Monday, October 31, 2011

Could They Somehow Be Related? #3

A lot of folk think his movies SUCK, but now someone’s claiming actor Nicolas Cage is an actual vampire!
Yessir indeedy, an eBay good ol' boy reckons he has evidence to prove his case!
Jack Mord shared his theory while trying to sell an old photo of a US Confederate prisoner, who bears quite a resemblance to Cage. Mord says the man in the picture is Lieutenant G.B. Smith, captured in 1864 - he also says he believes Lt Smith IS Nicolas Cage!
"I believe he’s some sort of walking undead, who reinvents himself once every 75 years or so," says Mord. "My theory is that he allows himself to age to a certain point, maybe 70, 80 or so, then the actor Nicolas Cage will 'die'... but in reality, the undead vampire Nicolas Cage will have rejuvenated himself and appeared in some other part of the world, young again, and ready to start all over."
If that's so, then next time he comes back, can he learn not to mumble please? "Put... da bunny... back... in da box."
Jack only wanted US$1 million for the photo - it was later removed from eBay. Ah, well, Jack, back to smoking burlap...but hark!
Was that Duelling Banjos I heard? Or just PhotoShop loading up?

Sunday, October 30, 2011

World's Smallest Whale Population Faces Extinction

The Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska once teemed with North Pacific right whales.
They were dubbed "right whales" because whalers regarded them as the "right" ones to hunt: they floated when killed and often swam within sight of shore. But hunting in the 19th century wiped out most of them, with up to 30,000 slaughtered in the 1840s alone. Hunting was banned in 1935 but Soviet poaching during the 1950-60s made North Pacific right whales the most endangered species of whale on Earth.
Its current precarious status is a direct consequence of this uncontrolled and illegal whaling. Now numbering only about 30 individuals, only eight of them females, the eastern North Pacific right whale falls below the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) threshold of likely viability as a species. It's probable this small population will not survive. Ahhh, the sins of the fathers visited upon the sons...
A genetically distinct population of right whales in the western Northern Pacific is in slightly better shape with several hundred individuals, but is nonetheless listed as "critically endangered" on the IUCN's Red List, the most scientifically respected index of threat level. The two populations are considered isolated from one another and have not been known to mingle.
Right whales across the northern Pacific are also vulnerable to ship collisions, because they cross a major trans-Pacific shipping lane as they move to/from feeding and breeding grounds.
Right whales are playful and inquisitive swimmers. They tend to move slowly, crashing into the water with dramatic displays of power. Their acrobatic antics charm avid whale viewers, as they come close in-shore during their calving season.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Wrong For Being Right

A man who laid a complaint over an inaccurate TVNZ news item has been stung for costs by the Broadcasting Standards Authority (BSA)…but not because he was wrong.
In January 2011, TVNZ reported a 10-year-old Canadian girl had discovered a supernova 240 light years away. Don McDonald pointed out a supernova that close to Earth would barbeque us…and in fact it was 240 million light years away. TVNZ admitted the error, but refused to uphold the complaint.
[According to Standard 5 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, a broadcast news story should be accurate in relation to all material points of fact, but only "reasonable efforts" are needed for achieve that accuracy.]
The BSA dismissed McDonald's complaint as frivolous and trivial. What's more, it said it was sick of his constant quibbling over minor details - y'see, he’s a regular BSA bitcher (The Dominion Post said he'd generated about 5% of all complaints against TV One in 2009 and 2010!) It warned him a few complaints ago that if he kept up the nit-picking, they'd hit him with costs. Now they've followed through,
ordering him to pay $50 as a form of deterrent, something the BSA has done only a few times.
[…thanx to Media Law Journal]
So was it fair? Did ol' McDonald have a point (ee-i ee-i oh)?
Should we expect journalists to "get it right" every time?
PS: 02 May 2012 - McDonald has his fine dismissed.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Javan Rhino Extinct In Vietnam

We live in a time when more and more animal species disappear.
It was officially announced this week that Vietnam’s Javan rhino is now extinct - how ironic that this announcement should be made in the week after World Rhino Day.
The Javan rhinoceros was pronounced extinct in Vietnam by WWF and the International Rhino Foundation (IRF).
WWF warns illegal hunting to supply the wildlife trade threatens the futures of other rare animals in the country, including the tiger, Asian elephant and Siamese crocodile.
The rhinoceros was believed to be extinct on mainland Asia until the 1988 discovery of a small group. The only other population of Javan rhinos is critically endangered, with barely 50 individuals left in a small national park in Indonesia. I trust these will be protected with a no-holds-barred "weapons-free" approach!
Asia's demand for rhino horn for traditional medicine increases every year, meaning protection and expansion of the remaining population is of the highest priority. But the message makes no difference to poachers or the Asian consumers they supply – THERE IS NO PROOF AT ALL OF ANY RHINO HORN MEDICINAL PROPERTIES! Rhino horn consists of keratin only (like our fingernails and hair), yet Asian markets still use it for traditional medicine. Recently, poachers have started gouging out rhinos' eyes to use for medicine as well. Rhino horns are so popular that thieves have begun stealing antique ones from European museums!
And it's not just poachers and thieves involved in this barbarism: in 2008, a diplomat from the Vietnamese embassy in South Africa was filmed as she received rhino horns right in front of the embassy building. In Vietnam and China, powdered horn has been fetching as much as US$50,000 kg this year, roughly similar to the street price for cocaine in the UK.
Those who perpetuate this sort of destruction in the name of tradition destroy the very natural resources they covet. I guess only when the source is obliterated will they realise how wrong they've been! By then, of course, it will be too late.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Rena: Penguins Don't Need Sweaters

