SpaceX will attempt it again in another new test flight.
This effort is part of a race between private companies to create a spacecraft capable of replacing the US space shuttle which retired earlier this year. The US Congress has earmarked $406m for the commercial crew effort for 2012, considerably less than NASA's requested $850m.
As the first manned mission by a private company is not expected until about 2015, the world's astronauts must currently pay Russia US$50-60m for rides to the ISS aboard its Soyuz there's certainly serious money to be made by the private company that eventually cracks this nut!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Saving The Last Scow: Jane Gifford

In New Zealand's early settlement days, most transportation of bulk goods was by water.
Scows were especially useful for this, as they required very little water to sail in, and thus could often clear sandbars that deeper-keeled vessels may founder on. They became indispensible for navigating narrow tidal estuaries and creeks where the first communities settled. A flat-bottomed scow could rest in an upright position even when the tide was out, making it easy to load and
Great Barrier
Island, 1924
unload freight and stock.
The first NZ scow was built in 1873 at Whangateau near Leigh, (the last about 1935 in Auckland). Of the 130 scows used to ply our waters, Jane Gifford is NZ's last remaining rigged sailing scow.
NZ scows were a development of the Great Lakes scows. The first ones were blunt-ended, but blunt-ended scows on the choppy Hauraki Gulf turned out to be not such a good idea, so they changed into the form seen in the Janie.
A scow's stability was purely due to the beam (width) of the vessel, and the weight of the load. Most scows were called deck scows, carrying cargo on deck, although a few were built with holds.
Jane Gifford launched in 1908 at Whangateau (not to be confused with the immigrant ship Jane Gifford that brought Scottish settlers here from Glasgow in 1842). Registered dimensions: 67ft/19.8m long by 18.6ft/6m beam, displacement 60 tonnes, a fairly common size for NZ scows - by no means large. NZ's largest scow was Zingara, a three-masted topsail schooner of 128ft.
Janie's original purpose was to cart granite from Coromandel mines to Auckland. On one trip to Coromandel in the winter of 1911, she was "struck by a heavy sea, which snapped the foremast off just above the deck." The following year it was reported she took nearly a fortnight "battling adverse winds and stormy seas", to travel from Leigh to Warkworth (a distance of perhaps only 30 miles!).

Monday, December 26, 2011

Let It Shine!

This video clip's been around for a while...but it's worth a re-visit (especially at this time of year when there's bugger-all 'real' news to comment on!).
It's a humourous look at energy efficiency: eyecatching! The voice-over on the tail is Martin Freeman (The Office and Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy).

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Briscoe's Lady

Some companies change their advertising front-people as often as their ad men change their undies.
But there's only one "Briscoe’s Lady": Tammy Wells.
One of the most enduring NZ advertising collaborations is now into its third decade. Tammy Wells has been the face of Briscoe's since 1989, with her chirpy messages about what's on sale at the homeware chain on a weekly (sometimes it feels like daily) basis!
Briscoe's primarily targets women 30-50 years old, and research shows its consistency works. Briscoe Group top dog Rod Duke: "Get a good message, stick with it and that's how you get cut-through in the modern world where there's so much noise."
Tammy sure has a strong following – and a few detractors. On-line there are a few who're irritated by her bubbliness. But then there're Facebook fan pages with comments like:
"Genuinely caring... a true lady in every sense of the word!"
"Tammy is great for her age. All I can say is: what a MILF!"
Would you recognise The Briscoe's Lady if you passed her in the '25% Off Towels' section? Possibly not, if you're looking for that hair! Y'see, it's really a wig. She stopped colouring her hair years ago and it's now naturally white, but she is still recognised wherever she goes. The ad team preferred the familiar image of the Briscoe's Lady, so the wig's worn in all the ads. But her winning smile never changes!
A mum with two teenage lads, she does about 20 days' work a year on the tv ads. But she's more likely to be found in gumboots helping hubbie on their farm. Tammy also works for her sister who owns a bead shop in central Christchurch, and fronts up at the St.Andrews College canteen once a week.
Briscoe's origins go back to 1750...yes, there was life before Tammy!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Sink or Swim

This is an extract from Sink or Swim: The Economics of Whaling Today, a report produced by World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS), in June 2009 – still totally relevant today...
"Whaling in Japan…is so heavily dependent on subsidies it is unlikely to be commercially viable under present conditions. These subsidies form part of the large losses which have been made in the whaling industry for almost all of the last 20 years. The existence of increasing levels of unsold whale meat, coupled with a decline in prices, strongly suggests that demand for whale meat is declining. Taking into account the current restrictions on international commercial trade and the risks of negative impacts, for example on tourism, of conducting an activity widely regarded as unacceptable, the study suggests that a return to full commercial whaling would be very unlikely to produce sufficient benefit for (Japan’s) economies and tax-payers to outweigh the negative repercussions.

