Archive for the ‘DPF’ Category

Setting up our Antarctic Field Camp

January 19th, 2016 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Your first two days in Antarctica, if a newbie, are spent doing Antarctic Field Training. Basically you get taught how to operate out in the field. There is a huge emphasis on health and safety, but their approach is not not so much rules based as teaching people how to make good decisions. Once you are out in the field, you need to decide a lot of stuff on the spot.

ANT0040

After an initial hour inside, you go out for a walk on the sea ice. There are hundreds of sea lions lazing about.

ANT0042

You really do not want to fall into the water!

ANT0043

On average we have two metres of ice over the Ross Sea, but less in some areas.

ANT0050

Then we spend a few more hours inside learning how to use the cookers, selecting tents and gear and then outside into a Haglund.

ANT0051

We travel around 5 kms away from Scott Base to set up camp.

ANT0052

The first tent up (and was already there) is the toilet tent. Antarctica NZ is passionate about leaving minimal impact on the environment so all human waste is collected, including urine. You all have a pee bottle to use also.  There is no going behind the rocks.

ANT0053

Time to start setting up the tents.

ANT0054

First you smooth out the area you want to pitch the tent. Then you pitch the tent, and finally weigh it down by covering the sides with snow.

ANT0056

This is the tent I was in. You have to basically crawl into the tent through a small tunnel, so there were lots of jokes about it being a birthing chamber 🙂

ANT0057

One of the other tents our groups had. The three media type people did field training with a group of four from AUT who are down to map sensitive areas of Antarctica using drones. I’ll cover their work in a later post.

ANT0055

And finally we have the tents all set up.

The entire time it was snowing. Lightly at first, but then more heavily. 99% of the time the snow is dry (Antarctica generally is extremely dry) but that night it was wet snow, so by the end of the night (well it is never night but you know what I mean) we were a bit wet.

After the tents were done, we then had to make our field kitchen which I’ll blog about later also.

The Antarctic Treaty

January 18th, 2016 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The Antarctic Treaty is one of the most successful and succinct treaties in international law.

At the height of the cold war,  12 countries agreed to make Antarctica a continent with no wars and no commercial activity – to protect it as an area for science. These countries were Argentina, Australia, Belgium Chile, France, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, the Soviet Union, the UK and the US.

The treaty has stood the test of time. No country has tried to set up a non-scientific presence in Antarctica, and another 41 countries have signed up to the treaty. It has preserved Antarctica as a unique area for science, where you can learn the history of the world by drilling down through the ice. It is the planet’s dedicated science laboratory.

One extraordinary thing about the treaty is how short it is. The TPPA is 6,000 or so pages. The Antarctic Treaty is only 12 pages long. They must have kept the lawyers away from it. The later environmental protocol is much long at 50 pages (and smaller font!)

It does three main things:

  1. Established that Antarctica shall be used for peaceful purposes only

  2. Mandates freedom of scientific investigation in Antarctica and cooperation toward that end

  3. Requires scientific observations and results from Antarctica shall be exchanged and made freely available

All countries have effectively put aside (but not dismissed) their territorial claims. And they have agreed that all facilities are open to inspection by any other country. Nominated observers have complete freedom of access.

If the treaty had never been agreed back in the late 1950s, Antarctica might be a very different place today. Rather than a continent open to anyone, it may have become a land closed to the territorial claimants only.  It was the first arms control agreement of the cold war.

The summary of the main articles is:

  • Article 1 – The area is to be used for peaceful purposes only; military activity, such as weapons testing, is prohibited but military personnel and equipment may be used for scientific research or any other peaceful purpose;
  • Article 2 – Freedom of scientific investigations and cooperation shall continue;
  • Article 3 – Free exchange of information and personnel in cooperation with the United Nations and other international agencies;
  • Article 4 – The treaty does not recognize, dispute, nor establish territorial sovereignty claims; no new claims shall be asserted while the treaty is in force;
  • Article 5 – The treaty prohibits nuclear explosions or disposal of radioactive wastes;
  • Article 6 – Includes under the treaty all land and ice shelves but not the surrounding waters south of 60 degrees 00 minutes south;
  • Article 7 – Treaty-state observers have free access, including aerial observation, to any area and may inspect all stations, installations, and equipment; advance notice of all activities and of the introduction of military personnel must be given;
  • Article 8 – Allows for good jurisdiction over observers and scientists by their own states;
  • Article 9 – Frequent consultative meetings take place among member nations;
  • Article 10 – All treaty states will discourage activities by any country in Antarctica that are contrary to the treaty;
  • Article 11 – All disputes to be settled peacefully by the parties concerned or, ultimately, by the International Court of Justice;

It is a unique agreement which covers 10% of the world’s land surface and 10% of its oceans.

The US State Department has background on the initial meeting:

By the 1950s, seven nations — Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, New Zealand, Norway, and the United Kingdom — claimed territorial sovereignty over areas of Antarctica. Claims of Argentina, Chile, and the United Kingdom overlapped. Eight other nations — the United States, the Soviet Union, Belgium, Germany, Poland, Sweden, Japan, and South Africa — had engaged in exploration but had put forward no specific claims. The United States did not recognize the claims of other governments and reserved the right to assert claims. The Soviet Union took a similar position.

Activities in the Antarctic had generally been conducted peacefully and cooperatively. Yet the possibility that exploitable economic resources might be found meant the possibility of future rivalry for their control. Moreover, isolated and uninhabited, the continent might at some time become a potential site for deploying nuclear weapons.

Fortunately, international scientific associations were able to work out arrangements for effective cooperation. In 1956 and 1957, for example, American meteorologists “wintered over” at the Soviet post Mirnyy, while Soviet meteorologists “wintered over” at Little America. These cooperative activities culminated in the International Geophysical Year of 1957-1958 (IGY), a joint scientific effort by 12 nations — Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Chile, France, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States — to conduct studies of the Earth and its cosmic environment.

