Thursday, August 30, 2012

Volcano Café Remembered

I was recently perusing a colleague's photographs, of damage caused by the two big Canterbury earthquakes of 2010 and 2011.
Image: Paul Willyams
I was reminded of a time-lapse video made of the demolition of the iconic Volcano Café in Lyttleton, Banks Peninsula.
The café was so named because Lyttleton is sited on the remains of an extinct volcano. The railway tunnel linking Lyttleton to Christchurch was, when finished in 1867, the first in the world to cut through the rim of an extinct volcano.
The Volcano building was one of four in London Street that were all demolished in one operation, after being severely damaged in the Feb.2011 EQ. It was on the corner with Canterbury Street, while beside it along London Street were The Lava Bar, the fish'n'chip shop Lyttleton Fisheries and at No.36, the 1902 white facade of the old Buffalo Lodge.
Lyttelton was regarded as one of New Zealand's heritage-rich areas and in 2009, the NZ Historic Places Trust registered the Lyttelton Township Historic Area on its National Register of historic places. Sadly the EQs damaged many of its old buildings.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Coro Cuts Again

Does TVNZ have a death wish?
It's chopping an hour of popular soap Coronation Street from this weekend: the Saturday screenings are being cut!
Now, perhaps it wouldn't have been so bad if Coro was standing aside for something else of value (like an Attenborough doco or - miracle of miracles - a half-decent series, if it can afford one!). Instead, it's being replaced by Come Dine With Me, a series about British strangers competing for the title of ultimate dinner party host. Even in its own publicity material, TVNZ generously describes the replacement show as "hilariously
cringeworthy"!
So why make this change, and incur the wrath of middle NZ for such crap? Usually Come Dine With Me screens weekday afternoons where it can't bore anyone to death! And surely viewers are fed up with all these desperate cooking shows (pun very much intended)? Coro was last cut back for the Masterchef final and then the *yawn* Rugby World Cup...
TVNZ's decision means we'll now only get our fix of Coro on Thursday and Friday nights at 7.30pm. We'll quickly fall further behind: even before the axing of Saturday evening screenings, we were still about 19mths behind the UK. Hell, we've only just seen the tram crash episodes (and resultant mega domestic fall-out) that Brits saw in December 2010!
In the past when TVNZ dared crap on Coro, the Aussie programmer concerned nearly lost his job over the public furore. Even the PM waded in to the debate. The anger is no less raw this time around, with one viewer saying "Coronation Street might be just a soap opera but it is almost Shakespearean compared to the likes of Come Dine With Me." Hear-hear, verily, foresooth!
TVNZ says extra episodes of Coro will be aired when appropriate. Yea, right. Surely if a tv show can last in the broadcasting world for 50 years, it has some merit and deserves to be treated as such, not constantly pushed from pillar to post, on the whim of a programmer who's probably not even old enough to remember The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, let alone Ena Sharples!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Yarning Is Da Bomb!

I've seen this before, on trees in Dunedin, but never on a statue!
'Yarn bombing' has arrived in Palmerston North.
The woman in the Paul Dibble sculpture 'Who's Afraid' outside the Regent Theatre on Broadway, PNth has been clad in leggings, a tank top, hat and scarf. A group called Woolly Riot has claimed responsibility.
Passers-by were surprised by the winter-warming clothes but all seemed to like the statue's additions, noting that it was 'delicately' done, covering all of the figure's sensitive 'naked parts'.
An anonymous Woolly Riot member said the sculpture was dressed last Tuesday overnight, the garments sewn in place, after two months of planning.
As long as it was done for fun - not for some puritanical 'covering up of bare sculptured breasts' - it's all good! But I guess the poor ol' tuatara sculpture gets left to shiver in the Manawatu cold...


PS: Lots of strange things DO happen in Palmerston North!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Neil Who?

There are many Neils and many Armstrongs...so someone was bound to mess it up.
NBC News was the first to report that astronaut and first man on the moon Neil Armstrong had died, but its website initially called him Neil Young by accident!
So to clarify, rocker Neil Young is perfectly alive - although he often looks decidedly otherwise these days!
Neil Armstrong (August 5, 1930 – August 25, 2012) was the iconic astronaut who passed away last Saturday aged 82, after he suffered complications from heart surgery.
And then, in another error, it was written that Neil had stepped out of the space shuttle rather than the lunar module, until someone pointed out the error. In 1969, Armstrong commanded the Apollo 11 spacecraft, the first ever to reach the moon - conspiracy theorists will forever debate that fact.
The other great debate is over what Armstrong actually said: was his walk on the moon one small step for man, or 'a' man? His first words from the moon were heard all over Earth, thus:
"That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."
But Armstrong said immediately after the landing that he'd been misquoted. He said he actually said, "That's one small step for 'a' man." It's just that people didn't hear it. He acknowledged when he listened to a recording that he didn't hear himself say it either: "The 'a' was intended. I thought I said it. I can't hear it when I listen on the radio reception here on Earth, so I'll be happy if you just put it in parentheses."
Although no one in the world heard the 'a', research backs Armstrong. In 2006, a computer analysis found evidence that Armstrong said what he said he said. An Australian computer programmer ran a software analysis looking at sound waves and found a wave that would have been the missing 'a'. It lasted 35 milliseconds, much too quick to be heard...but it was there, just like Armstrong was back in July 1969.
Debate THAT.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Playdough Culturally Insensitive???