The study not only highlights the inability of…Japan to make whaling economically sustainable, let alone profitable, but it leads to a conclusion that their business model - propping up a declining industry with large subsidies - would appear to be a particularly unwise policy in the current global financial climate. Although whaling was once highly profitable, times have changed, and tastes are different…"
This report was compiled before Japan was hit earlier this year by the devastating earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident…
yet still (financing this operation with money from their EQ/tsunami disaster relief fund!!!) they come.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Was RWC A Wash-Out?

Well, well, well...what a surprise.
Fewer than 10% of Auckland businesses, surveyed on the impact of the *yawn* Rugby World Cup, felt they'd got any benefit from it.
That's one of the findings in a report released yesterday by the Auckland Council Group looking into Auckland's role in hosting the Cup. The survey of 500 regional businesses revealed Auckland firms showed high interest in the RWC, but less than a quarter of them felt any sense of involvement in the events. Over half of those surveyed thought they were well prepared for the tournament, but only 8.9% felt the Cup had benefited them.
Compare that to Kaikoura, with its whalewatching ├╝ber-drawcard (if anything can draw in the tourists, it's that!). A Kaikoura District Council survey showed a third said the RWC made no impact on their business, and 20% said they experienced a negative impact.
Overseas visitors flocked to stay in pricey (read "obscenely-inflated rip-off") North Island accommodation while Kiwis stayed home. Statistics NZ figures show guest nights for international visitors rose 7.1% during October, the second month of the tourny. But that was offset by a 6.5% fall in domestic guest nights. The overall guest nights figures for the month fell by a total of 1.5%, which sorely showed across the country.
As for the RWC Opening Night debacle in Auckland...seems it was a case of "too many chiefs, not enough Indians"! Tell us something we didn't know! The report says the Government's decision to cancel nationwide celebrations for the opening night (a year out) was partly to blame for chaos across Auckland that night, and left Auckland Council critically short of time to properly organise the night. WTF???!!! A year's lead-up was not - enough - time???
More information on the effects of the RWC on business will be released next April, but I think it's fair to say RWC boss Martin Sneddon's wildly optimistic previews of massive financial gain will be seriously offside!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Could They Somehow Be Related #4?

We all know politics is one big entertainment circus.
Not much actually gets done within the Hallowed Halls, but most of the players have perfected the art of delivering 30sec. soundbites of little substance, to the baying tv media hounds.
With that in mind, I was amused to see that the new leader of the NZ Labour Party, David Shearer, bears a strong resemblance to UK journalist and tv presenter, Piers Morgan. Brothers in arms?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Know Your Neighbourhood Eco-Warriors

You know about Greenpeace.
You know about Sea Shepherd.
You know about the Taz Patrol.
Do you know about Agenda 21?
On April 23rd 2009, environmentalists sank the Norwegian whaling ship Skarbakk in the Lofoten islands, Norway. The group responsible took the name of a 1992 UN Conference on the Environment: Agenda 21. The conference had made proposals for a sustainable 21st century, with Sea Shepherd warning Norway if they did not comply with international conservation law, then it would sink their whaling ships.
This was not an empty threat, with SS's Captain Paul Watson having already sunk two Norwegian ships, Nybraena in 1992 and Senet in 1994. The covert group Agenda 21 carried on, scuttling Elin-Toril in 1996, Willassen Senior in 2007 and Skarbakk in 2009.
Paul Watson claims SS neither knew who Agenda 21 were, nor had any warning of their plans, but he did applaud their efforts, as he said Norwegian whalers were in blatant violation of the worldwide ban on commercial whaling: "Agenda 21 did an excellent job: no injuries, no evidence, no mistakes, and no more whaling. These are results we can appreciate and admire. Sinking this whaler was an act of law enforcement, and we applaud this successful retirement of an illegal killing machine."
Skarbakk was the thirteenth ship sunk by eco-warriors since 1979...
Sea Shepherd's tally...
Whaling ships sunk:
1979: pirate whaling ship Sierra rammed/sunk, Portugal - SEA SHEPHERD.
1980: whalers Isba I and Isba II sunk, Spain - SEA SHEPHERD (this ended Spanish whaling).
1980: whalers Susan and Theresa sunk, S.Africa - SEA SHEPHERD and S.AFRICAN NAVY (after this, all illegal Atlantic whaling operations ceased).
1986: whalers Hvalur 6 and Hvalur 7 sunk, Iceland and whale processing station destroyed - SEA SHEPHERD (this shut down Icelandic commercial whaling for the next 16 years).
1992: whaler Nybraena sunk, Norway - SEA SHEPHERD.
1994: whaler Senet sunk, Norway - SEA SHEPHERD.
1996: whaler Elin-Toril sunk, Norway - AGENDA 21.
1998: whaler Morild sunk, Norway - SEA SHEPHERD.
2007: whaler Williassen Senior sunk, Norway - AGENDA 21.
2009: whaler Skarbakk sunk, Norway - AGENDA 21.
Anti-whaling ships sunk:
2010: Ady Gil sunk, Southern Ocean - JAPAN.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Show Me The MONEY!