In the years after World War II, as interest grew in keeping the continent from becoming militarized, there began diplomatic discussion of the possibility of formalizing a demilitarization arrangement. On May 3, 1958, the United States proposed to the other 11 nations participating in the IGY that a conference be held, based on the points of agreement that had been reached in informal discussions:

(1) that the legal status quo of the Antarctic Continent remain unchanged;
(2) that scientific cooperation continue;
(3) that the continent be used for peaceful purposes only.

All 11 nations accepted the U.S. invitation. The Washington Conference on Antarctica met from October 15 to December 1, 1959. No insurmountable conflicts or issues divided the conference, and negotiations culminated in a treaty signed by all 12 nations on December 1, 1959.

As I said at the beginning, few treaties have been as successful as The Antarctic Treaty.

The Antarctic Treaty

Landing in Antarctica

January 17th, 2016 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

ANT0018

The last 90 minutes of the flight gives you amazing views of Antarctica and the sheet ice. These photos are through a small window so don’t capture the actual panoramic view, but may give an idea.

ANT0025 ANT0026 ANT0027 ANT0029 ANT0030

We landed dead on schedule, and the rear door opens up to give us our first view of Antarctica from the ground.

ANT0031

We landed at Williams Field. It has two snow runways. On average eight metres of snow on top of 80 metres of ice, floating on the water.

ANT0032

A Hercules on the ice.

ANT0034

And a close up of the skis they land on.

ANT0033

We then boarded the Terra Bus for a 20 minute trip to Scott Base.

ANT0036

The front of Scott Base.

ANT0035

And my home for the next few days. Not that I’ll be sleeping inside every night. For the next day and a half I’ll be out in the field doing training, so won’t be back on base until late Monday.

Flying to Antarctica

January 17th, 2016 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

ANT0013

All packed for the flight. The green bag is carry on luggage. The black bag is all the Antarctica NZ gear. The suitcase is all my other clothes, and the boots you put on once ready to board.

ANT0014

Headed over to the International Antarctic Centre.

ANT0017

Got checked by the US Centre for Disease Control that I don’t have Ebola and then into the departure terminal.

ANT0015

It seems Mike Moore actually got to open a building during his six weeks as Prime Minister!

ANT0016

And got this far and then got told our flight had been cancelled due to very strong winds causing turbulence near the bottom of the South Island.

We had been warned this could happen, but it is unusual that it is bad weather conditions in NZ that stop a flight, as opposed to Antarctica.

So we trekked back to the hotel we had checked out of 30 minutes earlier and managed to get our rooms reissued to us for another night. Spent the day in Christchurch and then we tried again the next morning.

ANT0020

Yes! Today we got to check in and went to the pre-departure lounge where you spend around 45 minutes watching videos. Very different to commercial flights. For example on a Hercules there are no oxygen masks – instead they have oxygen hats or helmets you put over your head.

There were 32 people flying today and the capacity for a Hercules is 30, so they said two people would be bumped to a later flight on the basis of their priority list. I was convinced a blogger would be bottom of the priority list, but didn’t get bumped so went through security screening and then onto the bus.

ANT0019

The bus takes you from the terminal out to the tarmac.

ANT0021

And time to board the Hercules. There are other planes that fly to Antarctica but at present the runway is a little slushy so the only planes that go there are the Hercules as they can land on skis.

ANT0022

The other planes have actual seats. The Hercules is basically a cargo plane and they just make room for a few humans around the side. So it is an eight hour flight on webbing.

ANT0023

The cargo is in the main body of the plane with you, at the rear.

ANT0024

Got allowed up to the cockpit.  Great view from there but the glare means you need sunglasses.

ANT0028

And this is the toilet. Not quite the same level of privacy as on a commercial plane!

The Hercules is very very noisy. You can’t have a conversation over the noise and you wear headphones or earplugs for the entire flight.

I’ll do a separate blog on the views coming in, and the landing.

Getting kitted out for Antarctica

January 17th, 2016 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

ANT0001

They day before we fly out to Antarctica, we get kitted out by Antarctica New Zealand in Christchurch. It’s nice and warm in Scott Base (model of which is above) but outside it can range from a relatively pleasant 0°C to a less pleasant -57°C. And further afield it has been known to be as low as -90°C.

So Antarctica NZ make sure everyone travelling down has gear for all conditions.

ANT0002

Their warehouse has a wide range of styles and colours, so long as they are orange!

ANT0003

First to go on is the base layer. Thanks Icebreaker!

ANT0004

Then the mid layer.

ANT0005

Then the overalls.

ANT0006

Then you out on the first jacket.

ANT0007

Then a second jacket

ANT0008

And finally a third jacket. And as we were in a well heated warehouse, you can imagine how hot I am at this stage!

ANT0011

You also get two pairs of boots.

ANT0012

And a headband, hat, balaclava and neck gaiter!

Plus of course three pairs of gloves and mittens.

I am now confident I can spend a long long time outdoors without being cold. If anything the danger is overheating.

Also you need to wear much of the gear for the flight down to Antarctica – you can’t just change into it once you land. This is in case you crash. So I’m expecting (I wrote this before I landed) a warm flight over!

ANT0009

By chance there were some visiting huskies when I was in at the Antarctica Centre in Christchurch.

ANT0010

I got to play with all seven of them. Such gorgeous dogs. I want one!

Then headed back to the airport hotel for dinner and the final sleep. Was glad to find the report in time on Friday had changed from 6 am to 8.30 am. Due to leave at 11 am and arrive at 7 pm. Will blog the flight separately.

Kiwiblog in Antarctica

January 16th, 2016 at 8:57 pm by David Farrar

IMG_4828

For the next week I will be blogging from Antarctica, having just arrived at Scott Base on a United States Air Force Hercules.

Technically it is night time here but of course there is no night – the sun doesn’t set for around three months. But we landed early evening.

I’m here, along with the NZ Herald’s Science reporter, to report on this amazing continent, what New Zealand does in Antarctica, the science projects done here and the work of Antarctica New Zealand. We successfully applied to come through their Community Engagement Programme which brings down media, artists and writers.

Words can not convey how excited I am to be here. It’s been a dream of mine for many years to come to Antarctica, and to actually be able to live at Scott Base, interview staff and scientists, and spend a week on this amazing continent is beyond amazing.

