Friday, April 28, 2006

hhmm, perhaps not the W corner today...


More on NZ electricity

wow, storm in a teacup time in little ol' NZ...
Brian Rudman behind the info-wall puts in his $0.02 but I'd like to highlight this paragraph:
The health effects of power cables is a topic of much debate. But as Mr Jackson said, that town planners allow high-powered electricity cables and family homes to co-exist in humming proximity "is beyond imagination".

For both health and aesthetic reasons, it's time to enter the 21st century. Transpower, start tunnelling.
What health effects? Saying it is the topic of much debate is like saying creationists are debating evolution. Where's the evidence? What's the consensus? Why are possible health effects only wheeled out when new pylons are going to suddenly effect someone else? Why does BR closely juxtapose pseudo health scares with a legitimate more-annoying-than-belief humming sound quote by Murray Jackson?
The mixture of relevence and whitewash says nothing about the credibility of this piece.
I hope the 'debate' that is going to happen is higher quality than this and doesn't get hit by Auckland-itis.

Herald comment on the Transpower conundrum

Nothing new added but I have to mention this:
Analysts questioned whether the Electricity Commission had deprived Transpower of the ability to make the investments it saw fit. If so, the regulator had diluted the national grid operator's duty to ensure that energy flowed to where it was needed.

"If the shower goes cold in Auckland, you will want some comeback," said one industry source.

McDouall Stuart analyst Chris Stone asked: "Is it the role of the regulators to determine where Transpower's next investment is going to be?"
I would hope that a monopoly with cost+ charging schemes would be subject to public benefit oversight. The fact that they disagree might imply they are doing their job.
Market analysts never say that companies should go with the least cost option, always the maximum return for the 'shareholders'. I think these guys really believe Transpower is like a regular company and not a state sanctioned monopoly.

Stinky chemicals blog post...

ahh, takes me back ;-)

Voice of reason on ANZAC day

Chris Trotter says it all here.
It's not about being proud to lose 50,000 of your country men in a senseless slaughter.
It's about remembering what non-thinking, slave-like obedience to authority can lead to and vowing never again...

Transpower says NO...

The blamestorm starts...
Funny thing about 'no plan B', you have to fight when your plan A is skewered. If/when Transpower is pulled into line to do what it's told, we'll at least know if we have semi-privatised SOE's or semi-govt dept SOE's.
Not entirely sure what the difference is myself but I'm either way I'm sure 100,000's of taxpayer dollars will go towards modelling (my spreadsheet is 6 MB !! it's ever so complicated), lobbying and of course law suits...
NZ Inc taking on the world...

The case for nuclear

Mind you keep in mind: Ian Hore-Lacy is general manager of the Uranium Information Centre, Melbourne
That doesn't make him wrong, it's just difficult to make sense of an argument when you only receive information from the polar extremes of the bell curve. At least his article was coherent. I didn't even bother linking to the op-ed he was replying to the day before, green-hyperbole. Ye gods, Yucca mountain is made out of permeable pumice? Just how low is your opinion of america that you would believe this without evidence?
Yes, the average of 1 and 99 is 50, but i wouldn't trust any projections based on that alone...

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Brian Fallow on Electricity

BF has a good commentary piece on the electricity conundrum today in the Herald. Near the end he quotes Professor Lew Evans of Victoria University and Richard Meade of the Institute for the Study of Competition and Regulation:
The only reason voluntary savings campaigns are needed during dry-year winter crises is that many consumers, including residential ones, are insulated from wholesale prices by fixed-price contracts. If those prices don't move to ration a scarce resource, other means are required.
Why do people assume that residential customers should be the first to feel blackouts? They have paid through the nose for their fixed-price contracts (2-3x spot prices) so they should be the last on the queue for getting cut off. How on earth does it make sense for large, sophisticated electricity users to get their electricity cheap when it's easy and then get it at the expense of everybody else when it starts to run out? Methinks someone's trying to have their cake and eat it too.

Colin James on ANZAC day

a well written piece (as usual).

Electricity NZ - update


No pylons in the Waikato till 2017

reported here.
I like this quote;
He said Transpower had to build an electricity grid that provided a platform for a long-term sustainable future for New Zealand and the Electricity Commission must examine the economics of Transpower proposals.
hhmmm, me thinks a conflict of interest here. What did you expect Transpower to say? 'we believe a mixture of energy efficiency, line upgrades and small scale distributed generation in the Auckland region should see a secure electricity supply out to 2025' ??? oh come on, his company is mandated to make a commercial profit, it'd be like Microsoft telling you to use an in_browser office suite to extend the useful life of your pentium II running windows...