When all else fails, try being up-front!
You too probably get the odd spam email. You know the ones - from Nigeria, Taiwan, Burkina Faso, Russia...little old lady dieing in British hospital with trillions of pounds hidden in a Swiss bank account which she needs you to kindly invest to save orphans, for a healthy percentage...
Multiple variations on the theme as well, including one from the FBI saying hefty compensation awaits me simply because I'd received such an email scam - please contact them...and send my account details for verification. LOL
So a scammer this week tried a different approach on me:
Can I ask you for some Help ? Please Read my letter carefully. NO......... I`m not Spam/Scam ! Send a Quick reply and U will see. Take time to Reply to me and you will then see.(So...what? If I reply, I'll see? Is that what you're saying?) I collect Bank Notes (Paper Money) from countries worldwide. (Riiiiiiiiiiiigghhtt!) I want to ask if you could help me with this by sending me any Banknotes of your country or any others around the world. I don`t care about the value, but I do like notes that are like New. (yes, I'm sure you do!) Please try to find the Newest/Unfolded notes that you can.
I`m now Disabled and shut in thedoors most of the time (ouch, sounds painful), so there`s not much to do and this it`s a pass-time for me. Since I can not do much, I am online a lot, that is how I found your email. Any help that could give me on this would be Greatly appreciated. If you can help send me anything, Reply and I will send you my address.
(sooooo tempting!!! I'm sure I could send him something! hehehe)
Thank you.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Return Of School Milk

Every NZer of a "certain age" has vivid memories of free school milk.
The school milk scheme ran from 1937-1967 to provide half a pint of milk to each child daily. This was a world first, started by the first Labour improve kids' bone strength and overall health.
The problem was: the milk arrived at the school gate at dawn, and was not uplifted for consumption until morning break or lunchtime! So it got warm in the sun and sometimes curdled. I went to a Catholic primary school and, as others will also recall, the nuns would never dream of wasting anything so, if you got a bottle of sour milk, they made you finish it! Zieg Heil!!!
The price of milk has long been a punching bag: a survey this year found 91% think we're paying too much. The average 2L standard milk price in Nov.2011 was $3.67 - 1.4% and 16.1% higher than the same time last year and in 2009 respectively. Consumer NZ says there's been a combined retail price increase of 50% in the previous five years for 2L milk, 500g butter and 1kg cheese.
In lower socio-economic areas like Sth.Auckland, dairy products have become luxury items. It's a sad indictment when soft drinks are cheaper than a product with so much more nutritional value... when you've got young kids, milk must be a daily staple, not Coca-Cola!
Now dairy giant Fonterra has announced big changes to make milk more accessible. Fonterra teamed up with Sanitarium in 2009 to provide free school breakfasts, and nearly half of decile one to four schools were able to serve meals to students twice a week. Now it's reintroducing free school milk, trialling in Northland next year with a nationwide roll-out in 2013.
In September, CEO Theo Spierings said Fonterra would look again at retail milk prices because... "the perception is that the price is high. And always, when you connect to consumers, perception is reality." Let's hope "perception of reality" becomes FACT soon: price drops would be great for all AND good PR for the industry. In fact, call me cynical, but I'd suggest that one reason for introducing free school milk may be to improve Fonterra's public perception (as nothing more than a monster profiteerer): what say you, Theo?
Oh, and by the way, when school milk IS re-introduced, PLEASE make sure the schools have chillers!!!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