wildlife clean-up
Following Rena's stranding on the Astrolabe Reef earlier this month, 1300+ birds have died in spilt oil.
Some crafty bird lovers decided to help, by knitting sweaters for penguins: this quirky story generated responses worldwide.
A local wool yarn shop blogged that it had "been asked to help with the penguin relief by knitting small Penguin PJs to help protect the birds and prevent them from preening their feathers and ingesting the toxic oil." The shop posted instructions to make tiny turtleneck sweaters with side slits for penguin flippers and, fueled by media interest, knitters around the world stepped up to help.
Seems a dubious claim to me – just which animal rescue agency asked them for this?
Just what we always wanted!
Yea. Right.
The thought of a cute little penguin in a cute little sweater is...well, cute. But how helpful are these? The Tauranga wildlife centre, where the penguins are being cared for, says while they appreciate the efforts, they won’t be using them at all. The process of cleaning the birds does strip them of their natural oil and makes them cold, but they are being kept under warming lamps and dryers. And Natalie Clark, bird/mammal keeper at the Auckland Zoo, adds: "Putting that on a penguin's only going to stress it out even more than it already is. These are wild penguins, they haven't had any interaction with humans. There's already enough stress on a bird without trying to put a sweater on it."
So, knitters...please STOP! Sweaters are NOT wanted, NOT needed, and I can't find ANY reference in ANY news source to indicate they were EVER officially requested by ANY rescue agency whatsoever!!
It would be a real shame if the knitters' good intentions have been exploited merely to gain some publicity for a wool yarn shop.
Wildlife conservation is not a game.
PS: 28 Nov.2011 - How to deal with a penguin sweater overload...

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Victoria Park Tunnel Nearly Ready

So just when does Auckland's new Victoria Park road tunnel actually
On the NZ Transport Agency website, the 19 October update tells us it will be "officially opened on Saturday 19 October" – which date-wise is clearly wrong!
I assume it meant the official opening is this Saturday 29th., as there's a public walk-through of the new $340m tunnel this Saturday too (sorry, already fully booked). The website mentions work 4-7 November to connect the motorway to the tunnel, to be then followed by northbound traffic shifting to the tunnel on Monday 7 November.
So there we finally have it: 7 November will be Miraculous Traffic Problem Disappearance Day! As we know all too well, it only takes one reasonable-sized accident or heavy patch for the entire central motorway to 'gridlock'. So fingers crossed that the expectation, of the last major bottleneck on the central motorway network between the Harbour Bridge and Newmarket disappearing, will come true – not just be shifted to another part of the system.
And hats off to the NZTA workforce, completing the tunnel job three months ahead of schedule!
Two lanes (of three) will take traffic northbound. The tunnel won't be in full operation (ie: three lanes) until the project's completion, in early 2012, when southboard traffic will eventually take over all four lanes of the current Victoria Park Flyover.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Tupperwaka Bigger Than Ben Hur?

Did you visit the Tupperwaka on the Auckland waterfront?
Do you know anybody who did? This international showcase of maoridom was supposedly swamped by 240,000 visitors! One every second, we're assured! A glowing success! If that success was true, then perhaps the $2m cost for a week's worth of display MIGHT be justified. But NZ Herald did the maths:
"The pavilion has a capacity of 600. For 240,000 to have passed through in seven days – when it was open for just 59 hrs – 1.1 people would've had to enter the waka every second from opening to closing. On the peak day of Sunday (17th), almost two people a second would've had to enter…Last Friday (21st., when the Herald was counting), 1015 people entered the waka in the half-hour between 12.48pm and 1.18pm, a rate of 0.6 people a second. At this busy time on a brilliantly sunny day, the waka saw only a fraction of the required number."
So whose bum did organisers pull those numbers from? They claimed the figure was for "visits to Waka Maori", but earlier last week Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples announced 170,000 visits in the first four days to "Te Waka Maori... and its associated artisan village". The village is on the walkway between the Viaduct Harbour and the Wynyard Quarter, and gets heavy foot traffic passing between the two…so anyone transiting between those two locations would be included in Tupperwaka stats! When you see it in that light, the claim appears ever so slightly BS.
So why try a PR spin? Or – calling a spade a spade – telling a blatant lie? If the attendances were average, so be it. If it was a resounding success, well done. But the entire Tupperwaka fiasco has generated so much negativity that twisting the truth like this just adds to the brown pile.
And how stupidly short-sighted to shut it down the very day the *yawn* RWC ended! Yesterday, Labour Day, was a sunny public holiday that would've drawn people to the waterfront…for what? Nothing. The Tupperwaka, the giant rugby ball, Queens Wharf all closed to the public. People came into the CBD yesterday for the RWC victory parade. At least that was something to rave about – the Tupperwaka visitor numbers were not.