I thought I would start with a quote from one of the many books I have read about the continent. This is from Gabrielle Walker’s Antarctica – an intimate portrait of the world’s most mysterious continent.

Antarctica is like nowhere else on Earth. While there are other wild places or ones that seem extreme, this is the only continent in the world where people have never permanently lived. In the interior of the continent there is nothing to make a living from – no food, no shelter, no clothing, no fuel, no liquid water. Nothing but ice. …

There are no trees, or indeed plants of any kind; no land animals; nothing but glaciers, snowfields and sepia-toned rocks.

Expect lots of photos, and lots of stories as I explore Earth’s largest science laboratory.

kblogo

Costa Rica – Jaco

January 13th, 2016 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

CR0028

This is the view from our room at the Club del Mar in Jaco.  Right next to the beach. We spent three nights there.

CR0027

Our room – very spacious.

CR0024

Sunset at Jaco.

CR0031

We did a half day trek through the jungle on horseback.

I’d never rode a horse  before, so was quite pleased that the horses were not large – less distance to fall to the ground in case I fell off!

CR0032

The trek was initially on road, but then most of the time through the jungle to a waterfall, where we bathed for half an hour (average temperature 30 degrees or so) before heading back.

Can highly recommend Costa Rica as a holiday destination. It’s like a tropical pacific island, but with heaps of activities and great biodiversity (largest per square km in the world) and rainforest. 30% of the country is in the conservation estate.

The company we used to arrange it was Vacations Costa Rica. Our travel consultant was Rachel Peck and she was great. We changed details six or seven times until we finalised it, and was never a problem. They arranged everything including private transfers between hotels, to and from the airport and all the accommodation and activities. Best of all they have a host meet you at the airport, before you clear immigration. Our host managed to get us through the empty diplomatic lane, avoiding a half hour or so queue!

Had been wanting to see Costa Rica for over a decade, and now I’ve been, I can’t wait to go back!

Costa Rica Rainforest

January 12th, 2016 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Did a half to full day activity where we traveled to Sky Adventures Arenal Park where you can see rain forest, cloud forest and the Arenal volcano (very active up until 2010).

We did a three hour walk followed by a trip on their gondola. Both well worth doing.

CR0015

The gondola going up through the canopy.

CR0014

This was fascinating. It was a moth which got infected by a fungus. The fungus turns the moth into a zombie under its control and eventually kills it.

CR0013

A view from the top of the gondola.

CR0012

Going through the canopy.

CR0011

One of the many types of butterflies they have.

CR0010

This is a very small pit viper.

CR0009

One of the two waterfalls we saw. You can see the more adventurous types trying to climb it.

CR0008

Lots of these unusual trees around.

CR0007

Can’t recall the name of this bird but lovely colouring.

CR0006

A somewhat larger pit viper!

CR0002

This is a photo of a tarantula in its hole. Quite glad it didn’t come out to complaint about the light.

CR0003

Typical part of the path.

CR0004

A fairly huge stick insect.

CR0005

One of the dozen or so bridges we crossed on the walk. Amazing views from them.

Costa Rica – Arenal

January 11th, 2016 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

After the amusement parks in Los Angeles we headed to Costa Rica for a week. Spent three days in the Arenal region which has a volcano and rainforest. Stayed at the Royal Corin Hotel which was quite amazing, especially for the price.

CR0017

My mobile office in Arenal – our balcony.

CR0016

A view of the pools from our room.

CR0001

And a slightly wider view.
CR0026

The restaurant will bring you lunch to you poolside. Great food.

CR0040

This is Valentino, an iguana who hangs around the hotel. He’s around 40 cm long.

CR0025

They have three large pools, plus four jacuzzis and a couple of private pools for spa clients.

CR0023

A view of the gardens.

CR0021

Poolside shade.

CR0020

This was not at the hotel, but a few kms down the road. Around 20 to 25 crocodiles have set up home by a bridge. You really really do not want to dive off this bridge.

Disneyland

January 9th, 2016 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

Spent New Years Eve at Disneyland. The good thing was they stay open until 2 am and have lots of fireworks. The bad thing is it is their busiest day of the year.

As we had to be up at 5 am to catch a flight, the plan was to leave around 9.30 pm after the first fireworks. But we kept wanting to do just one more ride and we finally left very happy but tired at 1.30 am.

Here’s how I rated the attractions we did:

  • Hyperspace Mountain 9.5/10
  • Star Tours 9/10
  • Indiana Jones Adventure 9/10
  • Splash Mountain 9/10 (did twice)
  • Big Thunder Mountain Railroad 8.5/10 (did twice)
  • Matterhorn Bobsleds 8.5/10 (did twice)
  • Pirates of the Caribbean 8/10
  • Haunted Mansion Holiday 7.5/10
  • Jingle Cruise 7/10
  • Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters 7/10
  • It’s a Small World 6.5/10
  • Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage 6.5/10
  • Disneyland Railroad 6.5/10
  • Casey Jr Circus Train 6/10
  • Peter Pan’s Flight 6/10

DL0001

This was the Jungle Cruise renamed the Jingle Cruise for the season.

DL0002

Enterting into It’s A Small World.

DL0003

Young padawans being trained up during lunch breaks

DL0004

This was one of the longer queues, around 30 minutes. Some of the top attraction had two to three hour queues but we used Fastpass for them, and then did less popular ones between. Also after 9 am the queues got a lot shorter and we managed to get on some popular rides such as Matterhorn bobsleds with only five minute queues!

DL0005

The enchanted castle.

DL0006

A scene from the Finding Nemo submarine.

DL0007

Getting ready for Hyperspace Mountain.

DL0008

A scene from It’s A Small World.

DL0009

And the dolls to represent NZ!

DL0010

After the fireworks at 9 pm everyone headed towards the middle of Disneyland – either to exit the park, or join the party there. This caused total gridlock – moving say a metre per second. If you are ever there on NYE, do not go towards the centre in the evening – use the more remote paths.

DL0011

Peter Pan’s Flying adventure.