All Roads Lead To Antarctica

Seems the Antarctic is 'the place to be', this southern summer...
The Royal Navy is on its way down too!
In what is probably nothing more than a coincidence, its new ice patrol ship HMS Protector embarked on her maiden voyage under the White Ensign on 28 November, to begin seven months of surveying and patrolling the frozen continent. She has just completed an intensive period of sea trials and training prior to deployment.
Around Antarctica, she'll be using her multi-beam echo sounder and survey motor boat to provide highly-accurate hydrographic data and imagery for the UK Hydrographic Office which provides 80% of the world's nautical charts. The ship will also assist with the re-supply of British Antarctic Survey stations in the region.
HMS Protector is a Norwegian icebreaker built in 2001. She is being leased as an interim replacement for HMS Endurance which suffered flood damage when operating in the South Atlantic in 2008.
Over the northern spring, summer and autumn, she’s undergone various alterations including the removal and repositioning of the flight deck from the bridge roof to the stern, the installation of a multibeam echo sounder survey system, a complete overhaul of the main engines and gearboxes, the fitting of a comprehensive communications and navigation suite, and the addition of naval markings (A173).
With a top speed of only 15 knots, she's a 5,000 tonne workhorse, not a don't expect her to put on any show of strength or solidarity, in the unlikely event of encountering the pro- and anti-whaling picnic parties.
Like I said, it's just a coincidence...probably...

PS: 17 Dec.2011 - ...meanwhile, a mercy dash to rescue a Russian fishing vessel Sparta, taking on water in the Ross Sea. When one looks at pix of the longliner, one has to wonder about its suitablity for those waters - it certainly does not look (and clearly was not) iceproof!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Carmen: Going Down, Smiling

Transgender icon Carmen Rupe died yesterday in Sydney, aged 75, from kidney failure following months of poor health.
Born into a Taumaranui farming family in 1935, Trevor Rupe was dressing in his mother's clothing at age 11. As soon as he could leave school, Rupe headed to The Big Smoke of Auckland and Wellington, doing drag performances while undergoing compulsory military training and working as a nurse and waiter.
She moved to Sydney's Kings Cross in the late '50s, where she took the name Carmen and became Australia's first maori drag performer. She got a breast job and worked as a prostitute. In 1963 she joined the famous Les Girls revue.
She returned to NZ in 1968 and became an entrepreneur, opening several businesses including the famous Wellington venue Carmen's International Coffee Lounge, where customers could get something hot in a cup downstairs and receive the same in a bed upstairs. It was the place to be, with its red walls, purple carpets and staff of drag queens, transgenders and gay men. It defined an era where homosexuality was illegal but festooned fabulousness was not. Carmen had an elaborate system of doors and stairways for escape, should police ever raid it.
I can remember as a teenager standing on the opposite side of Vivian Street, looking across at Carmen's... wondering what on earth happened in there, and how on earth the Salvation Army right next door could tolerate it!
Carmen also opened the Balcony strip club where Wellington's library now stands, and with the backing of Sir Bob Jones ran for mayor in 1977 with the slogan "Get in Behind", promising gay marriage and legalised brothels.
In 1979 Carmen returned to Sydney where she lived out her final decades. She became a much-adored and respected senior citizen and in 2008 led the Decade of the Divas float at the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras aboard her mobility scooter... topless.
Carmen: flamboyant to the end!
[...thanks to]

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Home Sweet Home

Cute as a bug's ear!
Last Sunday night, a wandering baby fur seal wriggled through the cat-door of a Bay of Plenty house, and made himself at home on the couch.
A stunned Annette Swoffer thought she was hallucinating when she found the young pup hanging out with her cats in her kitchen.
The seal had made its way from the Welcome Bay waterfront, through a residential area, across a busy road, up a side road, along a long driveway, under a gate, through the cat door and up some stairs before he was found in the kitchen. The little fella then calmly eased past Ms Swoffer's dog and cats, before making himself at home on a couch and attempting to snuggle in for the night.
When Ms Swoffer called the SPCA, they doubted her sobriety! SPCA contacted the Department of Conservation, which was already looking for a seal reported flip-flopping through the suburb. DOC took the young pup back to the water.
Ms Swoffer said the pup was really friendly and not aggressive in the slightest - which is unusual for seals.

