Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Reading habit

I have a serious reading habit. An addiction. At any one time, I'm probably reading three of four books. While drinking coffee.
Currently, I'm reading "The Radioactive Boyscout" by Ken Silverstein. This is the incredible true story of a young chemistry whiz from a seriously disfunctional family who attempts to build a nuclear reactor in his back garden shed. It's quite frightening to discover just how far along the path he gets. It's also sad that no-one - not even his science teachers at school - noticed his obvious talent. Also, "Six Easy Pieces" by Richard Feynman, "Crime and Punishment" by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and "The End Of Oil" by Paul Roberts.

I downloaded "The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám" from Project Gutenberg, but haven't started yet. I may turn it into HTML to make it more readable.
I also bought a thrift edition of "Selected Essays" by Michel de Montaigne - who was the first person to write in the essay format.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Be a tidy Kiwi!

I went to work this morning. As usual, the first order of the day was to pick up all the rubbish so thoughtfully left behind by the patrons of the adjacent [fast food outlet].
These people who use the drive-through and then sit in their cars in the car park really annoy me. Quite often, having finished their [fast food], I see them glance around to see if anyone is watching, open their car doors ever so slightly, and tuck a bag of rubbish under their car. And then drive off, running over the bag (drink and all) and leaving a mess everywhere. This litter then accumulates in our car park due to the prevailing winds. More often though, they just toss their rubbish out the window, with complete contempt.
What's wrong with these bastards? There are at least two rubbish bins nearby. It would take maybe ten seconds to get out of their shit-box cars and walk to the bin, deposit the rubbish and get back to the car. Ten. Fucking. Seconds. I cannot fathom the depths of laziness these people have sunk to.

Are they ignorant? Just stupid? Maybe they're just a bunch of lazy spoilt pricks.

It is a different story in the kingdom of Denmark. There, they take littering seriously, and people in the streets will actually reprimand you for dropping litter in plain view. The Danes take a real pride in their clean (and I mean clean - it is absolutely spotless) environment.

"Oh, but I can't find a bin..." Yeah, right. Look harder, morons. There are plenty around. Or why not just leave in in the car until you get home? Really, there are no excuses for not being a tidy Kiwi. I came to NZ to get away from all the pollution and litter that makes the UK a rotten place. Now I'm beginning to see it here.

Be a tidy Kiwi!

Monday, September 19, 2005

NZ shows its true colours

So. The results are in. The coalition talks have begun. Without the special votes having been counted, the next government is looking like
  • Labour, 41% (50 seats)
  • National, 39% (49 seats)
  • New Zealand First, 6% (7 seats)
  • Green Party, 5% (6 seats)
  • Maori Party, 2% (4 seats*)
  • United Future, 3% (3 seats)
  • Act, 1.5% (2 seats)
  • Progressive Party, 1% (1 seat)

* Due to the way the MMP system of government works, the Maori Party get four seats in the house by having won four electorates, even though they won only 2% of nationwide party votes. Quite an achievement for a party that has existed for less than two years.

I was disheartened to see the Green Party only just scrape by, meeting the 5% party vote threshold to make it into parliament. I was also aghast at the radical increase in the number of National voters - from about 28% in the polls last year to about 40% at the ballot box. Here is a party who keenly advocate fostering closer relations with the US, a known global bully and the epitome of consumerist self-interest. To do so would be tantamount to handing the keys of the country over to George Dubya and his oil-suckin', SUV-ridin' christian cronies, and 'assuming the position'.
The results say to me that, as New Zealanders, we are more interested in getting tax cuts for ourselves than other pressing issues, such as the dire state of the healthcare system, and the coming oil crisis. The need of others don't seem to matter, just what we can grab for ourselves. National also want a return to burning coal as a means of electricity generation. So much for clean, green New Zealand. Great for our burgeoning tourism industry, too.