Monday, October 24, 2011

From Winged Nazgûl To Flying Cars…

Sir Peter Jackson now owns the vintage car made famous in the 1968 children’s movie Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
For those younger than 40, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was a British musical film based on the only children's book written by Ian Fleming (also for those younger than 40, he was the creator of James Bond). In the movie the main character, played by Dick van Dyke (of Mary Poppins fame. *sigh* OK, for those younger than…), builds a car that can drive, float and fly.
There were six Chitty versions made for the film. As well as a fully functional road-going car, the five prop cars featured a smaller on-road version (which only appeared in 12sec. of the movie), a transforming car, a hover-car, a flying car, and an engineless version for trailer work.
The Hobbit King has secured the 'real deal', all 2 tons and 17 feet! No detail was spared in its creation. Many traditional forms of car-building were re-employed, and modern technology stepped in to create a car that was both accurate enough to fool vehicle experts and tough enough to withstand everything from driving in sand and on cobbled streets to down stair-cases. Moulded-alloy wheels replicated the timber wheels which would have been true to the period of the film (1910s). A boat deck of red and white cedar was made by traditional boat-builders, and the array of brass fittings were obtained from Edwardian wrecks. The alloy dashboard plate was from a British WWI fighter. What couldn't be obtained was faithfully and accurately re-created....all built around a modern Ford 3000 V6 engine with automatic transmission. Wacko Jacko once tried to buy it for his Neverland Ranch but the owner wanted it to remain in the UK.
Expected to fetch up to US$2m / £1.25m at auction, Sir Pete scored it for the bargain price of just US$805K / £505K. Incidentally the version built for the 2002 stage show is listed in Guinness World Records as the most expensive stage prop ever at US$1.2m / £750K!
Sir Pete plans to take his Chitty to air shows, where kids can ride in it in return for a donation to charity. The car has competed in UK charity races for more than 30 years and has been seen by thousands of fans (the majority of whom are probably over 40)...

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Henry Nicholas: Christchurch's Only WWI VC

I'm breathless these days after just a 100m sprint to my car in the rain, so I find it impossible to imagine how a fully-kitted soldier can charge through mud, water, bleak winter weather and heavy machinegun fire...and still do what Henry James Nicholas of Canterbury did in WWI.
Born in Lincoln on 11 June 1891 to Richard and Hannah Nicholas, Henry was educated in Christchurch and apprenticed to a builder. He was well known in NZ amateur boxing circles as "one of the most scientific featherweight boxers that ever entered the ring". Part of the 1910 Canterbury team at the annual Boxing Assn tournament, Henry won a gold medal for his display.
With his brother Ernest serving at the front and elder Frederick repatriated after being wounded at Gallipoli, it was a given that Henry too would step up. He doffed his carpenter's apron and shipped out with the NZEF's 13th Reinforcements Canterbury Infantry Battalion C Company at the end of May 1916...
[When thinking about The Great War, Passchendaele has became a byword for its horrors: mud, shell craters, barbed wire, soldiers mown down in waves. The capture of the Belgian village of Passchendaele near Ypres in Flanders, cost thousands of lives including many NZers. Messines Ridge leading to the village was the site of the worst loss of life in NZ’s history since 1840.
The NZ Division's major operations in Belgium began in June 1917 with the capture of Messines Ridge: the battle for Passchendaele climaxed in early October. But in December at nearby Polderhoek, the kiwis suffered another costly setback. By its final withdrawal from the Ypres front line in Feb.1918, the NZ Division had suffered more than 18,000 casualties (incl.around 5000 deaths) and won three Victoria Crosses (VCs) for bravery.
Back home, many NZ communities raised funds for Belgian war refugees and provided comforts for our soldiers at the front. In the years following 1917, NZ remembered Passchendaele and other battles in many ways: this plaque, now in the Christchurch railway station, was proudly attached to a steam locomotive from 1925-1967. But that’s getting ahead of the story...]

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Rena: In At The Deep End

NZ is reeling from the Rena oil spillage… yet the reality is that, in comparison to other headlining spills around the world, this is nothing. And for that, we can be most grateful!
+2009: an Australian oil/gas rig blow-out spewed the equivalent of one Rena spill daily for 74 days!
+1989: oil tanker Exxon Valdez carrying 208 million litres hit an Alaskan reef… it spilled as much as 100 million litres!
+2010: the BP Deepwater Horizon catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico spilt as much as 780 million litres!
+NZ's 2003 near-miss: tanker Capella Voyager carrying 126.8 million litres of oil ran aground near Whangarei (we were damn lucky she did not lose her load).
Rena had only 1,700 tonnes of oil aboard: about 350 tonnes have leaked and roughly another 170 tonnes have been recovered.
The Government has drafted legislation to regulate the Exclusive Economic Zone with public submissions due by December. But all the paperwork in the world can’t clean up a small spill like the one off Tauranga, let alone an über-scale oil tanker spill or well blowout.
I trust when this Rena business is over, the government will consider serious strengthening of our crisis response capabilities… for when we have another real disaster (like the Christchurch EQs).
The Rena spill (although NZ's worst environmental "disaster") doesn't even count as one in global terms – yet it highlights how out of our depth we are. God help us if anything bigger happens...