MoRST IRL Report 2006

The Royal Society email has just come through and the first item is on the distress of IRL. The MooRST (that was a typo but maybe my subconscious is telling me that NZ should focus its R&D on it's strengths ;-) has its report here, but i'll read it in my own time before posting but it is interesting to read the last paragraph of the RS email;
What comes through from the report? One thing we've known for some time:
biotech ventures are risky, and deep pockets are needed to nurture them
through start-up. Sadly, BioPharm's good news came too late to staunch the
pain. But that leads to the second thing that blazes from the pages of the
report: the commitment of the people involved, even in the most dispiriting of circumstances. They demonstrate a truly noble characteristic and I salute them for it.
I mean honestly, what kind of country has an R&D funding arrangement that makes people admire the noble spirit of the poor buggers that work there? Science is hard enough (and i mean really hard) without making people roll the wheel-of-career-fortune every 2/3 years to see if they still have a job. These are smart, highly trained people - treating them like this is embarassing and i can assure you creates strong disincentives for any younger scientists thinking of doing real work in NZ.
Also seems Nigel Kirkpatrick is outski, wonder who's next up?

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

NZ electricity crisis - looking better

Looks like there's been some rain in the Sth Island. Could nature be helping us out? Fingers crossed. The cynic in me wonders whether a collective sigh of relief will be heard across the nation with no plans made for the next couple of decades...

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

No to Transpower from the EC?

We all know what the 'there is no plan B' mexican standoff did for Air NZ and QANTAS...

The eye - irreducibly complex?

Forget Saw and Saw II

this is the scariest thing i've seen in ages...

Monday, April 24, 2006

Climate Sceptic piece

in Stuff here.
What can you do? It all sounds reasonable. How about letting scientists evaluate the evidence? It worked for CFC's and the Montreal accord (with similar amounts of disinformation and vested interest lobbying). 25 years later and no-one remembers.
Climate change is a complex issue, politicising it to the point where we can have a referendum on the issue is the only thing I am sure about - IT'S A DUMB IDEA!
There is no evidence that moving to an emmissions free energy policy over the next 25 years is a killer problem, it's just going to be difficult.
Maybe we need a Sputnik challenge to just get this going?

Friday, April 21, 2006

Education in Korea

Interesting op-ed about Korea in the Herald today (search for it yourself if less than a week old). I particulary liked this paragraph:
The importance Koreans attach to education cannot be understated. Step into an international hotel or company in Seoul, and you will find extremely well educated, fluent English speakers. Koreans spend more per capita on education than any other OECD country.

The first sentence would seem to imply that they don't give a rat's proverbial - like you know, they barely turn up to class?
If only our own education was as important...

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Jack Johnson and Ben Harper - Flake

A great song - enjoy.

Keeping up with the Literature

There's an interesting post over at Corante on trying to keep up with the scientific literature. The blunt fact of the matter is that there is so much literature being published that I suspect 90%+ is ignored by the vast majority of researchers. It's not malicious, it's just that if you're not careful, you'd spend your entire life reading other people's work and never doing your own. Once you make the decision to ignore 1 paper or 1 journal, you may as well go the whole hog and just skim read the contents on a couple of major journals whenever you wander past them. I'm not advocating for this method, it just seems the only way to survive trying to 'drink from a firehose'. May I also go out on a limb here and say that 'the least publishable unit' correlates pretty well with 'the least interesting paper' and hence volume is in no way indicative of quality.

One alternative that i've wondered about is a system of trusted authours in a communal space. Imagine an on-line publication repository where it's free to upload your work, and collate comments i.e. make peer-review happen in real time much like a blog entry - then apply a few criteria:
  1. Make a personal list of all the authours you rate as primary
  2. Make a similar list for those you consider secondary
  3. Use an aggregator to keep track of your primary and secondary authors
  4. Filter out comments on your papers to those you consider first/secondary (comments from people you don't respect are considered noise) - perhaps throw in an anonymyser here, and then publish v2.0 if and when you think it is warranted
  5. Create key word searches that check citations and references by author
  6. Throw in options such as "keep an eye on my primary author's primary authors"
Yes, i know it sounds cliquey but guess what? it mostly is by default already. If you could get a reasonable number of people doing it, it could work out to be an interesting way of keeping up with the key authors in your field as well as your discipline in general.
An interesting property would be that journals could become more prestigious i.e. they select papers based on a common theme where the papers are more valuable because of the juxtaposition of other papers. The editors create value by linking the pieces together to make a statement about new research directions and findings.
Now that's a journal i'd like to subscribe to!
Anyway, just $0.02 worth from me. I suspect that we'll see innovation in this sector come from China anyway, they don't need to buy into this whole system of ludicrously expensive journals and could start something really useful using the internet as the starting point not as an up-start competitor.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

NZ finally notices its monopoly SOE's

Having a SOE with a monopoly position and a mandate to maximise profits would seem like a daft idea even when drunk. Welcome to NZ's electricity sector. At least someone is starting to ask the right questions.
Another interesting one might be "who are the shareholders that get all this profit?". hhhmmm, i think it's the govt. Can you spell 'back-door tax'?...