I'm not suggesting that we all rush out and take vows of charitable poverty. Neither do I deny that we are highly taxed in proportion to our incomes, and I'd love to get a better return on my tax dollar. But the time is coming when we will wish we had done something about these problems.

In a conversation I had with anyzoom last week, I noted that as future engineers, if will fall to us to enable the transition from oil-derived energy to other, cleaner methods. It will be our job to ensure the continued supply of power for electricity generation and transport. To this end, the Green party are pushing public transport and getting freight off the roads and onto railways, in order to increase efficiency and cut the number of vehicles on the road. But people are very threatened by this. (I don't own a car currently. I have owned two, and had a company car for 2½ years.) They see it as an infringement on their personal freedom. Most telling are car owners' attitudes during the past few months, when petrol prices increased. What did they do? Did they say "Geez, maybe I should use my car less"? No, they whinged and complained that petrol was too expensive because the government taxed it too highly. They wanted their tax back.

So people aren't willing to give up their energy-intensive lifestyles. They don't see that if they don't jump now, that sooner or later, they will be pushed. And when it happens, it may be too late.

During the election debates aired on TV, National's Don Brash mocked the Greens' policies, saying "if they get their way, we'll all be riding around on bikes!" Yes Don. Your point is..? Maybe if we collectively got more excercise by, say, riding around on bikes, the government wouldn't have to fork out as much for healthcare in the future. Nor would they need to spend tax dollars on the likes of the 'Push Play' and more recent SPARC campaigns to get people off their arses.

Why are people so afraid of caring about the environment? If we don't, we'll end up like Britain, where litter roams free in the streets, and heart disease and cancer are the principal causes of death.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Fate of a nation

There's less than a week to go until the 2005 general election on Saturday, September 17th. I have decided that my vote will go to the Green Party of New Zealand.
Even though I'm a student, I can't bring myself to vote Labour, as their blatant bribery apalls me, especially when at least some of the $7bn. bribery fund could have been put to use in the health and other needy sectors. I like the interest write-off on student loans that they're offering, but the Greens are offering to write off the whole loan amount for each year studied if graduates work a year at home, one-for-one. This would encourage me to stay and work here, at least until my loan is paid off.

Labour has really let students down. I know people who have suffered terrible torment by being the guinea pigs for NCEA joke-cum-experiment, and at the incompetent the hands of the NZQA. In some ways, Labour is lucky that many of last year's high school students will be just short of being able to vote this year!

I like the Greens' policy on energy and public transport, too. The cheap oil has gone. Even if there is still oil to be had, we would do well to end our dependance on oil as soon as possible. Why not, when New Zealand has at its disposal some of the most favourable conditions for renewable generation? It's silly to ignore it, when the National Party are openly advocating burning coal as the alternative. I also think that energy conservation should be pushed, to make the energy generated go further. There's no point throwing away the power. In future, we will not have the luxury.
Aren't New Zealanders supposed to love the outdoors? Get on your bikes then! Start cycling to work. Or walking. (Sorry, Aucklanders. You could always swim...) As far as Kyoto goes, I'm not sure. But we should be a role model for the world, and lead the way. Let's face it - The US considered the Kyoto protocol an economic decision, not an environmental one. Of course they'd never sign it.

The thing that annoys me about the Greens, though, is that they're still pushing for the decriminalisation of cannabis. I am fundamentally opposed to this. If they dropped this policy, I reckon they'd get some traction with more middle-class Kiwis. The Greens will always attract pot-smoking hippie types because of their environmental policies, but many middle-New Zealanders who agree are put off because of the cannabis issue.

Well, it's anyone's guess at the moment. We'll know next week. Get out and vote!

"If you tolerate this, your children will be next" - The Manic Street Preachers

Monday, September 05, 2005

Brasso cleans up!

Working in a HiFi shop has got to be one of the best jobs in the world. It's a collision of music and electronics.