Anyone who encounters a seal, or other wild animal, should call the DOC hotline 0800 DOC HOT before emergency services.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Tasmanian Devils

Just who are the Taz Patrol?
This shadowy group first appeared (or rather didn't) in 2009 when Sea Shepherd's Steve Irwin was being constantly shadowed by a Japanese whaling ship. Despite all efforts, SI could not shake its tail and only lost it when it crossed into Aussie waters to refuel. Wikipedia says, once it was ready to set sail again, the "crew was assisted by a group called the Taz Patrol, which tweeted the coordinates of Yushin Maru 3 to SI."
There's been much speculation about this group: supposedly it's a handful of fisheries researchers with spare time on their hands who wanted to help in the SS fight. Or is it a privately-financed vessel sailing all over the high seas? If so, they'd need a sizeable wallet to bankroll it. Ahhh, but there's a rumour that it's a SS splinter and financed by them. Or maybe it's just a non-existant Trojan Horse, fabricated to unease the Japanese whalers...
Whatever the case, these mysterious unseen helpers have garnered a bit of press space: [a], [b], [c], [d], [e]...a blog site was started in Dec.2010 but (at time of writing) only had one post. On that, it said "we're just six ordinary guys...very protective of our identity" who sail an old but "fast enough" boat called the Quokka. "We've all worked at sea for many years and a couple of us were in the navy..." So while no-one actually knows who the Taz Patrol is, it seems they're Aussies who have a vessel and are mounting their own campaign. On Twitter (Dec.2009/Jan.2010), they wrote:
# Reached EEZ limit. Starting search for whaling security vessel. 10:17 AM Dec 30th, 2009 from web
# Happy New Year to everyone except the whalers. To those scum: heads up, we're coming for ya. 8:18 AM Dec 31st, 2009 from web
# Conditions been difficult recently. One large wave hit side on. The old girl is handling amazingly well. We continue our search. 12:34 PM Jan 1st from web
# Radar Contact!!! As yet unknown vessel 4:17 PM Jan 1st from web
# Whaling vessel found! Nearly 300nm south Tasmania. NOT Shonan Maru 2 visual shows superstructure is one of Yushin Maru class (1, 2 or 3) 7:19 AM Jan 2nd from web
# Fuel situation required us to head back to port soon after confirming contact. Over half way back to port now running at most efficient speed 8:30 AM Jan 3rd from web
So is their vessel really an "old girl"? Is a 300-400nm outward-bound leg its half-endurance? Or is this all just smoke-and-mirrors? Will they be assisting the SS operation again this year? And will we ever know who they are and what they do?
There's certainly a lot of interest out there, for a group of activists that may not exist...

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

More Juice From The Cranberries

The Cranberries are coming to New Zealand!
They'll play one show at Trusts Stadium in Waitakere, Auckland on 15th.March 2012.
The Cranberries formed in Limerick in 1989 as The Cranberry Saw Us (wisely later changed by vocalist Dolores O'Riordan, she with that intriguing 'tortured catch' in her voice).
One of the most successful rock acts of the '90s, they sold over 15m albums in the US alone, achieved four Top 20 albums on the Billboard 200 chart and eight Top 20 singles on the Modern Rock Tracks chart. They've performed for millions around the world...including the Pope! The band broke up in 2003 but reunited recently to record its first new album in 10 years, Roses, due out in February. Tickets go on sale tomorrow (14th.Dec.) through TicketDirect.
Now, for today's musical refresher course, do you remember Dreams? How about Ode To My Family? And let's not forget Linger...
But here's their No.1 hit, Zombie. Enjoy!

Monday, December 12, 2011

No More Kopu Congestion

Finally it's here: the new Kopu Bridge outside Thames.
Never thought it would happen in my lifetime!
Last Saturday's ribbon-cutting and public walk-over marks the end of horrendous holiday hold-ups, stretching back across the Hauraki Plains for 10km or more!
The $40m+ two-lane bridge, with pedestrian/cycle path, replaces a veteran single-file structure (with two miniscule passing bays in the middle and its little watch-hut) that has served as the Coromandel Peninsula's main gateway for 84 years. Yes, that's right: built before The Depression!
The old bridge could swing open to allow the passage of vessels. Its swinging span was 43m long and with an overall length of 463m, the bridge was the longest and oldest single lane bridge in NZ's state highway network. As the first available crossing of the Waihou River and the main link between the Hauraki Plains and Coromandel Peninsula, it saw a lot of traffic, especially during holidays. Due to a gradual increase in traffic between Auckland and the peninsula, by the early 1990s the bridge had become the most heavily-used single-lane bridge in the country, averaging 9,000 vehicles per day (and double that at peak holiday times!). Traffic flow was controlled by signals at either end, which did little to alleviate the peaks.
Although the first vehicles could be using the new bridge and approach roads by today, the NZ Transport Authority is reluctant to commit to an exact date for linking it into State Highway 25.
As for the old bridge? Well, it's classified as a Category One historic site by the NZ Historic Places Trust, so options for its future are being considered...
But rejoice, all travellers heading to the Coromandel this Xmas! "Are we there yet? Are we there yet?" may become a chorus of the past...
PS: 06 Feb.2012 - Outcry as Thames-Coromandel's mayor proposes demolishing the old bridge.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Wings Clipped, or Feathers Just Ruffled?