DL0012

Some toys we purchased. Sadly not for me, but certain little girls.

DL0015

One of the real highlights was Fantasmic. I thought it would be like World of Colour, and all done with fountains and lights. But this one had actors and props galore. It is a battle between good and bad in Mickey’s dreams and was superbly done.

DL0013

Captain Hook’s boat turns up.

DL0014

As done Mark Twain’s!

Despite the crowds was a great day at Disneyland. We spent almost 18 hours there!

Some general advice for others going:

  • Get there early and stay late
  • Get fast passes as soon as they are available for you again
  • Book your lunch and dinner venues well in advance unless you want to do burgers
  • Make sure you see the shows as well as do the rides

Disney California Adventure Park

January 8th, 2016 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

Spent the 30th of December at Disney California Adventure Park, and another fun day.

They don’t have a front of pass ticket, but they do have a system where you can acquire a fast pass ticket for a popular ride every two hours. These are critical to having a good day and so the moment you can get a new fast pass, you should.

Here’s how I rated the attractions we did:

  • Radiator Springs Racers 9.5/10 (the most popular attraction by far)
  • Aladdin – 9.5/10 (hilarious, the genie is a star)
  • California Screaming 9/10 (literally screaming)
  • Twilight Zone Tower of Terror 9/10 (think of an elevator that drops several floors at a time)
  • World of Color – 9/10 (incredible light show)
  • Soaring Over California 8.5/10
  • Grizzly River Run 8/10
  • Monsters Inc 7.5/10
  • Toy Story Midway Mania 7/10
  • Silly Symphony Swings 6.5/10
  • Goofy Sky School 6/10
  • The Little Mermaid – Ariel’s Undersea Adventure 5.5/10

Not a lot of photos here as hard to take then while doing the attraction!

DIS0002

The big ferris wheel.

DIS0003

This is the most fun (in a terrifying sense) ride – California Screaming. You do drops, a loop and lots of twists. And people do spend most of the ride screaming!

DIS0004

The World of Colour show in the evening is quite fantastic. All done with lights and 1,200 fountains.

Universal Studios Hollywood

January 7th, 2016 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

UNI0001

Spent the 29th of December at Universal Studios Hollywood, and no surprise had a great day. Some great rides, fascinating history and fun shows.

For those who have not been, but may one day, my strong advice is buy a Front of Line pass. For the extra $50 or so you’ll easily get to do every attraction and with five minute queues instead of one hour ones.

Here’s how I rated the attractions:

  • Transformers The Ride 3D – 10/10
  • Studio Tour – 9/10
  • King Kong 360 3D – 9/10
  • Revenge of the Mummy – 9/10
  • Simpsons Ride – 8.5/10
  • Shrek 4D – 8/10
  • Despicable Me Minion Mayhem – 8/10
  • Fast & Furious – 8/10
  • Jurassic Park – 7.5/10
  • Waterworld – 7/10
  • Animal Actors – 6.5/10
  • Special Effects – 5.5/10

The Transformers Ride was amazing. The moment we did it with Front of Pass, we queued up to do it again.

UNI0003

You can also go down the CityWalk, which is free, next to the park. Lots of great restaurants including Bubba Gump and Hard Rock Cafe.

UNI0002

Lots of very bad food.

UNI0004

This was quite cool. Basically you fly with a huge fan propelling you up.

UNI0005

These signs are up everywhere. Even the toilets warn you they have chemicals that can kill you. Public Health bureaucracy gone crazy,

UNI0006

This was the set for Animal Actors. The falcons were a highlight. The dogs very cute.

DIS0001

The star though was an owl from Harry Potter.

UNI0007

Who remembers Kit?

UNI0008

And the Flintstones of course. They had several dozen cars on the studio tour.

UNI0009

They produced their own flash flood for you as you drove by.

UNI0010

And this is the remains of an actual plane that they have as wreckage. Whenever there is a plane crash, they’ll use this site. The entire studio site was huge – scores and scores of studios ncluding Wysteria Lane.

UNI0011

In April they open their Harry Potter ride, and you can see Hogwarts already built on the hill.

UNI0012

A scene from Waterworld.

As I said, it was a really good day. Doesn’t get as crowded as Disney and the rides have cool themes to them – they basically tell a story.  Definitely will visit again the next time I am in LA, or in Orlando.

A year of criticism

December 24th, 2015 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

As I have done in previous years, I’ve compiled some of my blog posts where I have criticised, attacked or disagreed with the Government. I am a supporter, but not an uncritical one. When I agree with them, I say so. When I don’t, I say so. This seems difficult for some people to comprehend.