Has the world gone completely MAD?
Playdough is one of the best educational tools, but some NZ early childhood centres are being warned to think first before using it.
The warning comes from...wait for it!...you guessed it!...maori educators, who say it is culturally insensitive! They question whether playdough, potato prints and macaroni necklaces should be used when some families can't afford to put food on the table.
Meg Moss of Minimarc Childcare Centre says playdough is a great learning tool for young kids: "I haven't found anything that quite replaces it for helping children develop manipulative skills and it's fairly economical compared with commercial products. It's much easier for very small children to use, much easier than clay."
But Judith Nowotarski of the NZ Educational Institute says playdough is a waste of perfectly good flour that could be made into bread: "I don't think any culture intentionally goes in and says it's ok to play with food or with ingredients. I don't think anybody does that in this day and age. We've got to think about sustainability." Yes. Honestly! That's what she said!
Oy! You kids! Stop having fun NOW!
She even claims some some maori childhood centres have stopped using food, including playdough, as a play tool because it's culturally insensitive and a waste: "We removed things like pasta and so on for threading and baking for that reason. There are families out there who struggle."
The rest of the world finds playdough great for kids, but maori find it culturally insensitive. This is despite the fact that it's been used by kiwi kids for decades. All of a sudden it is *shock-horror-probe* non-PC!!! And the tragedy is: this is not a joke - these clowns are serious!
So who are these so-called "maori educators"? (let them boldly step forth for all to ridicule). Why do they want to spoil children's fun? Just how big are the broomsticks up their bums? Next they'll be saying others' kids aren't allowed to wear shoes because some maori can't afford to buy any for theirs...!
If you want to make playdough for your kids, and have them grow up with a well-rounded view of life without any PC bullshit, here's [the recipe]...

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Demise of DoktorBass

Over the past months, there have been quite a few hack-attacks from someone using the handle DoktorBass.
Some of his attacks have stirred up fuss, the most recent I blogged on Wednesday - a strike last weekend at some Faroe Islands sites.
Following those attacks, DoktorBass disabled his Facebook page, which was a main outlet for the attacks, and released this statement explaining why he's "leaving the anonymous scene" (it also indicates a few things about himself!):
"Well, I give up. Honest to God, this is the end of my hacking / anonymous days. I just can't take it anymore.
I fight for what i believe should be done, and there are other "anonymous" people saying that i shouldn't. They say that Anonymous doesn't give two shits about whaling. Well I do. I am Anonymous and i am against whaling, does that mean i shouldn't fight to stop it? Well if you were one of the people that said i shouldn't be wasting my time with whaling, i do not call you Anonymous. I call you stupid and ignorant. Never tell someone they can't fight for their beliefs.
To the Faroe Islands residents, i am sorry if you got caught up in all this. I am still opposed to whaling, but i would like to apologize for what i've done to your small yet traditional community. (A lot of you also requested a written apology, well here you go.) I hope that you all get back into your daily routine, and that you, in time, stop whaling. You won't i know, but it feels better to hope for an end of it. I am sorry for all the trouble i have caused, and pray for your forgiveness. Same with all those other Scandinavian people who were offended by what i did.
If you were compromised during this event, i am deeply sorry for it. If your website was hacked, i hope you also plan to patch the SQL injectable holes in your websites, so no one else gives you any trouble. I have deleted the leaked data, the dox will remain because it is not my work, and it is entirely legal.
To the Prime minister of the Faroe Islands, if you ever see this, i apologize in general to your nation, i am aware whaling is legal in your country. To the people who wasted hours of their lives arguing with me, i hope you're happy and proud, because you won.
From here i will go back to the old days when i used to enjoy programming. But believe me when i say i hacked for more reasons than activism. To me hacking was an anti-depressant, and was addictive at times. I do it at school, at home, whenever i have the opportunity i am picking out SQL injectable targets and exploiting them, but i'm stopping as of tonight. It's hazardous to my health anyway i suppose.
To any police/security agencies watching me, i apologize for my actions and all the damage they have done.
To the other people working with me on #OpHarpoon, i'm sorry for abandoning you like this. At least i got you all the media attention you needed, but you will have to find yourselves another willing hacker. Also to everyone that didn't know, I AM NOT LEADING #OpHarpoon. I am merely the hacker in all this, i didn't choose the Faroe Islands as a target, i didn't choose whalers as a target, i did what i was supposed to do: get all the media i could. And i succeeded with the leak reaching the top-trended paste in one day with 12,000 views. It's gone now though, so no point looking it up.
To all the people i have befriended over my 8 month's with Anonymous, i'm sorry for doing this, and i'm aware of my usefulness, but it has to be done. I can't continue this anymore.
To everyone else i hacked throughout my 8 month spree, i am sorry for my actions, and hope you will forgive me.
I just want to continue living my life the way i used to: carefree. I don't want any of this trailing me and taunting me for the rest of my life. I am deeply sorry for my actions. I pray you just forgive me, then forget me.
Sincerely,
DoktorBass

There're indications that this teenage schoolboy had depression, no social life, and used on-line vandalism as a release. He may been in over his head as, just a few days prior, he posted this apology on his site, regarding something else he'd created:
"Right. I've made a mistake obviously. I feel very guilty now about dumping that site, i shouldn't have done it. It was a site promoting women's rights in Africa for fuck's sake. I'm meant to be supporting that. I'm not sure what i was thinking but i can truthfully say im a fuckwit. Young and stupid. I'm righting (sic) them a formal apology."