I'm confused.
This week, just as the Nippon whaling fleet left for the Sthrn.Ocean, came news that Sea Shepherd's helicopter pilot was grounded!
Former US Marine chopper pilot Chris Aultman is SS's eye-in-the-sky, finding the fleet so protesters can harrass the hunters, and also providing an aerial platform for filming the Whale Wars tv series.
He says he's been denied a visa to join the activists in the Land of Oz. He says he's come to Australia for the past six years on an electronic travel authority visa, but this time was declined.
SS leader Paul Watson accuses: "It appears Australia is seeking to keep (SS's helo) grounded by denying a visa." The Immigration seeking further info...
OK, so we have a sovereign nation supposedly blocking a visa. It's Oz's right to do that if it so desires - and I don't believe it has to explain why either. But already conspiracy theorists are claiming Japan has bribed Oz to block Aultman! Yea. Right.
All that aside, if Aultman doesn't reach Oz, it could be a painful hit for SS...unless it can recruit another pilot familiar with an MD 500 helo within the next few weeks.
However, several weeks earlier (18 Nov.2011) Paul Watson said Chris would NOT be joining the campaign "because of his mother’s critical health condition, so we'll have a new helicopter pilot with us"! A fundraising email had this reference to Chris edited out (it's still in the cached version on-line).
Update: Also at the bottom of yesterday's email was an addenda that Aultman has now been granted his Oz visa...curious.
+ ...meanwhile the Japanese Institute of Cetacean Research (ICR) has filed a lawsuit in the US agaist SS!
The ICR (and Kyodo Senpaku Kaisha Ltd, owner of two vessels contracted by ICR), seek to prevent SS from engaging in activities at sea that could cause injuries to the crews and damage to the vessels: "The plaintiffs support the right to legitimate/ peaceful forms of protest/ demonstration, and the lawsuit makes no attempt to curtail this right." That's mighty big of them! "Instead it seeks to establish clear legal boundaries between legitimate/ peaceful protest and illegal/ violent sabotage."
Paul Watson finds it amusing the Japanese could ''destroy a vessel, shoot at us, toss concussion grenades at us, ram us and attempt to kill us and then they file a lawsuit against us. Of course with a war chest of $NZ30m+ to work with, they can pursue numerous strategies. It will not deter us. We are not protesting whaling. We are opposing an illegal activity. We will respond accordingly in the courts if such is the case."
Wonder why it took so long for ICR come up with this idea?

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Skinny Mobile - Locking Out The Competition

If you think "Aren't there enough cellphones in NZ?" (with 4.6m+ for a population of 4.1m), then perhaps this news slipped past you last month:
Telecom is launching a budget sub-network for youth early in 2012. Skinny Mobile will run on the same network as Telecom XT, and will share behind-the-scenes services, competing with budget-friendly 2degrees. It's also a hurry-up to get Telecom's CDMA network customers onto the XT network (the CDMA network will be turned off 30th June next year). Apparently Skinny Mobile will launch shortly after Christmas at a large youth event - probably Rhythm and Vines in Gisborne, and maybe the Big Day Out in Auckland.
So, would you consider switching to Skinny or putting your kids' phones on it? Possibly not, becoz only yesterday Telecom announced it will "sim-lock" all Skinny Mobile phones!
Since the launch of Telecom's XT mobile network and 2degrees' network in 2009, users have been able to switch between all three mobile carriers simply by changing the sim card in their phone. But Skinny manager Paul O'Shannessey says it would sim-lock new smartphones for nine months: you could not switch phones to a rival carrier unless you paid a $30 unlock fee! This would allow Skinny to subsidise its phones. As well as making it harder to switch between carriers, sim-locking has the disadvantage for us that we couldn't use a local sim card to avoid high roaming charges when overseas.
Sim-locking's been tried before: Vodafone did it in 2008, to shore up its market share ahead of the launch of 2degrees. But it was warned off by Telecommunications Commissioner Ross Patterson (although it reserved the right to do it in the future). The Telecommunications Users Assn. calls this a backward step for competition. Its CEO Paul Brislen says the commission sent a clear signal that sim-locking was unacceptable, and he's alerted it to the sneaky Skinny scheme.
Yeup, if you pay good money for a product/service, it shouldn't come with provisos. Would you buy a Ferrari on which the maker's installed a governor that stops you exceeding 50kmph?! Limiters simply mean consumers will choose another provider...there are plenty available!