  • 24 September 2014 – criticised the hint by the PM David Seymour would be made a Minister immediately.
  • 30 September 2014 – criticised the PM for his comments on the currency
  • 4 October 2014 – agreed with Sam Morgan’s comments criticising the Govt’s R&D policy
  • 10 October 2014 – attack Steven Joyce’s announcement of funding a golf tournament
  • 12 October 2014 – support a NZTU report attacking the Govt’s corporate welfare spending
  • 14 October 2014 – call on Govt not to rush the anti-terror laws
  • 16 October 2014 – critical that the PMO did not communicate with Judith Collins over her title
  • 31 October 2014 – disagree with Govt ruling out congestion charges or tolls for Auckland
  • 4 November 2014 – said Kim Dotcom should not be deported for not declaring his speeding conviction
  • 12 November 2014 – I call allowing Phillip Smith to escape a clusterf**k and criticise Key’s joke
  • 22 November 2014 – I call on the Govt to cease funding Team NZ
  • 24 November 2014 – I say the case has not been made by the Govt for the emergency surveillance provisions of the Govt’s Foreign Fighters Bill
  • 27 November 2014 – I propose Labour MP David Shearer me made MFAT Chief Executive
  • 27 November 2014 – I oppose the surveillance provisions of the Govt’s Foreign Fighters Bill, in a submission
  • 16 December 2014 – I criticise the Govt for not reining in spending more, as a surplus looks unlikely
  • 23 December 2014 – I call on Govt to walk away from Sky City deal, rather than give taxpayer dollars
  • 7 February 2015 – I disagree with the Govt that the EQC model is working, and call for reform
  • 10 February 2015 – I disagree with the PM on Sky City
  • 11 February 2015 – I promote a petition against the Govt giving money to Sky City
  • 17 February 2015 – I support the Greens on banning animal testing for cosmetics
  • 19 February 2015 – I support a Labour call for an inquiry into petrol margins
  • 2 March 2015 -I criticise the PM’s announcement that changes to MPs pay will be made under urgency
  • 3 March 2015 – I highlight a massive blow out in IRD computer costs
  • 6 March 2015 – I slam a Customs proposal for them to have the power to demand passwords
  • 10 March 2015 – I again criticise the PM for commenting on RB interest rate decisions
  • 10 March 2015 – I reveal that the Govt’s law change to reduce MP pay rises, would have in the past seen them get bigger pay rises
  • 10 March 2015 – I call on the Govt to release BCRs for their proposed Northland bridges
  • 11 March 2015 – I dig at the Govt over their $30 million subsidy to Rio Tinto
  • 19 March 2015 – I criticise the Govt’s proposal to not have full Ecan elections in 2016
  • 23 March 2015 – I again attack the proposal for Customs to be able to demand passwords
  • 25 March 2015 – I criticise the HDC Bill
  • 29 March 2015 – I critically analyse why National lost Northland
  • 20 April 2015 – I attack Nathan Guy’s announcement of an industry dominated group to review overseas betting
  • 22 April 2015 – I’m the first commentator to label the PM’s actions with hair pulling inappropriate and he should apologise
  • 24 April 2015 – I again criticise the Govt over their $30 million subsidy to Rio Tinto
  • 6 May 2015 – I criticise the high proportion of Whanau Ora spent on administration
  • 8 May 2015 – I criticise the Government for warning backbench MPs off attending Falun Gong events
  • 21 May 2015 – I say I can’t support the Budget as there is too much extra spending
  • 7 June 2015 – I praise the performance of Lianne Dalziel
  • 8 June 2015 – I call the Saudi farm deal a form of corporate welfare
  • 9 July 2015 – I say the Government should have full elections for ECan in 2016
  • 15 July 2015 – I slam the attempt by Customs to gain powers to require passwords to devices on travellers
  • 17 August 2015 – I criticise the Government’s Chidl Protection Bill for requiring registered offenders to hand over passwords for the Internet accounts
  • 18 September 2015 – I say the Government should not change the law to stop it having repay underpayments to beneficiaries
  • 24 September 2015 – I oppose the Government saying it will contribute towards pandas
  • 13 October 2015 – I call on the Government to support a bill by Green MP Gareth Hughes
  • 15 October 2015 – I support Labour’s bill to include Under-Secretaries in the OIA
  • 9 November 2015 – I support Phil Twyford’s policy on funding new home infrastructure
  • 26 November 2015 – I slam the Government decision on iPredict as “nuts”
  • 16 December 2015 – I criticise the Government’s excessive use of urgency and bypassing select committees this year

 

Star Wars VII The Force Awakens Review (major spoilers)

December 19th, 2015 at 9:17 am by David Farrar

J.J. Abrams delivered. As one reviewer said, this is the Star Wars film you are looking for. It is the best of the series and I predict will break pretty much every box office record on the planet.

The detailed review with spoilers is over the break, along with thoughts on all those unanswered questions.

(more…)

Predictions for 2016

December 18th, 2015 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Once again I emulate the annual Fairfax predictions, with my own. Here’s my 20 for 2016:

  1. There will be a by-election in 2016
  2. There will be a change to the composition of the Key Ministry in 2016
  3. A List MP will leave Parliament in 2016
  4. We will have a new Speaker during the year
  5. Jacinda Ardern will poll within 2% of Andrew Little as Preferred PM
  6. The 2015/16 year will also end in surplus
  7. The official cash rate will not rise in 2016
  8. National will poll higher than Labour and Greens combined in at least 80% of public polls
  9. The current flag will win in the second referendum
  10. David Shearer will be appointed the Government’s Special Envoy for the Middle East
  11. Phil Goff will not be elected Mayor of Auckland
  12. Lianne Dalziel will be re-elected Mayor of Christchurch
  13. A registered political party will deregister during the year
  14. Celia Wade-Brown will  not be re-elected Mayor of Wellington
  15. NZ First will poll higher than the Greens in at least one public poll
  16. John Key will host two of the five permanent members (their heads of governments) of the Security Council in NZ in 2015
  17. One or more Labour Maori MPs will break ranks with Labour on a major policy or issue
  18. The Greens will declare more large donations than Labour in their annual return to the Electoral Commission
  19. Unemployment will drop back below 6%
  20. The NZ Herald will publish more stories about Max Key than about the Maori Party, ACT Party and United Future combined

Scoring my 2015 predictions

December 17th, 2015 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

In December 2014 I did my normal 20 predictions for the year, being a mixture of serious and fun. So how did I go?

  1. There will be a by-election in 2015 – 1/1
  2. There will be no changes to the composition of the Key Ministry in 2015 – 0/1
  3. Two Labour List MPs will leave Parliament in 2015 – 0/1
  4. The Government will post a small surplus for the 2014/15 fiscal year – 1/1
  5. Andrew Little will remain Labour Party Leader – 1/1
  6. Jacinda Ardern will be annointed Labour Party Deputy Leader – 0/1
  7. Four of the original five charter schools will get good reviews, but one will close – 1/1 (announced this week)
  8. Not a single members’ bill will pass into law in 2015 0/1 (two passed including the Rugby World Cup bars bill)
  9. At least one person on Labour’s list, will waive taking up their spot in Parliament, when vacancies occur – 0/1
  10. An MP will announce their engagement – 0/1
  11. Helen Clark will not stand for UN Secretary-General – 1/1 (no candidacy yet, if at all)
  12. Labour will reach 30% in at least one poll in 2015 – 1/1
  13. Trevor Mallard will throw Winston Peters out of the House for disorderly conduct – 0/1
  14. An MP will get pregnant in 2015 – 0/1
  15. Whatever decision the Government makes on helping combat the Islamic State, it will be condemned by the Greens – 1/1
  16. No ACT MP will be charged with a crime in 2015 – 1/1
  17. A visit to NZ by David Cameron will be announced in 2015 – 0/1
  18. The winning design in the first flag referendum (to decide which goes off against the current one) will have a Silver Fern on it – 1/1
  19. Claire Trevett will hold onto power as Chair of the Press Gallery, defeating the ABT faction once again – 1/1
  20. The Government will not give a cent to Sky City for the convention centre – 1/1

So overall I score myself 11/20! Just passed.