Electricity Demand management

in Oz.
this is good stuff, i hope they get a decent trial up and running. Half the problem with electricity supply is the peak demand not the average demand. If you can streamline this a little, there should be some easy and substantial payback.

The Pacific Energy plan

... ambles along.
Wow. Can't wait to see all those innovative new energy ideas from the coal and concrete lobby. I think the sum earmarked for innovation (/subsidy) is about 0.01% of Exxon's profits in 2005. It certainly makes a statement about the commitment but perhaps not the one they were intending.

The AWB scandal continues

...but it looks like it'll peeter out. How sadly predictable.

The Oz Nuclear Debate continues...

Plenty of disinformation all round and i just can't take an article seriously that sets up the discussion by comparing the nuclear power debate to 'children overboard' and the iraq war.
As any readers will know, i'm a reluctant nuclear supporter but a huge geothermal fan. Any debate that is limited to the technologies we currently have on tap has a too narrow focus to be credible.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Geothermal == oil

We're finally starting to notice that drilling really, really deep holes in the ground is a transferable skill. You can get oil or run a geothermal electricity generator. You only need about 100 dC difference to run a turbine.
There's all the clean and sustainably produced energy you need about 8 km under your feet.

More Feynman videos

...popping up all over the place ;-)

Friday, April 14, 2006

Science by Hollywood

I'm not sure what's scariar, global warming or the fact that you have to have a Michael Moore-style movie to get American's to notice it. I'm also very uncomfortable with the politicisation of science - that's what's got us into this mess in the first place. Anyway, decide for yourself but i doubt that anyone's opinion will change based on this movie - it'll just confirm what you already believe either way....

Richard Dawkins on Evolution in Engineering Design

First try at an embedded player.
How can you watch this and not be awed by the power of selective cumulative effect? Far more inspiring than some variant of god-did-it...

Not sure what i most impressed about - RD talking about evolution or the fact that i can now C&P video viewers into my blog posts...

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Sad end to the lost tramper mystery

NZ's bush is a harsh environment, some experience walking in England doesn't count for much over here, same with rips at the beach.

Designer mood drugs

I've always wondered what would happen if someone invented a pill that gave you nice euphoric effects with no side effects and could be instantly reversed so you could drive home if you needed to. I wonder if our society would allow such openly hedonistic pleasures to flourish or if politicians would try and score some cheap votes by denouncing it as evil and the end of the world as we know it. I have no pharma experience so i've always just sort of wondered about it philisophically wrt certain recreational drugs that seem to be blazing a path for hedonism regardless of acceptance.
This story in NS indicates that it's not only possible, but probable that these drugs, let me propose Euphorics as the generic term, are out there now, they just aren't recognised as recreational.
I particularly liked this paragraph;
In fact such "partial agonists" of GABA-A receptors already exist in the form of bretazenil and pagoclone, which were developed as anti-anxiety drugs but never commercialised. These molecules also have the advantage of being instantly reversible by the drug flumazenil, which is used as an antidote to overdoses of tranquillisers such as Valium.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Ouch! ASEAN chief points to the 800 lb gorilla...

What we need is a good debate. Take our time to get to grips with the issues. Again. Up to about 2010 should do it and then we'll think really hard about the right policies, take a few years for that. Forget to include everyone for the first half. Ignore infrastructure and rehash some buzz words like 'knowledge' and 'innovating'. Add in a couple of pseudo-crises around the world, an olympics and a couple of rugby games and.... we'll be having the same conversation in 2015.
What's a couple percentage points here-and-there between friends huh?

Scary religious survey in NZ

Although it sounds a little contrived and only has a 1000 people. I wonder if they picked out the people at random or if they just asked for phone numbers from an interest group with a neutral sounding name like "association for high standards in schools".
I wish the herald would link to the primary sources.

NZ Herald doesn't ask the obvious question...