At this stage, his #OpHarpoon document containing multiple targets remains up, but his list of other sites he's proudly hit is now missing many of those I cited last Wednesday!
"It's hazardous to my health anyway i suppose" - as I warned, I suspect the Men In Black dropped by for a little chat...

Friday, August 24, 2012

Right To Know?

The media attention to the latest NZ Afghanistan casualties seems way out of proportion, and rather misdirected.
Take for example the coverage by Christchurch paper The Press. Thursday's issue used as front eye-catcher a half-page pic of the three coffins awaiting transport on landrovers at Bamiyan. Then followed a large piece about Jacinda Baker - one of the three dead and the first NZ female casualty of the conflict. The story delved into almost every aspect of her life, included that she liked baking and boxing (!!!). We heard from family, boyfriend, friends...
Such extensive in-depth personal analysis did not extend to her two male counterparts who also lay beside her.
The Press took the female angle even further, with a story about the last time NZ lost a woman in a conflict and why (TB in Viet Nam, incidentally). This perhaps may have been a vaguely interesting side-piece, but instead was inserted as if it was another riveting fresh news item.
What was of more interest - that NZ SAS were returning to the war-zone, albeit only two and as 'advisors' - was almost a throw-away afterthought item. (I strongly suspect our SAS are actually already actively hunting the Taliban responsible as I write...not sitting back in NZ as parade-ground markers at Papakura Military Camp! Wouldn't that be a waste of highly-skilled and ruthless resources!)
No, The Press and quite a few of its fellow media hounds have focused excessively on the death of one soldier because of her sex. The loss of the others was nearly cheapened by this feeding frenzy, and certainly the coverage of our previous losses paled in comparison.
Please don't give me that line about "the public has a right to know". How about "all soldiers have the right to national respect"? Not adulation - respect. Not excessive bloodthirsty coverage - respect. Not inside leg measurement, favourite baking recipe or menstrual cycle - respect.
They are soldiers, doing a very risky job, and some have paid the price. It is however their JOB. Leave them alone to do it.
We do NOT have a RIGHT to know.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Terra Nova Found

When events happened a century ago, it's easy to get confused...
When news broke of the discovery of Captain Scott's ship, the Terra Nova, I immediately recalled a ship engulfed in ice off Antarctica. But upon googling photos, I found that I was confused with Sir Ernest Shackleton's polar ship Endurance, which was famously trapped in pack ice for several years and eventually crushed in 1915, in the Weddell Sea.
Terra Nova:
Antarctic 'road trip'
So, what then of SS Terra Nova? Well, it was built in 1884 for the Dundee whaling and sealing fleet (working for 10yrs in the Labrador Sea), but became better known as a polar expedition ship. It was most famous for the ill-fated 1910 Antarctic expedition, in which Scott and his entire party died.
After that trip, its new owners based it in Nova Scotia, Canada from 1914-1942. It worked in the seasonal Newfoundland seal fishery during the months of March and April, though was generally laid up for the rest of the year.
During WWI it made some trading voyages around the Canadian coast, and at least one voyage to Cardiff, England with pitprops.
In 1943 it was carrying supplies for US bases in Greenland. On Sunday 12 Sept., while crossing from Greenland to Newfoundland, it struck ice and developed a bad leak. Its SOS was answered by US Coast Guard cutter Atak which next day picked up the crew.
loading: Pt.Chalmers, NZ
The cutter then finished off the sinking ship with 23 rounds of 3" gunfire. Its approximate last position was 60°30'N 46°30'W, off the SW coast of Greenland.
Terra Nova was found again recently, its wreckage located during routine testing of echo-sounder equipment. Though known to be in that area, its exact location was unknown.
Brian Kelly works at a museum in Dundee, Scotland, where Terra Nova was built: "It is incredible that one of the most famous ships in history has been found 100 years after the race for the pole and in the year commemorating the event. (It) really was the pinnacle of Scottish wooden shipbuilding."
Because of the depth the ship was found at, its condition, and the cost of any salvage operation, its unlikely the wreck will be recovered.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

DoktorBass: The Right Medicine?

Concerted effort, or lone vigilante?
Last weekend, a number of Faroe Islands websites, Facebook, Twitter and email accounts came under attack from an anonymous source, seemingly based in Australia. The originator of these hacks calls himself DoktorBass.
Last Saturday on a publically-accessible site, he posted an extensive list of around 200 e-addresses under the title #OpHarpoon: 'an operation to attempt to try and stop whaling.' (As you know, the Faroe Islanders regularly herd entire pods of pilot whales into shallow bays, and kill them in traditional and brutal fashion.) The site was arranged so that others of a similar motivation could download his material and escalate the hacking. It carried the warning: "To those who support killing whales we only have one thing to say, expect us".
This is not the first e-assault by DoktorBass - he originated eight in July alone, with his targets widespread in location and subject. His pastebin features titles such as Gold Coast Dating site; #OpFuckUganda; luxuryhomesAustralia.com.au; #OpPedoChat; Paraguayan websites, lawyers and attorneys...and even the FBI! While these have gained little support (in terms of copying/pasting), the latest Faroes attack has - at time of writing - had more than 11,500 hits...and thus I assume a flow-on effect at the Faroe Islands receiving end.
I wholeheartedly support the recent viral attacks on Iranian govt computers (it seems a better safer option to disrupt it's nuclear programme virally, rather than by military attack!). DoktorBass's assault however looks highly unlikely to disrupt the FI economy or cripple its govt. It may prove nothing more than an inconvenience, and achieve little.
Mind you, hacking the FBI may have quite a different result..!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Feed Me, Seymour! Feed Me NOW!