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Mad Dog Is No More!

Moammar Qaddafi is dead.

Reports say the "Mad Dog of the Middle East" tried to flee his hometown of Sirte in an 80-vehicle convoy which was hit by a Nato airstrike. Qaddafi was then found cowering in a stormwater drain (shades of Saddam Hussein’s ‘rat hole’), dragged out and – amid protests of “we want him alive!” – was shot twice.
His death ends a 42yr.dictatorship that turned Libya into an international pariah.
Libya’s Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril:
"We have been waiting for this moment for a long time."
Libya stands on the cusp of a new era, but its turmoil may not be over. The former rebels who now rule are disorganised and face rebuilding a country amid signs of infighting, with divisions between geographical areas and ideologies.
US Vice President Joe Biden says the Libyan people have rid themselves of a dictator and have now "got a chance".
Let’s hope they make the most of this golden opportunity.

Al Qaeda Owes USA $9Billion

A most interesting story appeared on the wires last weekend.
A New York judge has recommended the terrorist organisation Al Qaeda be billed US$9.3 billion for damage done to properties and businesses in the Sept.11 2001 attacks.
Federal Magistrate Judge Frank Maas sent his recommendation to a district judge presiding over a lawsuit brought by several insurance companies (jeez, Frank, did you have nothing better to do last week?).
In 2003, the companies sued various defendants, seeking damages for the attacks that demolished the World Trade Centre's twin towers. Al Qaeda never responded to the lawsuit - really? That's a surprise! - and was found in default in 2006. The court determined the actual damages and then tripled them as allowed by law.
If it took the US a whole decade to track down Al Qaeda's founder, how long do you think it'll take to serve the group with this damages bill...? And then how long to actually get the bill paid?
Yea, right.
Good luck.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Rena: The Clean-Up Cash

The Rena pay-up will be as messy as the clean-up.
Under NZ's Maritime Transport Act the ship's owner is liable for up to $12m… but this amount would've doubled to $24m if our govt had signed the Intl.Convention on Civil Liability for Bunker Oil Pollution Damage. Opps...we forgot.
Ok, so where's the clean-up money actually gonna come from?
Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC), the company that leased Rena, has made a "voluntary" $1m donation: Transport Minister Steven Joyce calls it a start. MSC says it's not an admission of guilt: managing director Kevin Clarke says the company "genuinely feels the suffering" in the Bay of Plenty. However Joyce says MSC does have a moral obligation to the clean-up effort, and may be called on again in the future.
MSC emphasises it does not own Rena, does not employ its crew and is not responsible for her maintenance and operation. MSC says it's not legally liable to pick up any tab for the clean-up...

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Save The Rhino

For once, there’s a ‘World such-and-such Day’ that’s worthwhile…
This Saturday 22nd.October is World Rhino Day – to highlight the plight of the rapidly-diminishing numbers of rhino. These awesome animals are poached for their horn, which has no medicinal value.
Recently a vet in S.Africa, Dr Will Fowlds, who had bred a rhino himself, had to deal with the trauma of watching that same animal die in agony:
“There stood a rhino, hardly recognisable, his profile completely changed by the absence of those iconic horns, skull and soft tissue trauma extending down into the remnants of his face, to expose the underlying nasal passages.
He lifted his head, revealing pieces of loose flesh hanging from his deformed and bloodied face. He turned in my direction, his left front leg providing no support and dragging behind him...he used his mutilated muzzle and nose as a crutch and staggered toward me. His one eye was injured and clouded over, adding to his horrific appearance.
There was no chance of saving his life, and the most humane thing to do was to end this tragedy by euthanasia…I felt we needed to let the world to see the horrendous suffering – but could a vet, who should understand the extent of suffering this animal was enduring, be at ethical liberty to extend it a little longer?
I called in a camera team to get footage. This rhino was indeed Geza – the Naughty One, a male born on Amakhala Reserve (where I live) in January 2006 as the calf of Nomabongo – the Proud Lady…
The camera crew arrived and then I was finally able to bring this nightmare to an end. The most humane way to end it was to administer an overdose of opioid anaesthetic. Within a few minutes the drugs were taking effect. A sense of relief mingled with sadness, disgust and shame descended…the heavy bullet which would ensure finality to this living nightmare slammed though his skull, with the noise and shock wave blasting out across the landscape, heralding the end to a tortured and agonising struggle.”
For proof of this horrific animal crime, view the footage here [warning: details are not pleasant].
The killing of rhinos must STOP! The rhino is an iconic symbol of our global conservation successes and failures. If we can’t save the rhino from extinction, what hope do we have of saving the rest?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Rena: What's The End Game?

