Are You Ready for Cyclone Gita?

iPhone 088I remember standing on the back of a truck in my muddy Leo’s on a beautiful sunny day on the side of the road with a couple of cops and a couple of fellow trained Civil Defense Rescue people.

As I looked out over the Riwaka farmland, all I could see was river silt that was glittering with specs of gold in the sunshine. I remember thinking if there was a way of using a magnet to suck up all the gold dust that had flooded down the river and over the banks, inundating the house we had just emptied of muddy furniture, I could be wealthy. It was stunning and it was devastating.

Two days earlier it was a different story. I had been standing next to the house I was staying in, getting drenched in torrential rain on a hill overlooking a farm which was under at least 2 meters of water. The road next to my house had become a river. I wanted to go down to the farm to help the people whose homes were underwater try to recover their precious belongings. Unfortunately the torrent on the road was such that there was no way I could safely cross it. This was evidenced by an elderly person who drowned that morning trying to cross the road and lost their footing. I felt helpless, pacing up and down the hill trying to find a safe way across.

Other than losing all their furniture, all their food, all their photos and memories of good times gone by, their clothes, their cars and other material things (and their crops), the families on the farm were OK. They were hardy souls, a bit like the West Coasters. However, not everyone was the same.

On that sunny day and for a week afterwards, we worked tirelessly emptying muddy carpets (after digging 20 or 30cm of silt from them), furniture, bedding, appliances, food and other items. We tried to tell the residents to count their blessings, that they were still OK, which was easy to do with my own possessions being high and dry.

Many of them were devastated, some in shock and some just grateful that we were there to help them. None of them had expected the storm and the river to sweep right through their homes.

Cyclone Gita might come to nothing major, or it might become a serious storm. It’s great to see some people getting ready, keeping kids home from school, staying home from work if they don’t need to be there. It is also crazy to read about people still going to campgrounds in at risk areas. They obviously haven’t got first hand experience and what would be really frustrating would be if those people then need rescuing at the cost of looking after people who have taken reasonable step to make themselves and their properties safe.

Having been one of the rescuers in the past, I’d like to spare a thought to all the road crews, the linesmen, the emergency services and others who will be out selflessly in the wet (maybe even cold in some places), when they could be protecting their own families and properties. Where would we be without the ‘trained’ volunteers as well as the locals who just pitch in and do what is needed?

I hope everyone gets through this safely. That they have stocked up on all the essentials and are ready for the storm. Here’s what you need to know to prepare for Gita.

Finally I remember going to the local pub and having a beer with the locals. It was cool to see how the community rallied together and became stronger after the event. And I remember the gold flecks for miles, glittering in the sun as if there had never been a storm and the ground had always been flat and covered in silt.



I’ve said it before, I love seeing crooks get caught by being tracked by GPS

Imersia NZ

See on Scoop.itAugmented Realities

Drought and grass fires have pushed the price of hay to near records, making it an increasingly irresistible target for thieves or desperate peers.

Imersia‘s insight:

The hay may only be worth $200-$300 but it’s feed and the livestock are depending on it. I have had many discussions with companies supporting farmers, but this is a first, although  very logical one.

Smart GPS companies who are struggling to sell people on car navigation because most people already have one, might do well to repackage tracking devices and sell them to farm supply companies.

The price of GPS receivers is now getting to a point where we are likely to see the launch of hundreds of devices that allow tracking in the near future. Anything that has a reasonable value and is at risk could be tracked, from artwork, to pets or your elderly…

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What FIT’s could do for NZ

Having teased the concept of Feed in Tariffs over the last few blogs  I’d like to get a bit more detailed. So in NZ the government has provided subsidies for roofing insulation, especially for older houses that were not built as efficiently from an energy perspective.

That is good in that it may reduce the need for heating, which is the biggest consumer of energy. A large percentage of energy sources pollute the atmosphere, damage the ozone layer and produce carbon waste. I’ve explored the fact that solar power is a renewable source that produces very little waste, mainly in manufacturing, packaging and installation, marginal issues.

The ideal scenario for me is interest free loans from the Government to cover the cost of purchase and installation of solar panel systems for both domestic and business. There are some lessons overseas where businesses have exploited the opportunities for subsidies and rebates and in some cases they have benefited from the interest free finance and feed in tariffs more than the public. This needs to be considered, but even where that happens, they are still producing energy in forms preferable to oil and coal and other non renewable or potentially dangerous sources.

So the basic idea is that consumers can get an interest free loan to have solar panels and related equipment installed in their homes. The systems include meters and technology that allows people to understand how electricity is being used in their homes, where is it being wasted. They can use the power they generate for free (keeping in mind they do have a long term loan to repay) and when they have excess power, they can sell it to the power companies for a tariff that is mutually agreeable.

A key point that I have raised through out this discussion is redundancy in the case of emergencies. Every time we have had a major emergency people have been without power. As recently as the aftershocks in Christchurch yesterday 17 April 2011, parts of Christchurch were without power for a couple of hours, but previously it has been days and weeks.