...that would seem to be screaming out at you in this story about a lost tramper in the Coromandel. The headline "Sun may be misleading northern hemisphere tramper" would seem to imply that this poor misbegotten English tramper is a complete imbecile, i mean what's it trying to say, the poor guy is trying to go up, not across?
To get a true feeling for the illiteracy of the masses, check out this quote by the Christian Camp guy:
He said "everything may be backwards to him" because he was used to tramping in the northern hemisphere and not the southern hemisphere and he may be heading in the wrong direction.
ummm, what the hell does that mean? The sun rises in the east. All the time. It's part of that thing about the earth rotating in space and thus making day/night cylces.
I won't make any snide remarks about stupid religious people holed up in the bush convinced that god made the sun stop and that sunrise is in the west when you're in the northern hemisphere 'cause like, you know, everyone's upside down when you're up there... i'll leave that sort of stuff as an excercise for the reader.
The reporter, the interviewee and the unfortunate tramper. No-one comes out of this story looking good...

Feynman on YouTube

Can't wait until more archives are freely available.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Rod Oram on Carbon Prices


Most of it seems a little confused and I can't say i'm a huge fan of the 'think global, act local', the biggest gains arise from small decisions higher up in the food chain i.e. ban incandescent light bulbs, mandate insulation and solar water heating in new homes etc
However, i can wholeheartedly endorse his last statement;
But all the kudos from putting the money into Landcare's regeneration projects would be lost when tourists get stuck in Auckland traffic behind a belching, badly tuned diesel vehicle.

When they learn we're the only OECD country without vehicle emission and fuel efficiency standards, they'd realise we're living a sham.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

On cell phones give you cancer

apply some risk analysis to the subject: the risk of getting cancer from cell phones must be, at most, vanishingly small vs the opportunity of a cell phone saving your life.
This, amongst countless others, shows that probability of having your life saved is measurably real as opposed to possibly getter cancer from welding a cellphone to your ear.
Conclusion? Cellphones are a benefit to society (if not conducive to having a quiet coffee in your favority cafe) keep an eye on the research but FFS stop the media scare stories.

NZ Electricity Crisis - 2006 edition

more on the slow motion car crash here.
As predicted, the softening of the electorate for savings is being subtly tacked onto the end:
"It is now highly likely that a consumer savings campaign will be required to help avoid blackouts," Dr Smith said.
I mean, how hard can it be? "Huntley, how much coal do you use per month? How much coal do you have? Divide one by the other. The uncertainty lives in the south island rainfall and it is definitely shaping up to be a 1-in-50 year event. Again. Just like the 3 times since 1992.

Anti-piracy op-ed

here in The Age.
This highlights the shallowness of the debate about downloading music - it's bad and you shouldn't do it and we're gonna sue.
The blunt fact of the matter is that the market structure surrounding the music industry is entirely geared toward enriching the producers, not the artists (-the megastars who help fuel the dream). People like being able to download songs yet there are very few ways to do this, even iTunes is recent and I shudder to think how much smooth talking Jobs had to do to get that through.
As for the the 'you're destroying artists careers' argument, this just doesn't stack up. For a singer songwriter to earn $50,000 a year (not a bad wage) all you'd need is 100,000 people paying $0.50 per year to belong to your fan club. Feed out a few songs per month (you're a professional musician aren't you?) and build a culture of 'i got it first because i'm a member' and don't worry about the fact that it'll eventually bleed onto the net - it becomes advertising 1 month after distrbution. This is just one plausible business scenario, throw in a few sponsorships, some live gigs and product promos and WOW! it's just like any other service industry...
Most copyright protection is a con by rent seeking fat cats, it deserves to be treated with disdain and government regulations should reflect this.
Protect the commons! Seek out and destroy the rentseekers! Hunt and obliterate stupid laws against format/time-shifting! Egalitaire, libertaire and the other one-aire!

Australia starts to debate water rights...

after the Snowy Hydro sale. Par for the course really. And i doubt whether a few op-ed pieces constitute debate.
How Australia manages water, salinity and land use is a huge question that needs to be addressed, i'm not convinced in any way that a lassaiz-fair (?) 'let the market decide' approach is going to yield any benefits whatsoever (other than start the process of valuing nature's bounty) - you may as well use the same strategy for smallpox vaccine and let anyone susceptible die, sure, the end result is the same but the journey sucks...
The invisible hand and the holey ghost - pick your religion.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Ben Harper live...

there's some great stuff on the web. check out this BH clip, my favorite artist of all time - oh, and who can't love a happy bongo dude?
i'm heading off to OLGA as we speak...

Europe oil-free by 2020?

