Wednesday, August 30, 2006

You just gotta love The Herald

I thought my letter to the editor was as neutral as i could possibly make it, but i don't think the on-line science editor and I are ever going to get along. Magnet therapy and now this. Could this be the reason people think newspapers these days are only good for wrapping F&C's ?

I wonder if telling him that astrology pieces should be stuck in the entertainment section with Brittany's new diet and Madonna's shoe stories where they can be safely ignored by the sciency-types helped or hindered my cause...

Dear Joe:

Thanks for writing. I assume you are referring to:

The story is about how people (in this case astrologers and people who may have an interest in the subject) are reacting to a decision taken by scientists to no longer call Pluto a planet.
Surely scientists would like to know how their work affects other members of society.
And this story shows that interest in the cosmos is not restricted to professional scientists.

So I do not feel it is inappropriate to feature this story in our Tech and Science section.

Neil Sanderson, editor,
PO Box 32, Auckland, New Zealand

Thursday, August 24, 2006

rigging elections

this is too scary to think about.
and i believe there's a family connection between the current white house and the guy that runs the electronic voting machine company - coinky dink?

RSNZ Energy Report for NZ

Just got this back from the RSNZ. I had wanted a pre-print of their energy report to comment on - it's actually something i'm qualified to have an opinion on, rare in a blog i know...
In May, the Royal Society's Energy Panel put out a call for individuals to comment and review the Energy Panel's current report. We received such overwhelming interest, from over sixty interested parties, that the Panel decided that a review process could not do justice to comments from such a large number. Hence the report was instead put through a technical review stage, with input requested from ten expert commentators including energy researchers and industry members.

Members of the Panel would like to apologise that the Panel was not able to provide you with an opportunity to comment but would like to thank you for your interest. The revised report is now in final production and a copy will sent to you as soon as it arrives from the printers.
What a strange process. Did they only expect the 10 people they wanted to comment to apply? 60 people doesn't sound like that many, especially considering that the RSNZ paints itself as the representative body of scientific opinion. I have alarm bells clanging in the back of my head - the phrase 'snow job' keeps flashing in bright neon red.
Ye Gods, they're probably going to recommend a hydrogen pipeline from the bluff into Otahuhu...
Anyway, i'm on the mailing list i guess so i wait with baited breath to have a looksee. I think i'm already on their blacklist after harassing their policy team on the economics of R&D. Strangely, their response to my email was infinitely better than their comment piece: why they didn't write that in the first place is beyond me.

Friday, August 18, 2006

NZ rethinking its attrocious record on energy/climate policy?

Colin James op-ed here.
I'll wait for the budget announcement...

Thursday, August 17, 2006

More geothermal in Taupo region

2 km down...
Cool. There's plenty of clean/sustainable energy sloshing around, it's just oil/coal has made us lazy.

Rational thinking required

Think you've got what it takes to add to an emotive issue being discussed without trolling the other commentors? Good - I don't and I'd appreciate your balancing influence.
The Bioethics Council of NZ (which i think are a bunch of tree-hugging nutters, so i'm already on the back foot) has initiated a discussion forum on stem cell research. So far susan and brendan have trotted out:
  • corporations are evil
  • people will be owned
  • (and my favorite) C&P'ing the Nuremberg genocide definitions into a thread post
So please wander in (minimal registration req) and throw your opinion in. I expect somehow, somewhere these things are summarised and used as propaganda for ministerial briefings (oh the dismall state of politics these days) so we may as well try and halt the rising tide of wilful ignorance and intolerance (yes, stopping me doing something 'cause it conflicts with your beliefs is the very definition of intolerance, it's not a decision to be made lightly).

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Rod Oram on the NZX SciTech index


NZX SciTech Index

This is a Good Thing!
I hope it spurs a little further interest in high value, innovative products.

It's my monopoly and i'll do what i want with it...

Vector continues its constructive dialogue on electricity distribution by ransoming Aucklander's power supply. I wonder if this is what the transmission and distribution camps have been waiting for? Someone to argue with so that when the lights go out, it looks as though it has all been a terribly complicated issue?
This is what happens when you give people (previously) publicly owned, redundantly engineered, systems. They bleed them dry and then wail that they should have to have the right to charge whatever they want or else they won't invest anything in them. Doesn't this sound familiar to NZers?
Screw Telecom and screw Vector and screw whoever the hell is in charge of building roads. You've been snuffling at the trough long enough and we, your so called 'customers' are sick and tired of your posturing, delay and underinvestment while paying large dividends (or just plain keeping the money Mr Taxman). It's hardly an unforeseeable event.
If you can't behave like adults, maybe you should be sent to your room... And maybe we'll be so pi$$ed off we'll vote for whoever says that they'll build infrastructure...

