Saturday, November 27, 2010

New Trap Is A Knockout

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Anyone driving along New Zealand roads at night is sure to notice that we share this district with thousands of possums. They might look cute, but they ravage our orchards, gardens and the wildlife in our few remaining native forests. They also spread diseases like Tb to farms and so a lot of effort is going in to get rid of them - or at least control their numbers to tolerable levels.

The Department of Conservation has been using a poison commonly known as 1080 very effectively, but its use has provoked negative criticism from environmentalists. Research to find alternatives has been going on for some years and the Government has recently funded a $4 million trial to test some promising new traps.

These have been designed by a new Wellington company called “goodnature” and manufactured in Napier. The traps are quite different from the ones now in service and introduce some interesting innovations. They kill the target animal rapidly and can automatically reload up to twelve times. Traps currently being used have to be manually reset and therefore require more field workers to maintain pest eradication projects.

The target animal is attracted to a feeding compartment and then a compressed Co2 gas canister drives a rod that delivers an instantly lethal blow to the head. The dead animal falls away and the trap then reloads and waits for the next encounter. Like bait stations, they are attached to tree trunks and this should minimize the unintentional dispatching of cats etc.

Commercial trappers might find them useful too. I can see that it would be very feasible to locate the traps using GPS co-ordinates and then tally the kills on a hand held receiver. The current trials are focused on stoats and possums, however the very effective basic design will be adapted to other pests like weasels, ferrets, rats and rabbits.

The ‘goodnature’ company has three partners: Craig Bond, Robert Greig and Stu Barr. They met while studying industrial design at Victoria University and came together some time later with the intention to set up a company that focused on good ethical and environmental standards.

The ‘goodnatured’ trio are proud that their possum traps have achieved an A Class kill that conforms to the New Zealand National Animal Environmental Committee’s guidelines. In a phone interview with me, Robert Greig, described ‘goodnature’s approach as “holistic and environmentally friendly”. Their products aim to not only complies with a customer’s functional needs, but also must comply with goodnature’s ethical standards.

If all goes well, we will be able to see one of the first trials of ‘goodnature’ traps taking place in Trounson Kauri Park, Bushy Park (Whanganui), Te Urewera and Nelson lakes.

The future looks good for this new eco-friendly company that is determined to create a high quality design and build operation in New Zealand. For more information visit their website at and see videos of the traps in action.

Wedded To Wi-Fi

The word wi-fi has a catchy ring to it. It sounds modern in the same way hi-fi did in nineteen sixties. Wi-fi might have begun as a company slogan, but we now use it to label much of the wireless technology that is connecting people all over the globe. The days of being “wired up” with copper seem to be coming to an end.

There are however, some people who believe that we might be slowly drowning in a cesspool of electronic pollution that gives us cancer, genetic defects, nerve injuries and undesirable behaviour. They appear to the same people who say we humans have a nasty habit of wrecking our environment for economic gain. We then find ourselves being forced later on to spend huge sums cleaning up air quality, poisoned rivers and restoring the wildlife.

To be honest, I did not give this matter much thought until I began experiencing headaches while using my wireless phone. As soon as I went back to using my old phone the headaches disappeared. For that reason I have not been very enthusiastic about using wireless devices around the house.

I then had another unsettling experience when a friend called in and wanted to show me some pictures of her attending music festivals in Britain. I sat beside her and soon felt a burning sensation in my thigh. At first I thought is was due to her being very attractive and then I noticed a router hanging down from her laptop computer. I was not even touching it and so that gave me another reason to be cautious about using wireless technology.

When I checked out on the Internet if other people were having similar misgivings about wi-fi, I found plenty of scary facts, statistics and personal stories. If you took it all in as gospel, then you might not get a good night’s sleep until you lived in the country and kept all wi-fi devices out of your house. Alas, even there satellites are beaming down Sky TV signals twenty-four hours a day and the way things are going, sheep might soon be mutating into Rupert Murdoch look-alikes.

On the other side of the fence, there are just as many people who rubbish the arguments against wi-fi – after all, our hospitals are not exactly overloaded with wi-fi afflicted patients. Even the World Health Organization (WHO) has issued assurances that wi-fi is generally safe, so why worry?

Because of my own experiences, I will be playing it safe. Wi-fi radiation might not be harmful in small doses, but the affects of constant exposure have yet to be firmly established in my mind as 100% safe. In the meantime, if my daughters get pregnant I will be advising them to stay clear of wi-fi and keep their children’s exposure to the minimum. It takes time to effectively understand just how risky new technology is and I think our children are too precious to be experimental guinea pigs.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Armed Courses

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When I heard that the SAS had run a course for businessmen recently, I must admit that it had me worried. Fortunately, it turned out to be a fund raising event and only involved one company. For a while there, I had fears of Don Brash and his Round Table mates getting very cozy with army staff and tempting them to do unwise things with their weaponry.

I imagined Don Brash planning to storm the Beehive and demand that his 2025 Task Force Report be implemented forthwith and take New Zealand back to year zero (1984). To do this, they recommended slashing Government spending by $9 billion. You can bet your boots that those well heeled business leaders in the Task Force, would not include their government grant of $500,000 in those cuts.