Friday, December 9, 2011

NH90: PROMISE Me It's Not Another Dog!

The Russians landed at Ohakea air base this week.
A 280-tonne Antonov AN124 cargo plane - one of the largest planes in the world and the largest to ever land at Ohakea - was delivering the first two of the RNZ Air Force's eight new NH90 helicopters (to replace the classic Iroquois helicopters, reliable workhorses for four decades).
They're two years late but at least they're arriving: the next three should be here in April - all up, a criticised $771 million that blew out our defence budget big time!! 
In 1985 France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, and UK teamed up to develop a NATO battlefield transport and anti-ship/anti-sub helo for the 1990s: the NH90 was the result.
The tactical version's primary role is transporting 20 troops or more than 2,500kg of cargo, heliborne operations and search and rescue. Additional roles include medical evacuation (12 stretchers), special ops, electronic warfare, airborne command post, parachuting, VIP transport and flight training. Sounds cool! But...
a 2010 Bild report said the chopper is utterly unusable for combat troop transportation! Among other things, it listed that the seats are only suitable to carry 110 kg/240lb max. weight, not enough for a fully equipped grunt. Weapons can't be sufficiently secured during transport. The floor is too weak and can be damaged by dirty combat boots. The helicopter can only land on firm ground, with obstacles not exceeding 16 cm/6in. Fully equipped troops can't board/leave the helicopter, as the access ramp is too weak. Adding a doorgun is not possible due to the lack of space. In response, the German Defence Ministry said the report referred to a prototype, not the production model.
So have we bought our military more dogs? Jeez, I hope not, or this is becoming a seriously bad habit! If so, we're in a 16-nation dog-handling club. Time will tell...

PS: 13 April 2012 - Woof! Woof! The NH90 IS a dog! What a surprise!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Heavenly Bodies Above Us

A rare full lunar eclipse in NZ this coming weekend...
On Saturday 11th December, we'll be able to see the eclipse from all around the country, if the skies are clear. The total eclipse lasts from just after 3am to just before 4am.
So what exactly happens in a lunar eclipse? Well, the moon passes behind the Earth so the Earth blocks the sun's rays from lighting up the moon. This can only happen when the sun, Earth, and moon are lined up exactly, or as near as dammit, with the Earth in the middle. So a lunar eclipse will only occur on the night of a full moon.
To our eyes, the eclipsed moon is likely to look a copper colour. This is caused by a scattering of sunlight as it passes through the thin ring of our Earth's atmosphere, removing the blue light and passing mainly the red, some of which weakly illuminates the moon.
You'll need a clear eastern horizon to be able to see this eclipse. Over water would be ideal, and the further north you are, the better.
Venus transit, 2004
The last total lunar eclipse in NZ back in June was cut short by the setting moon and poor weather.
There'll be no total lunar eclipses in 2012 (so there goes the Mayan 2012 theory!), but there will be a solar eclipse on 14th November and the transit of Venus across the face of the sun on 6th June (the next transit after that won't be until 2117, so get your tickets early...!).

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Hunting Meat That Few Will Eat