I have an old Pioneer stereo amplifier (by 'old' I mean 'good' - before they started making mass market junk amplifiers). The RCA sockets had been slowly tarnishing away, unseen at the back, having never been cleaned. Quite a lot of corrosion had taken place over the years, and I had noticed that the sound wasn't as clear as it used to be. This is because metals oxidise when exposed to the air, forming a layer of insulating crud on the surface. This layer adds resistance to the signal path, allowing less current to pass through. Result? Reduced sound quality. In extreme cases, you get crackling through the speakers and the sound may even cut out intermittently. Bad.
(Incidentally, this is why cheap speaker cables are a false economy. Copper turns dull brown, and then green when it oxidises. What colour is your speaker cable?)

So I tried cleaning them up with Brasso metal polish*.
What a difference! I couldn't remove all of the corrosion on all the terminals, so I may end up replacing the old RCA's with new ones. But even so, I couldn't believe it. It was like coming home to a brand new amplifier!

I tested the newly revived amp with Squarepusher's "Go! Plastic", which has got to be one of the best test discs ever - lots of lovely hard digital edges and furniture-moving bass. (You may want to remove the china collection.) I have played this in the HiFi shop, to the astonishment and confusion of all. My boss' comment was "If you walked into a club, and they were playing this, what would be the first thought you would have?"
"Probably: 'I'm in the wrong place' " was my answer. In fact, I'd thought about slipping it into our $10,000 Wadia CD player, and telling him that it was broken, as a joke. If you've ever heard Squarepusher, you'll know what I mean.

*CAVEAT EMPTOR! Don't use Brasso on gold-plated terminals. I haven't tried it, but my guess is that it will eat away the plating, leaving you with shiny steel terminals.

Friday, September 02, 2005

The separation ends

This is a big concern of mine, and indicative of the way America is heading - The re-introduction of religious propoganda into schools. What ever happened to the separation of church and state?

It sickens me that 'intelligent design' (read: creationism) is being taught in schools. Now, I'm all for debate, and it is necessary to have considered a different viewpoint before reaching a conclusion. But I'm astounded that this is even an issue: The amount of scientific evidence to support evolution over creationism is vast, and it is rational, logical and repeatable. This is the nature of scientific research! To throw out all the evidence and completely discount evolution on the basis of one's faith is just crazy.

The way I see it goes like this: After Sir Isaac Newton proposed his laws of mechanics, which were derived from observation and mathematical analysis, suddenly people everywhere realised that this was indeed logical, and explained their experience in the real world. Application of the laws of mechanics produced accurate and repeatable results. These laws, however were based on the knowledge to hand at the time. It wasn't until Einstein proposed his theories on relativity that people realised that Newton's laws weren't accurate in all situations. Einstein took Newton's fundamental principles and formulated a new theory, which took into account knowledge acquired since Newton's time. It was then found that Einstein's relativity was more accurate in more situations.

The point is this - Eistein improved upon Newton's laws; he didn't throw out all the accepted evidence and come up with his own version of the truth. That wouldn't be scientific, and it wouldn't agree with real world experience. No, in science, a theory must be supported with verifying experience to be valid. And in science, the results of an experiment must be able to be repeated given the same parameters. This is so that independent research can confirm the result. Falsifying experimental results is fraud. In religion, however, all you have to do is believe. Which, in this context, really means 'accept without thought'.

Think about the buildings you work in every day. Suppose that the construction company had said "We don't believe we need to add reinforcements to the walls." You'd certainly want them to justify their statement with reason and logic before moving in your staff. Wouldn't you? Or how about the home you live in. The electrician says "It's okay to leave those wires hanging out. They're not dangerous." Maybe if he doesn't believe you'll get electrocuted if you touch the wires, you won't... Yeah? Prove it.

In the same way, creationism relies on you believing what you are told, unquestioningly. Does it make sense? Not to me, it doesn't. Where is the hard evidence? Ok, so maybe Darwin was a little out - but at least he followed scientific proceedure in his work. Maybe, like with Newton, the answer is not so far away.
The separation of church and state is for a good reason: Reason!