Tiny space filler here.
Love this quote:
Hydrogen and fuel-cell technology will be ready for mass production by 2020.
ummm, how? and why? (caveat on consumer electronics battery replacement which i think will be commonplace very soon but the tone of quote indicates trasport fuels since it's the Transport Minister doing the quoting...).
The hydrogen economy is a many headed beast, only one of which makes any sense at all and we're pretty freakin' far from that i can assure you.
This should be getting more attention from NZ, the ability to grow transport fuel could be a real economy booster and is not far fetched, see: Brazil. Stir in a little biotech, rain and some sunshine and we could have a nice little earner selling liquid sunlight.

BioTedh edging towards NZD1 billion

nice to see, fingers crossed for the future. I'd like a better breakdown on what 'biotech' means and how the growth rates compare with other 100% pure NZ stuff like wine and gourmet food. Might make an interesting read.
Sad to see that the number of PhD qualified staff is decreasing though, I can hear soft tapping on my bollox-meter bell...

The Great Ak Dream...

shown here in the Herald. I've always wondered what it would be like to work in local govt, you could start out as a bright wee thing at 20 and 40 years later retire having failed to achieve something sketched out in 1967 or so. Just think of the great Xmas parties year after year if you were working on the 'temporary' CBD bus shelter (i think it lasted from '67 till Britomart in 2002? (which is an ugly use of prime waterfront land (are you allowed to nest brackets in typing English))).
Way to go Auckland, way to go - da da da da dadada.
Globally competitive 1950-1955...

Scariest photo yet...

and apparantly true ('cause that's what the website says).

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Grow your own organs starting to appear

as in this example where they help a patient's bladder back to normalcy.
It's beginning people: 300 year lifespans are on the horizon and I for one, don't want to be the next generation eager-beaver trying to get on the career ladder when your boss could literally tread water for the next century. Makes the baby-boomer/GenXr problems pale in comparison.
Cue the intergenerational warfare scenarios... now.

The daily d1ckhead award goes to...

Frank Haden.
For this lovely diatribe against... well, everyone as far as i can tell.
It's always touching to have parental responsibility foisted onto under-paid and over-worked civil servants who can only screw up, never succeed.
Gotta love this quote:
All were betrayed by the agencies who were paid to protect them. Sipping their cappuccinos behind their signature sunglasses, the guilty bureaucrats did not bother to communicate with one another. Each airily assumed someone else would act. When push came to shove, no one did.
What on earth can we do?? Oh wait, hang on a second, the root cause here is.. wait for it... stupid dodgy parents that treat kids worse than pets.

Rod Oram on Going Nowhere

I think i've flamed RO for a column he wrote in the herald a while back but credit where it's due, this piece on Stuff seems pretty good.
Glad i'm watching the show from OS...

They all thought i was mad.... buwahahaaha

Whenever i talk to people about energy concerns and their projections out to 2050 (you know the ones, we'll all be eating soylent green and using old pc's to crack wallnuts) i mention one of my left-field ideas that long before then Virtual Reality will be indistinguishable from Actual Reality. Going down to your local pub for a beer will feel as 'real' as being in a virtual office during the 'day'. Imagine the paradigm shift that would arise in everything we do:
  • Transport - why drive? you're already there.
  • Urban congenstion - why live in crowded/isolated spaces if you don't want to?
  • Energy use - you only need enough power for your pc and super-duper broadband, you could generate this from some PV and baseload nuclear/geothermal
  • Travel - how would you know the difference? Actual travel turns into a status symbol of no practical value (much the same way as ludicrously overpriced watches are inferior to cheap digital watches for telling the time, they just posses more... style)
Imagine a world where everyone lives wherever the hell they like using trivial amounts of power readily generated at its point of use with no need to commute and life's neccesities produced locally but working globally - cool.
Some jobs still require specialised equipment to be centrally located but i would expect VT robotics to take care of that pretty easily (with extra hands and a 100x zoom eyeball to boot) so you could put 'industry' in remote and unpleasant AR locales.

Why am i rambling on about this? Here's another data point that says it isn't completely mad. Electronic eyes allow blind woman to see! Bioengineers are starting to tinker directly with the signal pathways that go into your brain.
You don't need to smell a rose to 'think' you're smelling a rose - VR == AR

Funky times ahead ;-)

Monday, April 03, 2006

Back from Godzone

back from a couple of weeks in Auckland. Man o man, when that city pours on the charm it is without doubt the best city in the world. Beautiful weather for 2 straight weeks (in Auckland!), big arse GLMussels at De Fontain in Mission Bay, evening pizza dinner on Mt Eden... glorious.
Noticed lots of brown grass though and a few comments on the MSM on electricity. I guess it's starting. Just had a look at comit hydro:

let me just say - it does not look good for our hero. Better start bottling some electricity and putting it in the cupboard for a rainy day... Can't wait for June ;-)