Feed me, Seymour!
If you have a cat that gets impatient at feeding time, or begs for food at your table, it may be suffering from a mental illness.
Although you may find it cute when Tiddles is miaowing loudly by its bowl, or rubbing up against your leg for food, a group of vets claims those are actually signs of a severe eating disorder. They say cats that're too eager to be fed may well need psychological treatment more than their dinner.
The study was made by veterinary researchers at the University of Padua in Italy, and concluded that a cat's gentle ankle stroke at feedtime is not a sign of affection, but a symptom called 'excessive solicitation of interspecific interactions' (seriously!) which indicates the cat suffers from a new form of eating disorder.
Feed me NOW, or the goldfish dies!
The condition has been named Psychogenic Abnormal Feeding Behaviour (PAFB). Symptoms include stealing food from other cats and jumping on its owner's table to eat from plates.
If you think your cat may be suffering from PAFB, the study advises you to introduce strict rules for feeding times, ban begging and ensure your cat cannot watch you eat. As the cat's behaviour improves it may be slowly re-introduced to watching you having food, but should never be fed from your plate.
Study leader Paolo Mongillo says unless the cat gets really obnoxious, most owners probably won't complain about these changes in routine. He added that, just like humans, animals can become victims of eating disorders if they're subjected to stress.
If your cat's behaviour problems include ankle-biting, it may have predatory aggression - in other words, it's not getting enough play and exercise to simulate its hunting
Feed me now...or YOU die!
activities in the wild. Because Tiddles doesn't have very many moving options inside the house, it'll go for your ankles instead. Often, just giving your cat playtime and exercise will cure this...
...before it develops a taste for human flesh!

Monday, August 20, 2012

If Anyone Can, The Kiwi Can

Remember that '70s advertising line "If anyone can, the Kiwi can"?
Following in the footsteps (er, tyretracks) of legendary NZer Burt Munro, a team of Kiwis has smashed a world speed record at Utah's Bonneville Salt Flats, confirming their car as the world's fastest Mini.
They were told they didn't have a hope of even passing the tech inspection (let alone breaking the record) but their do-it-yourself attitude saw their 1964 Mini Cooper S reach an average speed of 235.9km/h!
Project '64 spokesman Mike Wilson: "We had people telling us a short car at that sort of speed would spin, but it just went beautifully - tracked down the line and had a huge amount of power."
To confirm the world record, the Mini had to complete the feat twice. They recorded 229km/h on their first run a week ago, and 243km/h on their second on Saturday. The previous world land speed record for a production car under 1000cc was 205km/h and the fastest time (unofficially) recorded by a mini was 196km/h.
Wilson: "One of the famous things that Burt Munro said was that anyone can go out and buy a new bike and go fast, but it's much more interesting and much more of a challenge to take something old and go fast, so that's why we used a 48yr.old Mini."
In 1962, at 63, Burt Munro famously set off for Bonneville with an Indian Scout motorcycle he'd bought in 1920, immortalised in the film The World's Fastest Indian. His 1967 speed of 295km/h still stands today as the world speed record for under 1000cc motorbikes with a streamliner.
After they broke the record, the team had the opportunity to try to go even faster, and they did, reaching 252km/h. However, for the speed to officially register, the car had to repeat its performance and they had technical difficulties before their second run. The team's considering returning to Bonneville to push their Mini even further.
Just goes to show - Kiwis can fly! Nice one, you mad buggers!!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Hone Screams Racism - Again! *yawn*

There's not been much verbal diarrhea from Hone Harawira lately.
But the very first story I see on-line today...is about him!
Chuuurrr, bro!
Seems a war of words is underway over National MP Todd McClay's proposed gang patch ban. MP Hone Harawira's calling him a "foolish dickhead" promoting a "deeply racist" bill (as usual, the Bro has not checked the definition of "racist"). McClay's Prohibition of Gang Insignia in Government Premise bill passed its first reading in Parliament last week. If it becomes law, offenders could face a fine of up to $2000, and police could confiscate and destroy patches and insignia.
HH is threatening to wear a gang patch into Parliament if the bill becomes law. Todd McClay says that would cast doubts on Harawira's suitability to be an MP (as if there were any doubts left!), and be an embarrassment to him and his Mana Party.
Hone-bro (in standard vitriolic form): "The guy is such an idiot. I'm not going to stand by and watch a blonde, blue-eyed redneck kick around poor people who, out of desperation, bond together because they see nothing in the blonde, blue-eyed society to give them a sense of hope for their own or their children's futures." However the UN International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination says there's no distinction between the terms racial discrimination and ethnic discrimination - thus ranting against "blonde, blue-eyed" people is actually racial discrimination.
Meanwhile, McClay says "Harawira's defence of gang membership is shameful. He has told gang members to disregard any law, by saying he is considering wearing a patch to Parliament in protest. Many people would question whether views like that have any place in Parliament."