UK has had local FIT’s for a couple of years and other countries have had them for several years. There have been many benefits from this. One of the big ones that people don’t automatically think about is job creation. This happens at all levels. Industries to benefit include finance, manufacturing, installation, inspection, education and more. One of the great things about not being first in the industry, we can get our clever Kiwi inventors coming up with new technologies and inventions which will find a ready export market. Many new industries will spawn from this as new developments are made. Mobile technologies will allow control of what appliances are active from your smart phone. You’ll be able to turn off non essential appliances when you are at work, on holiday etc, whilst still monitoring what is going on and being able to turn the hot water back on while you are on your way home.

For business there is the rent a roof program where people can generate income from their roof, while someone else looks after generating the power and selling it into the grid and to the building occupier. This is extremely scalable. In fact in the UK, many roofs rented by power companies are domestic!

Rented roof

Farmville and the new Virtual Economy

The computer gaming industry is of course massive and simulation games have been popular for a long time. Traditionally though, game makers made their money by selling games and upgrades for games. The SIMS being one of the best examples. I must admit to having enjoyed some of their games in the past, especially the classic Sim City.

Zynga has taken this to a whole new level of success with Farmville, a sim game which has become incredibly popular on Facebook. People pay real money to buy virtual tractors and other items in the game. This has now gone to such an extreme that Tesco is now about to start to sell real money vouchers in their stores.

In About Us on Zynga, they emphasize that their games are free, which is totally true, but there are elements in many of their games where you pay money to buy virtual things, or for example in the poker game, to buy back in to the weekly tournament if you lose your chips.

This adds an amazing dimension to this free game business. According to industry experts, as reported on, Zynga could be worth as much as US$5 Billion, which they predict could double in the next 5 years. Seems the concept of free and internet based games may have some commercial merit:)

The practice of dumping excess fuel from aircraft

Qantas has had some bad press lately, having to abort several flights due to engine or other malfunctions. The most recent was when a flight to Buenos Aires from Sydney returned to Sydney yesterday after smoke was detected in the cockpit. A few days earlier a Qantas flight from Perth to Melbourne returned to Perth not long after take off due to engine trouble. In all 4 Qantas flights have been unable to reach their destination in less than 2 weeks.

In the overall scheme of things, this is of concern, but what it got me thinking about was that every time a plane gets turned back to due a malfunction, they dump most of their fuel because it would be dangerous to try to land a plane ‘heavy’ with aviation fuel, especially when there are already technical problems with the flight. Obviously the fuel itself adds weight and restricts low altitude manoeverability, but also represents a major fire/explosion risk.

With the price of fuel, I’m sure that airlines take as much as required to cover contingency plans and civil aviation law will also dictate rules around this. Nevertheless, it got me thinking about how much fuel is dumped from aircraft around the world on a daily basis and what the consequences might be.

According to an enlightening article in Wikipedia  only large aircraft, fitted with fuel dumping systems have the ability to dump fuel. It is not universal. It also says that they generally dump fuel at high altitude which means that most of it dissipates before it hits the ground.

So is it safe? The Institute for Southern Studies found that fuel dumping was behind crop damage in Tennessee. They say that most of the fuel vaporizes and doesn’t reach the ground, yet the net is full of news stories about problems caused by fuel dumping. Of course it could be considered far less risky than an explosion on impact and in my research, there was far more evidence of massive losses of oil at sea from ships.

I found it really difficult to get any sort of statistic of how many fuel dumps happen around the world daily, I know its a lot because of the number of PA’s I have heard from the flight deck on my travels. I’d be interested if anyone has any statistics on this. One thing I do note is that in New Zealand we don’t have problems like acid rain and we have very low flight density. Yes, I do understand that most acid rain comes from heavy industrial pollution.

Anyway, just something I’ve been thinking about. Yes, I would still fly Qantas without hesitation.

A Qantas 380 Dumping Fuel in Flight

The World Dairy Summit and Water

Auckland’s Sky City Convention Centre is hosting the World Dairy Summit this week, a conference which will be attended by delegates from all over the world.

I was pleased to hear that sustainability is a major part of this event, with a day committed to the environment. One of those sections is on knowing your water footprint and water accounting in the dairy industry. Another is zero waste, although I’m not sure if that takes into consideration the leaching of all sorts of bio waste, hormones and fertilizers into the rivers, such as the Waikato River from which we Aucklanders have to drink, but I digress.

In a recent blog about In Vitro Meat I mentioned that according to Fred Pearce who wrote the book When the Rivers Run Dry, it requires around 24,000 liters of water to grow the feed to make a kilo of beef, or 2,400 liters for a Quarter Pounder. Now that’s a lot of water. We’re quite lucky in New Zealand being an island nation, that we get a lot of rain, but a lot of the world is not so lucky.