Rena is just 'marking time'. Maritime NZ says the 47,000-tonne container ship is simply hanging on the edge of Astrolabe Reef, with a very real threat of more oil spilling into the Bay of Plenty.
The oil recovery is slow and weather-dependent and, at this time of year, the weather gods constantly change their minds. We're told that, all things being equal, up to 50 tonnes of oil could be removed every hour which means it could all be off in a day. Ahhh, "all things being equal"…
that's the big question.
Rena's bow is on the reef but 60m of the vessel hangs dangerously out into aquatic space. With her skin split completely, she's only held together by her internal structures, and is constantly flexing and twisting, trying to rip herself apart. The only thing keeping her afloat is the buoyancy of the air in the engine room. And yesterday Maritime NZ salvage head Bruce Anderson was quoted in one story as saying she had broken into two parts (though that's now proven incorrect).
So this raises an enormous question, one I have not heard asked yet. Assuming the oil is successfully removed (but expect the probability of more spills), what of Rena then?
+Will she be left on the reef to break up and rot?
+Will salvors weld steel "band-aids" to hold her together?
+Will tugs begin a frantic tow out to sea where she can sink?
+Or if towing her to land, where would they head to?
The salvage experts on-hand, Svitzer, are regarded as one of the best - if not the best - in the business. So if they say something can (or cannot) be done, they certainly have the expertise to make that call. I just hope the green light for action from our end will be a damn sight quicker than the initial response was…
PS: 19 Oct.2011 - Maritime NZ says it has plans should the stern break free. Salvage unit manager Andrew Berry says tugs would try towing it to shallow waters: several potential destination sites with less than 50m depth have been identified.

Monday, October 17, 2011

What Snagged Rena?

All kiwis now know the name Rena, that of the container ship snagged on Astrolabe Reef.
Those familiar with the reef itself would be fewer in number – locals, fishermen, divers, boaties – while those knowing the origin of the reef’s name would be fewer still. Yet the reef is named after an important piece of NZ history, first charted in 1827 by Jules Sébastien César Dumont d'Urville on the ship Astrolabe.
Astrolabe was originally a French horse barge called La Coquille, built in 1811 and converted to a naval exploration vessel. This small 380-ton ship circumnavigated the globe three times under the command of Jules d'Urville.
Born in 1790, d’Urville was the last of the French explorers who contributed to the growing body of knowledge about NZ. He came here three times, firstly in 1924 as a middle-ranking officer aboard La Coquille. On that trip, the French were scouting Australia for possible French settlement and NZ as a potential penal colony...
Then in 1826-1829 he led a mission in La Coquille - renamed Astrolabe - into the Pacific, searching for an ill-fated 1785 French scientific expedition. (In an interesting twist of fate, one of the men who’d unsuccessfully applied for that lost expedition was a 16-year-old Corsican, Napoléon Bonaparte. How different the world would have been, had he too been lost!) It was not until years later that the ships were found to have been wrecked on the Santa Cruz islands, but that’s another story...

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Wellington Hit By 7.5 Quake

On 16 October 1848, Wellington was slammed by a 7.5 earthquake. Centred across Cook Strait in the Awatere valley of Marlborough, South Island, it caused substantial damage in Wellington, and was felt from Hawke’s Bay to Canterbury. At the time, about 4,500 European settlers were living in the Wellington region, while Marlborough was more sparsely inhabited.
Wellington, 1847
European settlers arriving from 1840 onward had grown used to a distinctive feature of NZ: many small shakes. As these tremors caused no damage, people were not prepared for the severity of big quakes.
The first earthquake, at 1.40 am during a severe gale and heavy rain, lasted at least two minutes, and was followed by strong vibrations for 10 minutes. Vibrations continued for at least an hour, increasing to earthquake shocks every few minutes: about 100 aftershocks between 1.40 am and 6 am.
In Wellington the violent shaking damaged almost all brick and stone buildings, including many homes, churches, the jail, commercial buildings, barracks, and the colonial hospital (which had only recently been completed). Wooden buildings survived, but many lost their brick chimneys. In Marlborough, a number of homesteads were badly damaged.
Major aftershocks in the next few days destroyed a number of buildings that had been damaged in the first earthquake. Many Wellingtonians described these aftershocks as being as strong as or stronger than the initial quake.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Containers: In The 'Too Hard' Basket?

One of the many concerns, surrounding the grounding of the Rena on Astrolabe Reef off Tauranga, is the location of the many shipping containers that have fallen from the vessel. Some have drifted to the coast, others have probably sunk, while the hunt continues for more…
I wonder how hard it would be to attach a GPS to every container? Not only would it assist Customs to locate cargo globally, but it would be a big help in a situation such as Rena.
Imagine how many hands a container passes through on its travels, the many manifests it appears on, the opportunities to change its contents for smuggling... or terrorism. Not only would a GPS locate a container, but suspicions may be raised if it indicated a container was stationery where it was not meant to be. The signals could transmit nano-second bursts via ship transponders, through satellites to a central checking system (just like my 2009 suggestions for flight recorders).
Given enough time, Customs could probably find all contraband…but time is something they don’t have in excess. This idea may help: it would certainly be valuable right now – the Port of Tauranga was closed overnight Thursday, due to the risk of containers floating free just off the coast.
Another concept for overboard containers could be some sort of saltwater-soluble plug: this could dissolve after a few hours of immersion at a specific water pressure, thus safely sinking the container. It could be located high enough up the body of the container so that if it was standing in seawater on a vessel, the plug would not be affected.
Being a layman with zero shipping knowledge, I accept that these systems may already be in place… but the current search indicates otherwise. Containers are lost overboard more often than shipping companies care to admit (up to 10,000 a year!). With over 17 million containers and nearly 5,000 container ships around the world (as at Oct.2010), these safety concepts may seem cost-prohibitive, but surely the benefits would quickly offset the expense.