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Teddy Bear's Picnic

Isn't this going just a tad too far?
Belarus has withdrawn its ambassador to Sweden and its entire embassy staff, in the latest round of tense moves, following an arrival of teddy bears via parachute!!!
The announcement followed moves last week by both Belarus and Sweden to remove several diplomats from each other's embassies. Officials have not directly linked the dismissals to the teddy bear protest, but...
The Teddy Bear drama began in early July when two Swedish activists in a small plane dropped hundreds of teddy bears over several cities. The toys had messages, urging Belarus to show greater respect for human rights.
The Belarusian government was too embarrassed to confirm the event for three weeks, when it stated that the Swedes had crossed Lithuania into heavily guarded Belarusian airspace without permission. Two top defence officials were fired after its border guards failed to intercept the plane.
Teddy Bear activists Tomas Mazetti
and Hannah Frey
Several citizens who supported the Teddy Bear Activists were arrested, while the pair (who work for a Swedish advertising firm...hmmmmm...) are wanted for questioning on charges of trespassing. It's not known if the actual teddy bears are in custody..!
Ties between Belarus and Western Europe have grown increasingly strained over Belarus's human-rights record: both the EU and US have sanctions in effect.
But a diplomatic incident over teddy bears...? Puuh-leez!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Paul Henry Back On NZ TV

That Paul Henry is a dip-shit is a given.
That he's actually a mean bastard - beyond his screen persona - is anyone's guess.
However the manufacturers of one of the world's biggest selling chocolate bars are banking that his on-screen wanker-ness will sell Snickers here in Godzone!
PH's made a career out of insulting and humiliating folk with an acid tongue. Now his special blend of 'I-am-an-arse' will be used by Snickers for its New Zealand campaign, 'You're not you when you're hungry'.
This global campaign uses celebrities known for a particular trait as a metaphor. Other countries have seen Joan Collins, Liza Minnelli and Aretha Franklin in the ads, which have aired in more than 56 countries. Recently NZ's seen the Betty White version...
But is it wise for Snickers to use PH? After all, we were more than happy to export the tv dick to Oz, and that country has not exactly taken him to its welcoming bosom - with his tv breakfast show suffering poor ratings and recently having its on-air time reduced.
But, typically, PH is undeterred and says he's thrilled to be involved in the campaign, which celebrates what he believes is one of his most endearing traits: "Essentially it just allows me to be myself." And ain't that the worry!
Snickers marketing manager Andrea Aguilar says the campaign's based on the universal insight that hunger makes a person weak and behave differently: "What it's trying to convey is that hunger can drastically change your personality." Riiiiiiiiigghhtt. Sorry, gal, but I'd bet PH's never gone hungry in his life! If he saw a hungry person, he'd probably just insult them on live national tv!
The ad launches 25 August during the Bledisloe Cup rugby match. It sure won't make me rush out to buy Snickers by the truckload...

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Bill Sticks A Cork In It

More of NZ has been sold to outsiders.
Should we be concerned?
NBR reports that US billionaire Bill Foley is taking over New Zealand Wine Company after winning virtually unanimous shareholder support. The winemaker's board told shareholders that the company's future was basically down the plug-hole if the proposed merger didn't go ahead. NZWC chairman Alton Jamieson said without a $6 million cash injection it would receive under Mr Foley's proposal, NZWC wouldn't be able to repay an outstanding $5 million debt to ANZ National.
Er...but no pressure!
This fait accompli with Foley Family Wines still needs approval by the Overseas Investment Office.
Foley owns the luxurious Wharekauhau estate in Wairarapa, and will take an 80% stake in the struggling Marlborough-based NZWC - thus adding premium wine brands Grove Mill, Frog Haven and Sanctuary to his list of local wines (incl.Vavasour, Goldwater, Clifford Bay and Dashwood).
Billionaire Bill's wealth is estimated by NBR at $1.2 billion.
I'll bet there won't be any xenophobic hysteria made over this deal... unlike the Chinese Crafar Farms purchase. One DARES to speculate: why not?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Clean And Green Keeps Ken And Barbie Happy

An interesting story from USA this week:
"Neighbors (sic) feel safer with green empty lots"
A University of Pennsylvania study has found that clean green vacant lots make neighbourhoods feel safer and may be associated with reductions in certain gun crimes.
The theory is that turning empty sections from a space overgrown with vegetation and filled with rubbish, to a clean green space may make it difficult for people to hide illegal guns and conduct other illegal activities such as drug use in that area. Additionally, green space may encourage community cohesion.
The study randomly selected two clusters of vacant lot - one which was later greened, and one control cluster which was not. Nearby residents were interviewed before and after the greening. Results showed that residents living near the greened vacant lots felt significantly safer after 3mths compared to those near the control site. And total crime (as well as assaults with and without a gun) was less after the clean-up/green-up.
This study is part of an experimental, decade-long comparison of thousands of greened and non-greened vacant sites, and documented significant before/after reductions in gun assaults around vacant lots that were greened compared with those which were not. It provides statistical evidence needed by urban planners and city officials interested in greening as a strategy to prevent violence and encourage safety. A significantly larger randomised controlled trial examining hundreds of vacant lots is currently under way.
All good...but it's so far taken a DECADE to figure this out??!!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