Morepork Home Security

December 16th, 2015 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Back in May I asked on Facebook:

Any recommendations for home security systems. Not looking for a monitored solution, but ideally one with a loud alarm when triggered, a video camera you can view on your smartphone to see what is happening, and ability to turn the system on and off remotely via your phone. If you have a system like this, interested to know who you got it from, what it cost and how happy you are with it.

I didn’t want a system that when there is a false alarm you pay $100 for a callout fee and even worse that if there is a real burglary it takes 20 minutes for someone to turn up just to check if it a burglary and then call the Police.

I got some names of good alarm and security companies and had a couple come up to do a quote for what it would take to have such a system. The price was close to $10,000.

But then I got lucky. A mate who works for Spark told me that they would soon be releasing a product that sounded like what I was after.  And a month or so later, we got put onto the pre-release trial for Morepork.

A couple of days later a box turned up by courier with our security system. I was slightly nervous about installing it ourselves, but figured we’d give it a go.

They have a video and text installation guide that was really simple to follow.

IMG_3224

First up was the control panel. This is what makes the noise, and controls the sensors. And it has a backup battery so that even if someone cuts the power it will still work. It can communicate with the sensors if they are within 200 metres of it. You need to have spark mobile phone coverage as it connects to the Internet via mobile.

The setup was simple. Plug it in, enter an initial code, tap the test button and then change the default code. That’s it!

IMG_3222

Next are the sensors. The default package has three, but you can get extras for $40 each. You just affix them to doors and windows where the two elements are normally aligned. If the alarm is set and the door or window is opened, then the alarm goes off.

You can also set them to notify you if you leave a door or window open for more than x minutes. This is really useful I’ve found.

You just follow the guide to affix them and then the control panel tells you they are working. Each one took less than five minutes to do.

IMG_3223

Then you install the image sensor. You get one with the package and additional ones are $130 each. The logical place for these are areas where someone may try and enter by.

This takes a bit more work to install. You have to hold them at various heights and angles and then through the web interface get it to take a photo to check it is capturing the right area. We did have a small glitch installing this one, but Morepork has an online chat support line and they sorted the problem out quickly for us.

The camera works day and night (is infrared) and will take a photo when triggered as it is also a motion sensor. You can view these photos almost immediately on your smartphone.

So if an alarm goes off, you can near instantly see if the person who set it off is someone you know.

IMG_3225

Finally you have the video camera. Again you get one with the package and additional ones are $180 each. This was the most challenging to install, and we did have some problems as were on the trial. But the support people were great again and sorted it.

Basically you need to get the video camera connected to your home wireless, and then once that is done plug it in somewhere where you are likely to have people going through.

If the alarm goes, it will record two minutes of video automatically. Also you can immediately access it via a smartphone and view the video feed in real time. The camera is also infrared so works at night.

Being able to check the video feed at any time is great, especially when you have kittens!

In addition to the image and video sensors, you can also get motion sensors for rooms where you don’t want images (say bathrooms) but do want to detect movement. Also you can get a smoke alarm added to the package also, so you get notified if it goes off when you are not home.

The smartphone app

The app is the best part of it. So easy to use. You can use your phone to do the following:

  • Set and deactivate alarm
  • Check image sensor
  • Get live video feed
  • Set up multiple users, with their own codes (good for guests)
  • Notify you if you leave home without setting the alarm

You can actually set up almost any combination of alerts based on time of day, activity, lack of activity etc.

Summary

There were a couple of glitches with set up, but the support team sorted them out very professionally.

The system is exactly what I was looking for. A great combination of motion sensors, image and video monitoring and instant access through a smart phone so you can decide what to do. If it is a burglar you can call 111 straight away, plus you may get photos or video of them.

I’m on a year’s free trial, but will definitely be carrying on when it is up. In fact am about to order a couple more sensors and a another camera.

The quote I had from a security company was close to $10,000. With Morepork it is $500 for the package and $30 a month for service. So over a year $860. and then just $360 a year going forward. If you want the ability for security guards to turn up to an alarm, that is another $20 a month – but I reckon 95% won’t need that – more for those away from their phone a lot.

I’m really really happy with it. Doing it all through your smartphone makes it so easy, and being able to check out what has happened when there is an alarm is great. It’s given me huge peace of mind, and for a lot cheaper than I thought would be possible. Incredibly happy that someone from Spark put me onto this before it launched as if they hadn’t, I probably would be $10,000 or so poorer by now.

A Christmas Karel Capek

December 9th, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

A wacky and funny 90 minutes Christmas production at Bats Theatre.

The Bacchanals produce a fast moving, self deprecating show which is a combination of A Christmas Carol and Dr Who.

It starts with Bri and David playing themselves, having a lonely meal. Bri just wants a fridge for Christmas, or maybe even David. David though wants something else – a robot. He designs one, and calls it Bri. How does human Bri and robot Bri get on? What happens when human Bri also builds a robot?

As a huge fan of Isaac Asimov, I was pleased they referenced his three (or four) laws of robotics, namely:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

Bri alters the first one though to be “A robot may not injure a human being, unless they are a dick“. Is this significant?

Eventually the two main robots get joined by a cast of many, including C3P0 and a Dalek. Also Father Christmas appears.

There’s lot of in jokes – at themselves, at Circa, at Ray Henwood, at Theateview. They break the fourth wall continually, and engage the audience.

For most of the show you wonder if it is a series of gags, but in the final scenes they bring it together well with a nice moral message.