Nisshin Maru: slip-slidin' away...
Well, here they come once more...
late for a second year in a row, but underway nonetheless. Under the laughable title of research, Japan is off on its merry little whale jaunt in Antarctica's Southern Ocean whale sanctuary. SANCTUARY!!!
The monster factory ship Nisshin Maru set sail yesterday, without any farewell ceremony or prior notice of departure as has been the case in recent years. She was accompanied by two fast hunter/killer vessels and Shonan Maru 2 (yes, the very same one that rammed Ady Gil). What's interesting about SM2 is that it's been repainted in the Japanese Fisheries Agency colour of white...could she be playing the role of the much-trumpeted strong-arm "patrol vessel"?
The loophole they jump through is known as JARPA II (or the 2nd. phase of the Japanese Whale Research Programme under Special Permit in the Antarctic). JARPA II focuses on Antarctic minke, humpback and fin whales...with provision to blast away at anything else that blithely swims into the wrong place at the wrong time. This "special permit" to research via 'lethal sampling' a whale sanctuary was issued TO Japan BY Japan, after the vast majority of the world said "thou shalt not kill whales commercially" 25 years ago, and Japan replied with 'the bird'...
Shonan Maru 2: playing "policeman"...?
The fleet is determined to fill the majority of its annual quota of 850 (+/- 10%) minke, 50 humpbacks and 50 fin. Last year, those inconsiderate Sea Shepherd rotters just wouldn't allow Japan to pay its way in blood - instead engaging in a long-distance game of tag, which eventually resulted in Japan scuttling home early, humiliated and nearly emptyhanded.
So it'll take the whalers the best part of a month to reach their happy hunting grounds, and by that stage there'll no doubt be an oil tanker from some dubious source also en route to top up their tanks for the weeks ahead. SS vessels will also be converging, for what promises to be a season of escalated tensions, actions and reactions...
+ ...meanwhile in Japan, citizens' groups and non-governmental organisations have urged their government to undertake a full review of whaling. They've criticised the allocation of money in its special EQ Recovery Budget for whaling.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Toll Tunnel A Free Ride?

Oh, to have such money!
The New Zealand Transport Agency has written off more than $700K of debt (ie: our money) owed by motorists not paying tolls on Auckland's Northern Gateway (the tunnel just before Puhoi). In its two years of operation, it hasn't taken a single toll-dodger to court, even though one of them's clocked up a $2650 debt (the Top Ten dodgers together owe $15,500: three of the worst have never paid for using the road and only one is paying their debt back!)
No, this is not my car:
the dashboard's far too clean!
The Automobile Association has slammed NZTA's inaction as outrageous and is demanding answers. Rightly so: let's face it, if those dodgers owe THAT much and aren't being taken to court, why shouldn't we all do the same thing? AA public affairs manager Simon Lambourne describes toll debt as "a very sorry joke" and says NZTA management needs to be held accountable. He says the situation has "made a mockery of the entire system".
NZTA (ie: us) has 35 years to pay roughly half of the $356m road cost. Cars, light trucks and motorbikes are tolled $2 and trucks and buses $4, each time they pass through the Northern Gateway tunnel.
Supposedly if you don't pay within five days, a notice is issued and an extra administrative charge is added. If that's not paid within a month an infringement notice is issued for $40 per trip. Then you have another two months to pay before the debt is sent to the Ministry of Justice but, once it's involved, NZTA doesn't get any money. NZTA reckons taking fine-dodgers to court could cost more than the value of the debt, but says it's reviewing its processes. Ha! Ain't that so PC? "Reviewing its processes"! Sounds like the entire system's running on the "honesty box" theory! Jeez, this ain't a road-side country fruit stall! If motorists use the Northern Gateway, they pay. If they don't wanna pay, they take the old coastal route which is free.
I'm smelling the potential for another Auckland Harbour Bridge Toll fiasco, where motorists continued to pay tolls for YEARS after they needed to...although in the tunnel's case, we'll be paying for extra years because other people NEEDED to, but DIDN'T!

PS: 21 Nov.2012 - Finally! Success!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Bidding BIG For Giant Telescope

When discussing "Space: The Final Frontier", one is talking ever-so-slightly 'big'. So when tracking its infinity, one needs big toys!
Oz and NZ are on the home straight to co-host the world's biggest and most sensitive radio telescope. If successful, 3000 dishes comprising the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) will spread from remote Western Australia to Godzone.
The $2.5 billion SKA telescope is an internationally-funded project, promising to answer some of the most fundamental questions about the evolution of the universe, including the emergence of the first stars and galaxies.
Our joint hosting bid is one of two shortlisted: rival South Africa leads a consortium of eight other African nations. This month, the two bid teams make their final pitch to the SKA site advisory committee in London, before 12 independent experts recommend a preferred site to the SKA board in January. A decision is due in February, with construction in 2016.
Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy:
"Don't Panic!"
The chosen site needs to be as radio-quiet as possible: free from electro-magnetic interference caused by things that create or conduct electricity - electric motors, generators, alternators, radio transmitters, welders: both proposed sites are in remote areas with low population.
(And before you ask, scientists already know - after exhaustive analysis of the writings of Douglas Adams - that The Meaning Of Life is definitely 42!)