How Companies Can Make Us Love Them

I rang a company recently with a query.
They needed to locate the information, but promised to call back within 10 minutes, then confirmed my phone number...which I had not given them: their phone system had shown them the incoming call number.
Now, this is very simple technology, but it made their approach feel more "personal". That company had just one shot at establishing a relationship with me, and it had to go smoothly...or I was likely to go elsewhere next time.
Most businesses are sitting on data goldmines, but very few use it to improve customer service. That's what makes personal information so vital, and why more companies should actively use it. The data has been gathered automatically or via form-filling, and allows businesses to have more "human" relationships with customers.
Many consumers are unaware of just how much personal information is being gathered through daily transactions. When you shop at the supermarket, you swipe your loyalty card to gain discounts. The card also notes your product preferences so that, when their emailed weekly specials list arrives, your version has selections that're more specifically targeted to you. It's not creepy - it's canny business. If your favourite brands are discounted or uppermost on the email, you're more likely to return to that supermarket sooner.
There's a quiet race going on among brands to form "relationships" that build customer loyalty in the face of increasing competition. Using personal data smartly is the surest way. Smart data use assists businesses to treat customers as individuals, and it does so without extra expense. The data is constantly being gathered: it's just a case of using it correctly.
Imagine the benefits if companies get it right. For example, I'm very tall, so it's vital I get an emergency exit row seat on a plane - y'know, the ones with more leg room. I request this every time I check in: a smart airline would store that information in their system, and be able to offer it without me even asking.
I believe as long as consumers are aware of the data that's being gathered about their lives, and are happy with that, then they'll be quite comfortable with its use, and in the future will come to expect it. It may prove to be the deciding factor in a company's success.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Where's Wally?

The media were like sharks ripping a whale carcass to shreds.
Bail skip! International arrest warrant! Global manhunt!
Er, not quite...
INTERPOL issued a Red Notice for Sea Shepherd's Paul Watson after he skipped bail in Germany. Costa Rica was attempting to extradite him on charges of endangering a fishing vessel in 2002.
A week after fleeing house arrest in Frankfurt, Watson's lawyer released a letter claiming charges against him were influenced by the shark and whale poaching industries he has interfered with for decades. In the letter, Watson said he decided to skip bail after learning Japan had also requested his extradition and was expected to receive approval: "I know the whale killing poachers of Japan will continue to exploit all avenues to find a way to stop me. I have, however, eluded them once again," he wrote, from a "place on this planet where I feel comfortable, a safe place far away from the scheming nations who have turned a blind eye to the exploitation of our oceans." SS says its unaware of Watson's location and only received the letter via email from the captain’s lawyer.
After the erroneous media feeding frenzy, INTERPOL issued a clarification:
...a Red Notice is not an international arrest warrant. It is a request by INTERPOL for member countries to determine whether they can detain or arrest an individual in order for the requesting country to seek their extradition. INTERPOL cannot demand that any member country arrest the subject of a Red Notice.
Any additional enquiries in relation to the Red Notice for Paul Watson should be directed to Costa Rican authorities...
The veteran activist pledged to continue his efforts to sabotage poaching of marine life, announcing a new campaign in Japan, starting December. Well, regardless of that sentiment, he's just kissed goodbye to €250,000 / £196K / US$319K bail...
"I can serve my clients better at sea
than in a Japanese jail cell
and I intend to do just that."

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Two Born Every Minute

What is it they say about the Irish?
These workmen were photographed installing cast-iron bollards outside the Royal Hospital in Belfast, to stop nurses from parking on the pavement. They were cleaning up at the end of the day.
Wonder how long it took them to realise they couldn't go home?!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Intimacy With Rick

Blast from the past!
Legendary keyboard maestro, composer and songwriter Rick Wakeman is coming to enthrall NZ in three very special one-man shows this October.
Wakeman – reknowned for such unique conceptual albums as The Six Wives Of Henry VIII – was last seen here 37 years ago, when he performed Journey To The Centre of the Earth with the Auckland Symphonia at Western Springs.
For those who were born yesterday, Wakeman is probably best known for his role as the former keyboardist in the progressive rock band YES, but prior that he also played with the Strawbs.
Fast forward to 2012 and Wakeman returns for a trio of concerts in Wellington, Auckland and Christchurch from October 6-8 known as "An Intimate Evening With Rick Wakeman". This one-man show is described as "an entertaining evening with Rick performing on a grand piano interspersed by ludicrously ridiculous, albeit true, funny anecdotes".
Wakeman's clocked up a serious catalogue of musical plaudits: 50,000,000 record sales around the world (that’s right: 50-MILLION!), including more than 150 record and CD releases, soundtracks for more than 25 films, and more than 4,000 world-wide concert performances. He's been a session musician with Al Stewart, Elton John, Lou Reed, John Williams, Cat Stevens (Rick's the one playing the classic piano piece on Morning Has Broken), Marc Bolan, Mary Hopkin, Black Sabbath, and David Bowie.
After the success of YES (without Rick Wakeman) in Auckland earlier this year, it'll be great to have Wakeman here: as he only does a few of these very intimate shows a year, kiwi fans are very privileged.

Friday, August 10, 2012

World Environment Day 2012: What Did YOU Do?

Lifted straight from the United Nations website:
"World Environment Day is an annual event that is aimed at being the biggest and most widely celebrated global day for positive environmental action. World Environment Day activities take place all year round but climax on 5 June every year, involving everyone from everywhere..."
...everywhere, it seems, except the Faroe Islands.
On World Environment Day 2012, when pledges to save the earth and its ecosystem were being made around the world, another grindadrap was taking place in the Faroes. Sandoy Island was the site for this first massacre of pilot whales in the 2012 season.
These pictures say it all...