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Sky's The Limit?

The HP TouchPad at NZ$819 (for 32gb), Apple's iPad from NZ$799, Amazon's Kindle Fire at NZ$289...crazy!
How about a $35 tablet computer?
India recently (Wed.5 Oct.) unveiled the Aakash, which in Hindi means "sky", billed as the world's least expensive tablet. The plan is to distribute thousands of the devices in coming months to students at a $35 subsidised rate.
The tablet has taken several years to develop, faced a lot of skepticism and received help from taxpayers. But it offers the promise of computing to millions of villagers in rural India who often seem to be living more in the 19th century than the 21st. Developers also say they hope to export the model abroad eventually.
Kapil Sibal, India’s minister for information technology and human resource development: "Today we reach to the sky and demonstrate what is possible. Let me send a message, not just to our children but the children of the world: this is for all those who are marginalised."
The 370gm touchscreen device can handle basic computing, including email, social networking, Web surfing, online banking, instant messaging and multimedia. It’s not for users who want a real tablet experience, but it will allow basic computing beyond the mobile phone.
And with India's IT might and massive production capability, it may well be that the sky really IS the limit...
(Nicholas Negroponte - take a bow.)

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Kiwi Wine Does It Again

Wine 'experts' can be confusing.
On the one hand, they say: "Drink what you like!", "Don’t worry about scores!", "You can even drink red wine and fish if you like the combination!" The next minute, they’re dishing out sage advice about the 'right' vintage, the 'best' area etc.
Well, if you're influenced by the scorecard, New Zealand's just won 18 gold medals, including 15 Best in Class, at the UK-based 2011 International Wine and Spirits Competition.
The tally beats our previous record of 11 golds in 2008 and the competition average of 4.9 gold medals per country. NZ wine won 305 awards at the event, and scooped two of the prestigious trophy awards.
The Bouchard Finlayson Pinot Noir Trophy was awarded to Peregrine Central Otago Pinot Noir 2009 and, for the first time, a NZ Riesling won The London International Wine Fair Trophy for Single Vineyard White - awarded to Two Sisters Vineyard Central Otago Riesling 2007.
The Peregrine Pinot Noir had already achieved Air New Zealand Champion Wine of the Show in the 2010 Air New Zealand Wine Awards – yet despite its award-winning success is priced at only $39, while the Two Sisters Riesling sells for just $35: both very accessible prices for wine of this calibre.
NZ is the fastest growing country-of-origin for wine in both volume and value in the UK and exports of our wine to the US in June this year were up 21% - making the US the third largest market for NZ wine.
We’ve come a long way since 1990 when I was working in the wine trade in London. Back then, at the top end you could sometimes find some legendary NZ Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc, while towards the bottom there was Cook’s Chenin Blanc…and very little else kiwi wine at all.
The fact that a local Riesling has won such an important international trophy highlights to the world that we are producing exceptional wines beyond the Sauvignon Blanc...

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Rena: Why Were We Not Ready?

You’ve gotta wonder just what’s been going on.
First, we have a large container ship, the Rena, driven straight onto the well-charted Astrolabe Reef, about 12 nautical miles off the Tauranga coast a week ago.
Then, despite three days of gorgeous calm conditions, nothing seemed to be done regarding the grounding and oil leaks – although we heard plans were underway, mobilisation had begun etc.
Next, oil reaches pristine Bay of Plenty beaches because chemical dispersants didn’t seem to work (and in many cases, those dispersants do more harm than good anyway). Yet TV3 interviewed a man with an oil-absorbency product proven globally, who was told by the government and Maritime NZ to "come back and see us after this is over"!
Now the storm hitting the area has tilted Rena – initially leaning to port – to nearly 20 degrees to starboard. She has lost dozens of her containers, and is showing evidence of deformities in her hull structure.
This storm is both a pro and a con. The bad news: it hampers the clean-up and access to the vessel. The good news: it helps the oil disperse naturally. Microbe activity will break down the oil in about six weeks in the current temperatures.
If Rena does break up on the reef, we won’t see an environmental disaster of the size and impact of the Exxon Valdez or the more recent Gulf of Mexico disaster: this is simply not on the same scale. However it’s equally as distressing to those watching it happen on their own back doorstep…and it should never have happened (two investigations underway will eventually sort out why)!
Meantime we must ask why recovery efforts have taken so long, and are in seemingly such disarray, when surely Maritime NZ had a plan and equipment ready-to-roll for just such an event?
It seems once again our disaster preparedness "plan" is to think about what to do…after an event has actually happened!
Update: Rena's hull has now ruptured - it's looking highly unlikely she'll be able to be refloated!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Obama Talks Tough On Iceland?