I found it a great way to unwind at the end of a working week. Recommended for anyone who likes youthful humour and robots.

Rating: ****

Robin Hood The Pantomime

December 1st, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

I’d previously seen Circa put on Robin Hood pantomime, five years ago, so was interested to see if the 2015 version would be much the same, or quite different.

It was quite different. Of course the main characters are the same, but a very different plot and themes.

Gavin Rutherford starred again as Mother (Trelise) Hood, Robin’s affection starved mum. Simon Leary played Robin and Nick Dunbar was The Sheriff. I thought Dunbar was the stand out performer, who excelled as a pantomime baddie.

Acushla-Tara Sutton played Maid Marian, Jane Waddell was Hattie (friend of Mother Hood) and Lady Muck. Finishing off the cast was Jonathan Morgan as Rumble (Sheriff’s henchman) and Friar Tuck plus Andrew Patterson as Little Andrew, Abbott Tony and King Richard.

There were some parts of the pantomime that were very well done. It was a game of two halves, with the second half being must better and faster paced that the first half. A clever highlight was having King Richard being Richie McCaw. Very topical and witty.

There were lots of laughs, but slightly fewer laughs than jokes. I found the first half tried a little bit too hard to have a joke on everything political. Even the most dedicated political watcher will hardly recall what Gerry Brownlee said about Finland a couple of years ago. The art of a pantomime is to have it as a show kids can love, but with some good humour for the adults also. But the mix wasn’t quite right. The 75 minute first half didn’t have that well developed a plot, and could have done with more character development.

The second half redeemed the play. It was fun and fast moving and despite knowing the good guys would win, did have you wondering how things would unfold. Overall did enjoy the play, but would cut 15 minutes out of the first half if possible.

There were some clever aspects to the show. Having Andrew Little as Little Andrew worked well, especially as the Merry Men rob the rich to give to the poor. Also having Abbott Tony as Friar Tuck’s boss was a nice wordplay, and got some Australian accent into the show.

It is on at Circa until Saturday 9 January 2016.

Rating: *** 1/2

Labour only believes in the OIA for itself!

November 27th, 2015 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

Labour have been asking pretty much every entity in the public sector, including SOEs, the following:

Did xxx receive any Official Information Act Requests during 2014/15 from Cameron Slater/WhaleOil, David Farrar/KiwiBlog, Carrick Graham, or Rachel Glucina? If so, for each please provide the text of the request, the receipt date, the final response date, and whether the request was granted or declined. 

This is not the first time they’ve done this. They did much the same nine months ago. They’re obsessed and have sent this question off to hundreds and hundreds of public agencies.

They seem to think that the OIA is only for people whose politics agree with them. Do they think I shouldn’t be able to use the OIA?

As it happens I use it very infrequently. As Labour will now have discovered after causing hundreds of public servants to check their files, I do maybe two or three OIA requests a year.

I’m going to do another one next week – to OIA the documents around the Government refusing iPredict a waiver from the money laundering regulations. I hope Labour approve of this. Do they think I should seek their approval in advance before I do an OIA request?

 

The Queenstown Marathon

November 24th, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

I vowed after New York in 2013 to never run another marathon, but the Queenstown Marathon just seemed too beautiful to say no to, so I enrolled for it earlier this year.

Sixteen weeks out I started the serious training schedule. I’d kept up some social running but was a long way off being able to run a significant distance.

Over 16 weeks spent around 64 hours running, covering around 700 kms according to my phone. Mainly in Wellington, but a bit also in Auckland, Dublin and London. I know the location of every water fountain between Westpac Stadium and Scorching Bay. They were the longest training runs – 33 kms from Thorndon to Scorching Bay and back.

Flew down to Queenstown on Friday. There were I think 16 extra flights that day, which explains why Air NZ is their major sponsor.

The weather forecast has been bad all week, but come Saturday and it was near perfect – overcast (so not too hot) but no real rain.

 

IMG_4404

At the start line

The course started at Millbrook which is one of my favourite places to stay in NZ.  From there you head into Arrowtown, and then run alongside the Arrow River for around four kms. I’d biked it before and just as beautiful as previously. The trail had a few bumps in it, and a bit of a climb at the end.

Then it is along Hogans Gully Road to the East side of Lake Hayes.  You run around 90% of Lake Hayes which is equally stunning. The Western side though is really tough – there are three reasonably steep climbs, including at the end. I’m starting to understand who some people who competed last year said you could sue the organisers under the Fair Trading Act for their description of the course as mainly flat.

20x30-QIMB2016

Around Lake Hayes

Then around 8 kms running along Speargrass Flat Road and the Lower Shotover Road, getting past the halfway point. As  usual, this is the point where the idea of collapsing into a St John Ambulance is quite appealing, and my pace is starting to slow from an initial 11 km/hr to under 10 km/hr. My thanks to Laila Harre who was running her 5th marathon for her pep talk and support. Had many good chats with other runners in the first half. Not quite so many in the second half as you get more exhausted.

But then you hit the Shotover River and the views keep the motivation up, followed by heading along the Kawarau River. Superb views. But around the 30 km mark there is a hideously nasty climb up from the Kawarau River. I’d say 98% of runners walked up the slope. It really wrecks you.

Then around 10 kms to go, heading around the back of Frankton Airport and then alongside Lake Wakatipu. Again the views are amazing, and I’m soaking up the atmosphere despite my slowing pace.

20x30-QIME0510

Along Lake Wakatipu

Then it is into the Queenstown Gardens and the final one km is through Queenstown where great crowds cheer you on (and there were lots of spcectators at other locations also), and finally the finish line.

dpf finish

Finished!

I did New York in 4 hrs 29 minutes and Queenstown was 4 hrs 14 minutes. Was pretty pleased with that considering Queenstown was less flat the New York.

Now I’m looking forward to at least a week off while my legs recover!

 

The bookbinder

September 28th, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

The Bookbinder is storytelling at its finest.