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Do Da Bump

Join the dots, Aussie-style.
In Sydney, Australia, there's a ferry with a busted propeller and two whales with nasty wounds on their backs - but no one's sure whether the two things are connected.
Gonna need a BIIIIIIIIIIIG Band-Aid!
A humpback and calf were reported just off the harbour entrance on Monday. A few hours later, the crew on board the Sydney ferry Collaroy reported it had hit an unknown object on its run from Circular Quay to Manly, in the western shipping channel. Neither the vessel's master nor the deckhand saw what the Collaroy struck and no passengers reported anything to the crew.
A helicopter and a Whale Watching Sydney vessel soon afterwards spotted a female humpack with a wound near its dorsal fin and its calf with a larger messy gash along its back. The pair left the harbour later that morning and headed north on their annual winter migration.
The National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) could not confirm that Collaroy was responsible for the injuries.
Sydney Ferries says masters and crew of all vessels keep an extra watch for whales during whale season, including having a deckhand on the bridge as an extra pair of eyes. A spokesman said a blade on one of the stern operating propellers (it has propellers at both the bow and stern) had been bent when it had struck the mystery object, but there were no signs of whale blubber or flesh or skin on the prop. NPWS said the calf's wounds did not look like those that would be inflicted by a moving propeller, while the mother's look something like a wound from an orca. 
So in the meantime, the burning question of the day remains: what did Collaroy hit? An ocean-going croc? Another Indonesian refugee boat? The remains of Harold Holt? This mystery will keep us as enthralled as Australia's Got Talent!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Don't Blame The Rats!

When I lived in London in the early 1990s, there was talk of opening up a mass burial pit that lay under Spitalfields.
As it was thought to be the final resting place of many victims of the Black Plague (a global pandemic spread by rat fleas from Asia), people questioned the sanity of those who wished to study the dreaded killer. Now it seems the Spitalfields site was not a plague pit after all…
Scientific evidence, including carbon-dating of bones and geological data from across the globe, shows the C13th mass fatalities were caused by one of the largest volcanic eruptions of the last 10,000 years!
It was so big that its gases would have blocked out sunlight, altered atmospheric circulation patterns and cooled the Earth's surface by about 4C, a huge amount. This caused crops to wither, bringing famine, pestilence and death. Mass deaths required huge burial pits, as written in accounts of the time. In 1258, a monk reported: "The north wind prevailed for several months... the hope of harvest was uncertain... innumerable multitudes of poor people died, and their bodies were found lying all about swollen from want..."
There was no contemporary explanation - it was probably assumed to be a punishment from God. Of course, limited global geographical knowledge meant no-one then had any idea about a volcano down in the Tropics…or even that the region existed! Today, scientists think the culprit volcano was in Mexico, Ecuador or Indonesia, blasting up to eight times larger than Indonesia's 1883 Krakatoa eruption (which was one of the most catastrophic in history).
Some 10,500 medieval skeletons were found at Spitalfields, with indications of up to 18,000. As London's population then was only around 50,000, such a huge loss would've radically changed the city, and probably set a new fashion trend to appease God Almighty...
of sack cloth and ashes!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Tongariro Erupts - First Time In A Century!

Mother Nature has growled again.
Mt Tongariro, one of the three major volcanoes in NZ’s central North Island erupted late last night, for the first time in over a century: its last disturbance was in 1897.
Tongariro - in quieter times...
Near midnight, ash was reported falling near the volcano (its since been reported as far east as Napier, on the east coast). Several loud explosions, lightning and plumes of smoke were reported, while one onelooker described "a new hole in the side of the mountain", and also bright red rocks being ejected.
Its alert level has been raised from 1 to 2 (on a scale of 1-5). This means 'minor eruptive activity' - thus the current volcanic action should not be mis-interpreted as another Mt St Helen's!
In a precautionary move, the Desert Road / SH1 is closed between Rangipo and Waiouru, as is SH46 west of Rangipo. SH47 and 4 remain open at this stage as does SH5.
Flight operations to the west of the volcano are unaffected, but operations to the eastern half of the North Island will have some difficulty. A weather front is due, which should disperse the ash cloud, but that depends on whether there are further eruptions.
NZ's other high-profile active volcano, White Island in the Bay of Plenty, also had its alert level raised from 1 ('signs of volcano unrest') to 2 yesterday, after a small eruption was recorded in its crater lake. Its last previous eruption had been in 2000.
[Click here] for GeoNet's current Tongariro status...
UPDATE:
- Mt Tongariro erupted at 11.50pm last night, hurling rocks up to 1km.
- Ash cloud drifting to the east of Tongariro, landing as far as Napier.
- SH1 and SH46 have reopened. Flights to/from Napier cancelled, while other North Island services have been delayed.
- GNS: It was a hydrothermal-driven eruption, rather than magmatic.
- Turoa and Whakapapa skifields remain open.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Soldiers Do What Soldiers Do

New Zealand lost two more soldiers last weekend.
The two from our Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) were killed after an ambush in Afghanistan on Saturday night. Six other soldiers were also wounded. The Taliban has claimed responsibility, saying it was part of a spring offensive.
The PRT has been in Afghanistan's Bamiyan Province for nine years. Prime Minister John Key said the attack could signal a show of strength from the Taliban to undermine the confidence of the people of Bamiyan, because they know NZ is leaving before the end of next year.
Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman said it was a sad day for the Defence Force, which he said is a very close-knit family: "This is going to be felt very heavily across the NZDF."
John Key added it was a "terrible day for NZ", "a shocking outcome". But should we be that shocked? Is this just a political platitude?
Soldiers train for combat, knowing they may have to engage an enemy and attempt to kill them. They're also very aware that the enemy will attempt the same thing. Troops in a hot zone know the risks and if they were not prepared to accept them, they'd quit. So these people are intentially putting themselves in harm's way - not suicidally, but bravely. I have great respect for them, but zero for anyone who may be milking the situation for political mileage, or a possible sensational news story (such as the TV One reporter who demanded to know why soldiers in a "reconstruction" team were armed and in a firefight!! Well, she was blonde! Duuhh!)
I'm not being callous or flippant, because naturally the families concerned will be gutted, but 'dancing with death' is part of the job spec. Yes, these men and others before them have paid the highest price but, if this is a political reaction to two deaths, its obvious our current leadership would have struggled to handle the casualties of prior major conflicts.
At least our Gov.-General Sir Jerry Mateparae (ex-military), while offering condolences, was more realistic saying serving in war-torn countries carried significant risk.
We should not be surprised by more kiwi deaths before our time trying to help the Afghan people is over.