"Y'all be scared now,
Iceland. I got my
'tough guy' face on!"
Mid-September, US President Barack Obama spoke.
Did it make any difference?
"Iceland's actions threaten the conservation status of an endangered species and undermine multilateral efforts to ensure greater worldwide protection for whales," Obama said to Congress. "Iceland's increased commercial whaling and recent trade in whale products diminish the effectiveness of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) conservation programme."
After a strong campaign by environmental groups, US Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke certified Iceland under a domestic law, the Pelly Amendment, that allows retaliation against nations that flout the IWC moratorium. Obama then agreed on diplomatic action to try to put an end to whaling in Iceland, which would reduce relations between the two countries.
However, trade sanctions would not be implemented. So what else is there – torpedo their whaling vessels? Nupe, something tougher! Obama directed government officials to go to Iceland...and have a talk to them about it. Hmmmmm, highly effective...
In reply, Iceland‘s Minister for the Environment said Iceland’s whaling was hardly sustainable, adding that revenue generated from whaling and the export of whale products deliver little to the national economy (minke whales are currently being hunted for commercial reasons in Iceland but no fin whales will be caught this season).
So, Minister, if your whaling generates so little income for you (or should I say, for one man Kristjan Loftsson, the fisheries magnate), yet has generated so much global negativity towards Iceland...why the hell do you keep doing it?
PS: 31 Oct.2011 - US suffers erectile dysfunction over Iceland...

Monday, October 10, 2011

Dead Man Eating

"The condemned man ate a hearty meal"...know the phrase?
The last meal is a customary part of a condemned prisoner's last day. In many countries, the prisoner may select what their last meal will be (within reason), and the authorities do their best to satisfy that request. Hmmmm, 'within reason'...
US double murderer Thomas Grasso (executed in 1995) asked for and received two dozen steamed mussels; two dozen steamed clams; a BK double cheeseburger; half-dozen barbequed spare ribs; two strawberry milkshakes; half a pumpkin pie with whipped cream and diced strawberries; and a 16-ounce can of spaghetti with meatballs, served at room temperature!
Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (died 2001) got two pints of mint chocolate-chip ice cream!
Jew-killing nazi Adolf Eichmann (d.1962) requested a bottle of Carmel, a dry red wine....from Israel!!
Joan of Arc (d.1431): just holy Communion, merci.
In Texas last month, Lawrence Brewer requested a monster meal for his final chow-down: two chicken-fried steaks with gravy and sliced onions; a triple-patty bacon cheeseburger; a cheese omelet with ground beef, tomatoes, onions and peppers; a bowl of fried okra with ketchup; a pound of barbecued meat with half a loaf of white bread; three fajitas; a meat-lover’s pizza; one pint of ice cream; a slab of peanut-butter fudge with crushed peanuts; and three root beers. When it duly arrived, he didn't eat any of it, saying he wasn't hungry.
Now Texan Senator John Whitmire says this whole business has got crazy, so he's abolished all future "last meal" requests. They'll eat what any other inmate eats...or nothing at all.
And quite frankly, when you're going to meet your Maker in the next few minutes, do you really wanna be breathing onions in His face?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Keeping It In The Family

These days, the 'nuclear family' concept - of the "king of the castle" going out to work, while the "little lady" fans the home fire - has pretty much been obliterated.
It may have still functioned in our parents' time but today's financial pressures mean generally both partners work.
So I wasn't surprised to discover Mr.B.King's wife has a full-time job, and in the same business as her husband too (albeit on a smaller scale). While Burger King is doing very well worldwide, Burger Queen has a loyal local following at 151 Mt.Albert Road, Mt.Albert, Auckland...
Good burgers too, by all accounts!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Money Where Mouth Is

Sea Shepherd has had a long association with seals.
In fact, its first 'direct action' was against Canadian seal hunting in 1979.
In the early 1980s, Sea Shepherd activists were fighting against the killing of grey seals in the Scottish Orkney Islands. In 1981, Scottish SS volunteers camped on Little Green Holm and Muckle Green Holm Islands, and prevented sealers from landing to club seals. In November 1982, crew members put themselves in harm's way by snatching rifles from the hunters and physically stopping boats landing on the seal rookeries.
The Grey Seal Campaign generated enough financial support for SS to purchase Little Green Holm Island in 1985 for £5000, and declare it a permanent seal sanctuary (despite their protected status in UK waters, many environmental groups have concerns that seals are being illegally hunted in large numbers, including in the Orkneys).
This miniature island is only about as big as a football field, but it's covered with nesting birds and seals. The Orkney Islands Council describes this island as "a site of outstanding nature conservation interest within the UK for its nationally important breeding colony of breeding grey seals," also cormorants and otters.
To a whole new generation of eco-supporters, the purchase of the island won't be common knowledge. Some might even say, in the overall scheme of things, a football-field-sized sanctuary doesn't amount to much. Sure, the story's far less dramatic than fighting with whaling vessels, but is still a touching example of what can be accomplished when conservation-minded individuals come together for a common cause. And hey, thirty years ago, SS was putting its money where its mouth was...
Their ship Steve Irwin is now in London, fundraising for Operation Divine Wind – SS’s return to the Southern Ocean later this year, now that Japan has announced it'll again venture forth for another season of illegal whaling, even though the Institute for Cetacean Research is facing bankruptcy!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Coronation Street Crossroads