Of course this water is recycled in some ways, although not scientifically, most of it flows back into the ground together with whatever chemicals and particulates have been absorbed with it. That is why I previously blogged about the water quality issue in Auckland with the Super City Elections, but this was not high on any agendas.

Now my blog has been criticized before by farmers saying I am anti farming. This couldn’t be further from the truth and I love eating meat. I’ve gone off pork in recent times having seen how its farmed, but I won’t say no to wild pork.

I chose the following video because it helps explain the water issue in growing beef, but I won’t be following the advice to become a vegetarian. I don’t think humans were supposed to be vegetarian. I just think we need to stop the outrageous waste of water in our current farming methods and find better ways to grow feed, recycle water and reduce the amounts required in the farming process. I hope that New Zealand will take a stronger leadership position on water and its preservation. We are on the verge of a global water crisis and I believe that we are taking it for granted that we will always have plenty downunder.

Barter, the New Old Economy

I’ve just got back from a break in Rarotonga, which was a wonderful place to visit for peace and rest. It was thought provoking even though thought was not high on my agenda.

I finished a piece of music I had been working on and called it Rarotonga, which you can find on Youtube and my About Songwriting blog. While there I attended a wonderful gospel church service where I had some great singing. This was followed by a bountiful morning tea put on by the open generosity of the locals.

Most of the church service was in Rarotongan Maori, however 2 words that I did understand were Climate Change. In a country where most of the land is very close to sea level this is a real challenge. You need to spend a little time on a South Pacific Island to understand what is at risk.

The one thing you must do when visiting a new country is visit with the people. 3 things stood out:

1. Everyone expressed their gratitude that we visited and explained that their country was entirely dependent on tourism.

2. Every person had at least 2 or 3 jobs and good pay was considered to be about US5 an hour. Other than Sunday’s, most people would be working 12+ hour days.

3. There was a sub economy operating below the cash economy. People trade goods or services. It might be people swapping fish for Taro or playing music in return for food and the ability to promote and sell merchandise such as CD’s.

As you do, when you deliberately disconnect from the grid, you catch up with reading and I got to reading up on Life Inc by Douglas Rushkoff. One of his arguments is that the world’s economies are driven by corporations, banks and other large entities who perhaps care more about themselves and keeping communities reliant on them than helping the people they serve gain any level of independence.

I was blown away by some of the examples of alternative trading systems he came up with, although I don’t know why. Barter as a concept is probably as old as mankind, but a new economy seems to   be reemerging in innovative ways. I’ve known doctors who accepted fish or other produce from patients who couldn’t afford to pay fees in New Zealand. I’ve known plenty of people who share their specialties, a plumber who does work on an electricians home and the electrician is owed a favor by a motor mechanic who then does a job for the plumber for free. The traditional economy still gets revenue from the parts that are used, which includes all the traders and of course tax in all its forms.

From a business point of view, I use Bartercard and they are a great organisation who I recommend. They have Bartercard Maps which uses GeoSmart Maps technology to help you find what you need based on location. However, fundamentally it is still a form of currency and our accounts department and Inland Revenue treat it no different than cash. In some cases, such as accommodation I also sometimes feel that the product you get is a little less quality than you would get if you were paying cash.

One good thing about Bartercard I like is that it is local, at least it encourages companies to use local suppliers. Despite our position, I feel many organisations in NZ from Government Departments through to consumers do not consider supporting their local economy as a major factor in making purchasing decisions.

I don’t want to go into any real detail about the examples in Rushkoff’s book, because that’s what the book is for and you might want to read it. There are some great deals on Amazon. I don’t think you’ll find it in your local bookstore.

Here’s a couple of cool examples.

  • CSA or Community Shared Agriculture. The concept is that people not only commit to buying their produce from a particular local farm, but they even commit to doing a small amount of work on it to help support it. This gives some security to the local farmer, but also helps build local community spirit and has people involved and doing something they would not normally do in their daily lives.
  • In Japan, the Sawayaka Welfare Foundation came up with a ‘complementary currency’ where young people could earn credits for taking care of elderly people. Those credits, called Fureai Kippu can then be applied to the care of their own elderly relatives who may live in a different part of the country. Because it is by the people and for the people, many say that the standard of support they get is far better than if it was provided by commercial caregivers.

The book also has lots of ideas about local loyalty programs that serve to build greater loyalty to local traders and creates stronger community feeling, which can and should apply to any town or village. The people who work, have restaurants or businesses near your home, are your neighbors. We are  often too quick to go and give profit to multinationals, when we could be supporting our local businesses and then complain when our potential customers don’t use our services.

To a degree this blog was motivated by my trip to Rarotonga and the music I wrote which you can listen to below. But it is also out of concern for our future. New Zealand, like Rarotonga runs the risk of becoming isolated. If a war were to strike overseas and our imports (including oil products, food, clothing and technology) how well prepared are we to continue living to the standard we are accustomed to? People in Rarotonga told us about the island running out of fuel for a few days and the chaos that ensued. How long would we continue our lifestyle without petrol and diesel?