Monday, August 14, 2006

The Rakon non-affair dribbles on...

And just how are you supposed to know what your components are going to end up in? and who else has to provide this information? Lion Red discloses product involved in 28 road deaths each year? Jade software used to create a database that was later used to plan... something?
This is a really tricky question. Are you supposed to figure out exactly what someone else may use one of your components for? That's impossible. Is Nokia to blame because some fundy-nuts use their phones as detonators?
Good grief, it's not as though it's the guidance system for the darn things. Funny thing about innovation, it's a double edge sword. Always has been.

Vector starts playing hardball.

And i was worried that we wouldn't have any spectator sports in the energy sector until nexts years 1/50 year event dry winter... How pessimistic of me.
Vector is bummed 'cause it can't charge people whatever the heck it likes for access to it's network. That'd be the same network that was previously the Auckland electricity power board. You know, the one the previous generation has already paid for.
Must be a great life buying (let alone selling) an asset that can't be displaced with a captive market. Poor Vector has been caught with their hooves in the trough. Not sure playing hardball is going to do any good. Didn't work for Air NZ (yet). I for one am happy that the commission isn't just a patsy for diverting criticism. If Vector doesn't understand it's business enough to figure out who should be paying for what (and lets face it, an average price distributed across all their customers is basically an admission that it doesn't know who uses what or where), it deserves a kick up the arse.
Ye gods, it's the 21st century and we'll still dickering around with something installed in what? 1920?

Friday, August 11, 2006

Electricity (re)regulation inches closer

'cause they've done such a piss poor job of running themselves...

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Why bioethics is never going to be able to please everyone

This story is creating quite the storm in a teacup if you listen to the Reader's Views (NZ Herald's woeful attempt at building a news community).
I'm not sure most of those people actually read the article and just skimmed the title before firing off an email.
Let's look at this quote by Dr Lea:
"There are lots of lifestyle, upbringing-related exposures that could be relevant here so, obviously, the gene won't automatically make you a criminal."
yet Mr Moore feels that Dr Lea has wandered off on a tangent, an unscientific tangent at that:
I think what many 'professionals' in this or any field is that we break things down for purposes of human understanding. Scientific theory is to continue to test and keep trying to prove something until it's proven otherwise. Doing a 'study' to try to confirm a supposition is altogether another thing and should not be considered 'scientific' in the least. As many readers have already responded you could have applied this so-called study across any other group. I suspect that this 'article' was more of a way to draw response than anything.
The errors in Mr Moore's understanding of the scientific method are best left for another time.
Mr Merlin (now there's a name i could go places with) impresses us with his understanding of genetics, places a lot of weight on a reporting typo (and yes, it's easy to get sloppy in your language and swap 'the gene that is the template for the protein xyz' and 'the xyz gene', hardly a hanging offence) and then goes and says:
Thirdly, and more worryingly, we don't need yet another shonky excuse for any group or individual's violence and aggression. That simply makes it harder for those of us working to reduce these problems.
I mean, good grief. We've had a Royal Commission, we're growing bucket loads of GM stuff around the world, we're curing babies of horrendous diseases (e.g. that horrible bubble boy one) and lot's of smart dedicated people are trying to figure out what genes do and how we can understand them.
In case no-one's pointed this out to you 'your genes, ultimately, make you... you. you are not a predetermined wind-up toy. think identical twins, not carbon copies. they are a big body-building blueprint. Some of the blueprint is not negotiable, other parts will be turned on/off depending on your immediate environment and over time, changes in your genes will be passed on to your kids'.
All this guy is saying is that if you have lots of this gene expressed, you have a higher chance of some sort of behaviour - imagine increasing a 1/1000 chance to something like 5/1000. It's not racist, it's a (possibly) observable truth.
I'm not terribly thrilled about male pattern baldness but it's hardly a racist issue.
I'll leave the last word to Mr Humphrey who gets my 'reasonable comment of the week' award:
What is weird is that most people begin to rant or rave without even considering if the "warrior gene" claim is true or not. If it is not true, it can be dismissed. If it is true, then we are better informed than we were before.
although i think he's casting the 'we' a little wide...

Oil prices squidge demand into coal

here (and yes, squidge is technical moneyish term in wide use around the world).
If you only look at the money, this is a no-brainer. However, the externalities of coal aren't included e.g. cost of CO2 emmited to turn coal into liquid fuel, cost of CO2 from the liquid fuel, cost of desulfurisation/denitrification during manufacture (i think there is a sulfur emmissions market in the US but I've not heard about one in China/India) and disposal of the waste streams.