Mess with Coronation Street fans at your peril.
In 1994, when Aussie tv programmer Mike Lattin dared to cut the number of episodes shown per week, NZ viewers were outraged. After a public outcry, he was vanquished and the status quo restored. When character Diedre Rashid was wrongly imprisoned, her plight was mentioned in the UK Parliament! The appearance of trans-sexual character Hayley Cropper brought about law changes in the UK! This show has social impact: it’s not just “a soap”.
Yet last week TVNZ announced it was moving it earlier than prime time, in favour of the Australian Masterchef finals. Coro will be cut from two x 1-hr.episodes weekly, to 30min.x five days a week at 5.30pm (from 17 Oct.) with a Saturday omnibus screening. TVNZ says it's therefore playing more Coro and aren’t the fans lucky!
But after Masterchef ends, there's the final of the *yawn* Rugby World Cup and the election, so Coro may not return to prime time. TVNZ'll try editing Coro into more family-friendly fare needed for its new time slot, but will have problems – [SPOILERS] with lesbian kisses, murders, Fizz jailed, Leanne’s real mum and a brutal rape coming up.
Passionate Coro fans are ready for battle. Online petitions have been started. Thousands of comments are posted on social websites. There’s talk of an advertising boycott.
The deluge of prime-time foodie shows is way OTT. Some evenings have cooking programmes on all four main channels at once… as well as the Food Channel on Sky! Is TVNZ insane, thinking these are the in-demand programmes? Of all the daft things it’s done in recent years, this one takes the gateau (a close second must be the recent screening of Real Life: The World's Most Enhanced Woman And Me. It was sad, sick, and not worthy of air-time).
TVNZ should re-think its plans for Coronation Street post-election... because viewers are re-thinking theirs.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

My Kitchen Rules...

The good old-fashioned roast chicken still tops NZers' favourite dinners list...even if chicken is now over $20kg!!!
A recent Colmar Brunton survey asked 1000+ kiwis what they were having for dinner: seems we favour a chicken roast, followed by chicken and vegies, steak and vegies, and chicken curries.
Here's one I prepared earlier...
No.5 - homemade pizza
No.6 - spaghetti Bolognese
No.7 – lasagna
No.8 - fish and vegies
No.9 - sausage and vegies
No.10 - nachos
Yea, pretty inspiring, eh!
The list shows the traditional meat-and-three-veg meal is still alive and kickin' here, but we look for easier meals by week's end, like 'fush-und-chups' on Froidays (a throwback to the Catholic "no meat on Friday" edict).
The survey also showed one in three people cooking are men, who tend to be more passionate about meal-making. But not everyone's passionate about food: the poll found a large amount of people cooking for kids find it a "mind-numbing" chore.
Three in four meals are eaten together as a family, even if 60% of the time they're glued to the tv. Half of our dinners have some sort of dessert, but very few are homemade. And 80% of cooks love it when they get praise, but only 58% get positive feedback.
So when you're chowing down tonight - love the food, love the cook…and hey, take a turn at washing up too! In my kitchen rulebook, cooks don’t do the dishes!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Man In The Mirror

Maori claim they see the world differently to others, that the land is their mother, that they'd far prefer to nurture its soul than swap it for thirty pieces of silver...
Tukoroirangi Morgan from Waikato Tainui says that same approach applies to how maori manage their assets. In August he talked up a plan for an iwi consortium, to buy into any state-owned enterprises that may be part-privatised post-election: "If you invest in maori, you invest in a long term organisation that is not going to sell, unlike the mums and dads in this country – they’ll sell at the highest price.
Iwi won’t sell and the investment is intergenerational." Seems to make sense...
Ngai Tahu chairman Mark Solomon said the same: "Iwi are the Crown’s perfect partner. We're never going to leave the country. Everything we earn stays in the country and what we do earn we reinvest in our own community. It's a win-win for everybody."
But when push comes to shove, what happens to those inter-generational assets that connect maori spiritually to the land? They get sold!
Radio NZ yesterday said the Overseas Investment Office OKed the sale of another 22,000h of land to foreigners back in August - a Swiss company scored more than 18,000h of Canterbury forestry from Ngai Tahu, which sold the forest as part of a 'change in its investment strategy'. Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiight.
No real surprise – thinking how maori have cashed in on their spirituality in the past, I'm reminded of the Waikato motorway taniwhai; Contact Energy paying Ngai Tahu $1.6m for the suspension of spiritual values for 35 years' river use; Ngati Wai's Pakiri sand-dredging royalties deal...
So how exactly does their world view differ from others'? It doesn't.
Look in the mirror. A buck is a buck. Let's just call a spade a spade.
[…with tug-of-forelock to Hon.Alf Grumble]