What first strikes you when you enter Circa 2, is how the theatre has been transformed. You can’t even see the stage when you enter. Instead you go down a corridor of books until you finally emerge onto the intimate set. The bookbinder’s office is in one corner of the theatre and the seating has been arranged at a right angle on two sides of it.

Ralph McCubbin Howell awakens from his desk, and proceeds to tell the story of the former apprentice. He plays the bookbinder, the apprentice, the  old woman, the young woman and even the Haast Eagle. Yes – a Haast Eagle.

Over 55 minutes he pulls you into a story, and into the story within the story. It is a story with purpose, and sometimes without purpose. After all sometimes you just can’t make an omelette!

Howell is a master of story-telling (and play writing), and gets both his vocal intonations and facial expressions just right. He dominates the stage. You get sucked in, wanting to know what happens next, and how the story ends. A godo play has to be emotionally engaging, and this succeeds.

He is backed up by an incredibly effective use of props. Various lamps are used to great effect, and some of the books themselves display their stories in three dimensions. Great creativity.

Howell works with director Hannah Smith (they are Trick of the Light), and the creativity that has gone into the play reflects their joint contribution. The props, the lighting, the sound and the story all blend together on the intimate stage.

You can see why it won best theatre at last year’s NZ Fringe Festival and also an award at the Sydney Fringe Festival.

It’s on until Saturday 10 October 2015 at Circa, both in the evening and also at 11 am.

Rating: ****1/2

The Travelling Squirrel

September 14th, 2015 at 4:35 pm by David Farrar

Robert Lord was a prolific NZ playwright who wrote at least 19 plays from 1971 to 1992, when he died.

The Travelling Squirrel was written in 1987 and produced only once in 1994. It has been resurrected for Circa this year, directed by Susan Wilson.

Despite the passage of almost 30 years, it is not at all dated. In fact it seems better suited for today, than possibly the 1980s.

The-Travelling-Squirrel_show_embed_large

The play is essentially about a couple, Bart and Jane. Bart is an unsuccessful writer and Jane a very successful TV star. They are played by Paul Waggott and Acushla-Tara Sutton, who have some real chemistry together.

Bart would like nothing better than to have a quiet night in with Jane, enjoying a “picnic” (code for getting it on, based on their initial meeting when they picnicked next to each other). But Jane needs to get her profile up and attend society parties in New York.

The parties are hosted by gossip columnist Wally, played hilariously by Gavin Rutherford.  His lusting for the hunky waiter Daryl, provides much comedy.

You also have Jane’s social climbing friend Julie, performed by Carrie Green. Sarah is the brash illustrator played by Claire Waldron and Terry the arrogant publisher who has more interest in Jane than in Bart’s book.

But where does the title come from. Well Bart talks often to a squirrel in Central Park he has called Roger. And most days he invents great tales of what Roger has been up to, sharing them with Jane and others. Bart projects himself onto Roger.

He finally finishes his book, but the publisher is not interested in a collection of prose. However the tales of Roger the Travelling Squirrel are another thing, and suddenly Bart is on the verge of becoming a literary blockbuster, while at the same time Jane’s career is in trouble.

The second half of the play focuses on the changed dynamics as Bart is the one heading out to the parties, and Jane is the struggling one.

Will their relationship survive? Will either of them be successful? Who will Daryl end up with?

The play was two hours long, and kept a good pace. The acting was excellent, and there were lots of laughs. However I did find the plot not as good as it could have been. The ending was slightly predictable, and less than satisfying. There wasn’t any great moral lesson, just a possible redemption. Still a very enjoyable show though.

It is on at Circa until Saturday 2 October.

Stars: ***1/2

My DNA

August 28th, 2015 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

I did an DNA test through ancestry.com and the findings are that my DNA is:

European Jewish 48%
British 32%
Italian/Greek 8%
West European 8%
Irish 2%
Scandinavian 2%

That fits pretty well with what I know of my family tree. Through the DNA test they have identified a couple of dozen other people who have done the test and are related to me (third to fifth cousins).

A mate asked on Facebook that as I am 32% British, am I happy to retain the union jack on the NZ flag. My response was only if it has the Star of David on it also 🙂

Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travel List

August 21st, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

After 40 years, the Lonely Planet has released a list of the top 500 places in the world to visit – and New Zealand is on there nine times.

The book called Ultimate Travelist defines a wish-list of the most thrilling, memorable and interesting places in the world – ranked in order of brilliance.

The longlist was compiled from all the highlights in every Lonely Planet guidebook over the years, before being whittled down to a shortlist, and then Lonely Planet members were asked to vote on their 20 top sights.

Results were weighted in favour of sights that received consistently high votes.

So where do New Zealand sites feature?

The places listed were:

My comments below:

  • Fiordland National Park (at 17) – did Milford Track last March
  • Abel Tasman National Park (35) – doing Abel Tasman Track next year
  • Franz Josef & Fox Glacier (81) – not seen since I was a kid.
  • Lake Wanaka (94) – kayaked it, boated it, walked it and helicoptered it!
  • Stewart Island (125) – did Rakiura Track earlier this year
  • Bay of Islands (130) – not been enough but in love with Russel
  • Whakarewarewa (276) – that the Rotorua geothermal tourism spot. Been a long time ago
  • Waitomo Caves (280) – never yet done!
  • Te Papa Tongarewa (285) – there last week!

And the global list:

  1. Temples of Angkor, Cambodia – went with my parents a couple of years ago
  2. Great Barrier Reef, Australia – been a couple of times, once with a fellow blogger!
  3. Machu Picchu, Peru – did this last October
  4. Great Wall of China – went around a decade ago, as attending a UN meeting in China
  5. Taj Mahal, India – went before attending an ICANN meeting in Delhi
  6. Grand Canyon National Park, USA – went around in the bis US road trip two years ago
  7. Colosseum, Italy – saw around a decade again when in Rome
  8. Iguazú Falls, Brazil – Argentina – was scheduled to do last October, but had to leave for next Latin America trip
  9. Alhambra, Spain – on the to do list
  10. Aya Sofya, Turkey – saw in 2009

So have seen eight of the 10 global top ten, and eight out of nine NZ ones on the top 500. Fairly happy with that!