PS: 20 Aug.2012 - Three more NZ soldiers are killed in Bamiyan, including our first female loss.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Big Bang Theory: What A Blast!

7.7sec of great fun!
This morning at 8am, the Newstalk ZB Building in Christchurch became NZ's first imploded building.
A short string of relatively discreet explosions was heard, as the directed charges ripped through the supporting columns, then the sheer weight of the structure collapsed it upon itself...
The large crowd broke into surprised exclamations, then loud cheers and huge grins...

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Big Bang Theory: Ready To Rumble!

Who’s Da Man?!
A 6yr.old Queenstown cancer patient tomorrow becomes the first person in NZ to blow up a high-rise building.
"Cooool!!"
Jayden Halliwell will detonate the 14-storey Radio Network House in Christchurch tomorrow morning, after being chosen by the winners of a Trade Me auction. Eight demolition companies joined forces and, with a $26K bid, won the right to push the Big Bang button. The demo men passed the detonation opportunity on to the Child Cancer Foundation, which then nominated Jayden to push the button.
At 8am Sunday he’ll hit the button and trigger 63kg of explosives. Just 7.7 seconds later, the EQ-damaged Radio Network House will be mere rubble.
Jayden is undergoing chemotherapy and will have an operation in a few weeks to remove his kidney.
Funds raised by the auction will go towards the restoration of the Isaac Theatre Royal in Gloucester St, central Christchurch and the Government will match the amount.
Much interest has been generated by this event, with Trade Me saying the auction was the third most-viewed auction of all time! If you’d rather watch the short-lived Big Bang action from the comfort of a warm lounge, the implosion will be live on OneNews at 8am tomorrow.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Is There Life On Mars?

To answer David Bowie's long-sung question, yes: there may well be Life On Mars soon!
A Dutch company has plans to send humans there. But before you think about signing up for this Richard Branson-type adventure, be advised you won't be coming back! EVER! This ticket is strictly one-way only.
Home Sweet Home...Bowie-style
Mars One is the company behind this planned mission. Its founder, Dutch entrepreneur Bas Lansdorp, says money for the trip will come from a "global media spectacle"... hmmm.
The plan is to send a number of humans to live on Mars indefinitely by 2023. First it plans to send out a communications satellite in 2016, with a rover being dispatched in 2018 to find a suitable location for a settlement. Once the company finds a suitable site, it'll send out settlement units to Mars in 2020, which the existing rover will then set up. Once the cosy little hamlet is established, Mars One hopes to send a small crew that would leave Earth in December 2022, and arrive on the Red Planet in April 2023.
But first, willing participants need to be found. Mars One plans to hold a worldwide "lottery" to select 40 people to join this daring scheme. This chosen 40 will spend time at a specialist training facility, where they'll be whittled down to a crew of ten. This team will go to Mars and live there for "the rest of their lives".
If you're interested in helping establish the first permanent human settlement on Mars, you'll have wait until next year for the so-called global "lottery" to take place.
Doesn't this sound a LOT like 'reality TV in space'? And how will be those settlers survive? They sure won't be able to grow crops. Or does 'one-way trip' mean 'you're on your own'? Will Bas keep sending regular supplies once the media novelty has worn off? After all, one can only survive for a limited time on Mars Bars!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Skyfall 007 Promo

All hail the return of James Bond!
Daniel Craig is back for the 23rd 007 adventure: Skyfall. In the first official full-length promo for the hotly-anticipated film, Bond is seen falling through the air after being taken down,under orders from his boss 'M', played by Dame Judi Dench. While 007 is wrestling on top of a high-speed train, M orders an agency assassin to "take the bloody shot". We see M writing Bond's obituary - before he comes back to life. Naturally!
The villian this time is 'Silva', played by Javier Bardem (hubby of Penelope Cruz, you may have seen him in No Country For Old Men), while Ralph Fiennes makes an appearance as M's boss, 'Gareth Mallory'. There's also the return of 'Q', the technical genius behind the many 007 gadgets (this role was played by Desmond Llewelyn from 1963-1999 and, after he died in a car crash, by John Cleese from 1999-2002). This time, Q is a younger actor, Ben Whishaw.
In true Bond style, there're also plenty of explosions, including at the MI6 headquarters by the River Thames...and steamy conquests with gorgeous girls.
The premise of the film? Well, very briefly, Bond's loyalty to M is tested when her past comes back to haunt her. As MI6 comes under attack, 007 must track down and destroy the threat, no matter how personal the cost. I could tell you more...but then I'd have to kill you.
Like the rest of us, you'll have to wait for Skyfall's release (in NZ, that's 22 November).

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Could They Somehow Be Related #6?

Sir Derek Jacobi, CBE is an English actor and film director.
David Hartnell, MNZM is NZ's No.1 Hollywood gossip columnist.
Both theatrical, both gay, both awarded for their services...
Both with the same hairdresser?
Or is Derek another of David's long-lost half-brothers?