If the costs of the fuel aren't fully accounted for, of course they freakin' look cheap. What we need here is some price guidance that lets us know what the tradeoffs are. Don't hold your breath waiting for that though.

Vector overcharging?

What's the world coming to when you can't trust a secretive, ex-government monopoly with expanisonist dreams?
As for saying (threatening?) that not being able to snuffle at the trough as though it's your personal money pit may mean you won't invest... well that's just absurd.
If this is the quality of NZ business leaders under a lassiz faire regime... bring on the bash.
How come making money out of an essential commodity is seen as boring? Ye gods, you reckong they were high 5'ing this sort of cash cow over the last couple years? maybe a discreet chuckle over the chardonay at friday drinkies?

The new rallying call?

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Easy Google Maps?


this is the Waitemata Harbour, my sailing playground when i was a teenager.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Google Calendar is down

Moday 9 am
hhmmm, the idea of an account login screen is great (not happy that i don't have a choice anymore), however, the calendar option.... opens the login screen again!!
if google wants to be an on-line hub, it better fix this pronto...
if this is some sort of sick recursion in action joke - it aint funny.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Cost-benefit of science funding

This is fromt the latest Royal Society Alert - Issue 434

Comment by Royal Society Policy Analysts, Drs Jez Weston and Kathleen Logan

Essentially, basic research is like drilling for oil. You are not certain
of what's down there until you drill and each hole costs millions, but one
hit can pay for the all the empty holes and more. And just like the oil
industry, science has transformed our lives. There is no doubt that there
are huge economic benefits but they are hard to measure. This problem is
especially true for areas of research where the goal is knowledge. Basic,
untargeted research is fundamental to our ability to apply knowledge, yet
the financial cost-benefit analysis is virtually impossible [my emphasis].
I think this last comment is just sloppy wishful thinking. Typical scientists who just want to have their research funding and not have to justify it. Does anyone remember the IRL automatic sheep shearing robot fiasco?? A little discipline in application and analysis is not too much to ask when someone else's taxes are paying for your job. Yes, 10% of scientists should be able to do whatever they want, having 90% of the rest say that they should as well is just plain stupid.
As for doing the analysis, if only there was a way to measure the difference in countries standard of living between those that invest in knowledge activities and those that don't. Oh, hang on a sec, it's a huge part of the economics literature...
In addition, being a grown-up country means that you have to do grown-up things. I don't personally benefit from all sorts of crap the govt funds almost all the time - think of civil defence planning. I hope (fervently) that i never have to get out of Auckland if a volcano blows but I sure as hell expect a civil defence plan to kick into action if it happens.
Science funding can be modelled using insurance-type analyses. These companies seem to be able to make a living, so maybe the analysis is not impossible, just difficult...

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

A NZ Royal Commission on Climate Change?

urged by the 'Climate Coalition' here.
I'm suspicious that a bunch of industry workers and scientists feels the need to go to an arbitration situation, isn't that what scienific debate is for? (but then, the climate change sceptics aren't doing so well against other, real, scientists).
If however, this is a debate that needs to be had so that NZ can feel comfortable with it's policies and direction on an issue with global scope... then so be it.

I think a full on debate, among professionals, and condensed into policy advice is a darn good idea. Let's not limit it to NZ's community however, let's invite as many world-class advisors as we can lay our hands on. I think the bioengineering RC we had a few years ago came to an emminently sensible conclusion and (apart from concerns raised by the nutters at the NZ Bioethics forum/commune thingy) heard all points of view equally and came up with a very sensible reccomendation for the next 5 years.
The fact that 5 years later we hadn't actually done anything is hardly the RC's fault but the risk is real that this will turn into a talk-fest, a quick kick for touch for political reasons and then ignored until the 'wait and see' period ends and then... we're right back where we started. Thinking about it, if the govt had a credible set of policies for climate, energy and conservation, maybe we wouldn't need to have the debate...
hmmm, yet another symptom of the lack of leadership at NZ Inc. ?

Does your head of state bow like ours?

Does anyone else find this picture disturbing? Helen - you are our head of state. The PRIME minister, you bow to no-one, NZ can stand proud among the nations of the world. Bowing to anyone is wrong (that includes those priveledged trust-fund kiddies with royal titles as well), least of all some anachronism from our colonial past. Stand straight, look her square in the eye and ooze "you're days are numbered GG"...

Good Grief, republicanism can only be hastened by pictures like this, spread them around...

More hand-wringing about NZ's grads

We now worry about countries other than Australia and the UK....
Fair enough too, talent is a global commodity.