Press reports summarize the basic 2025 Task Force recommendations as being the following: scrapping Kiwi Saver, making students pay interest on their loans, abolishing minimum wages, a flat tax of 20%, raising the pension age, cutting health and education subsidies, selling state assets and increasing foreign investment.

Thankfully, John Key was not very impressed with this list. Perhaps he was thinking of the SAS incident (or even Guy Fakes Day) when he said “I am not convinced that absolutely radical big bang reform is the way to go.” He made election promises and he would be “breaking those commitments and we are not going to do so.”

No wonder John Key is so popular. He knows that implementing the 2025 Task Force policies would take this country out of recession and plunge us into a costly depression. As in past depressions, the survivors would do well, but the casualties might ravage the land with revolution and war.

Strangely enough, one of the 2025 Task Force objectives is to find ways to catch up with Australia. But when you look at what the Aussies have done to increase their prosperity, almost none of the Task Force ideas are being used.

The Australians are richer by having strong unions (that have kept many of the working conditions and higher wages we have lost), they restrict foreign investment in their banks and media (newspapers etc), have huge compulsory super funds and still have a considerable amount of manufacturing activity. The mineral boom is the icing on the cake and derived a lot of its capital from Australian owned funds.

I hope that Don Brash never agrees with Chairman Mao’s often quoted saying, “Political power grows out the barrel of a gun.” In New Zealand, we are so lucky that our army serves our needs and not theirs. In too many countries it is the other way around.

Like most government ministries, the Ministry of Defense is facing cuts in expenditure and the SAS courses are probably attempts to put some money in their social services kitty. Maybe they should be called the SOS courses to prompt the Government into providing better social conditions for those valiant soldiers who defend us.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Kicking The Hobbit

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I have been wanting to write about the Hobbit saga for some time now, but I thought it would be better to wait and see how it all turned out. Like most New Zealanders, I am glad that it will be produced and filmed here. We certainly need the work, although I cannot seem to shake off feelings of unease about how successful it will be.

It was very obvious to me that Sir Peter Jackson and the actor’s union were both at fault. Sir Peter appeared to be aloof and outraged at the very impertinence of actors asking for more stable terms and conditions of employment. The actors union then unwisely called in some Aussie union muscle with global connections to lean on the project. In the end, the American movie moguls called the shots and it cost us millions of dollars to put right.

There are also some personal connections to the Hobbit that make me feel relieved that the standoff has been resolved. My son-in-law is a professional stuntman and he has been waiting all year to get a job on the Hobbit set. We are now keeping our fingers crossed that he will get a contract and head down to Wellington to get his share of Smaug’s treasure. I do not need to ask him what he thinks of unions right now.

I have another indirect connection to Peter Jackson’s Wellywood operations as well. I spent a large part of my childhood in Miramar and used to play indoor soccer (with bikes) in the empty warehouses that have been taken over by Weta Workshops. They have also taken over the factories that my mother worked in and I bet she would be astonished to see what they are being used for now.

Oddly enough, the Government funded National Film Unit was only a few houses further up the road from my parent’s place. Many a time I used to sneak around the back to raid the rubbish bins for rejected film clippings. Sadly, they were very boring pictures of tourist scenes and I was disappointed not to find any cowboy or gangster clips.

I did meet some of the arty looking men working there and they showed me round. It was very different from my father’s office in the city. I remember the National Film Unit offices being full of gadgets and busy people who appeared to really enjoy their work.

For a while, I even made up movie scripts with my mate Norman who was an amazingly talented actor and artist. Local hills became volcanoes and brave battles were fought defending justice and honour from the marauding armies of evil.

When I visit the area now, it reminds me that dreams need not remain dreams. If you have the courage to materialize them, the effect of your actions will be felt right across the world. It is never easy - there will always be greed and selfishness etc to conquer every step of the way

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Let's Do It!

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Every time November the fifth draws near, I feel my fingers itching again with the prospect of buying some more fireworks. I look forward to those sulphury smells and the exploding bursts of incendiary colour in the night sky.

I know some people want them banned, but I think we should keep this time of the year for fun and remembering the important history about Guy Fawkes Day. Yes, it can be dangerous, but so are many sports.

Banning fireworks would be like banning participation in hockey, cricket and rugby etc to avoid possible injuries. Passively watching fireworks and sport at a stadium is great entertainment, but it cannot beat doing it yourself with friends and teammates.

I have very fond memories of growing up with bonfires, sparklers, bangers and rockets. No one I knew got injured. I would say that we knew the risks and learnt through many mischievous adventures how to manage them.

Cliff Wilson was my best mate in those days and leader of our small band of tearaways. He was quick witted, smart and fearless. Even now, I can hear him saying, “Ok, let’s do it!” and we would be off on another wild escapade.

Luckily, my mother was very forgiving when she heard about some of the stuff we got up to. “That boy could get away with anything - he has such a cheeky smile!” she said. Cliff’s dad, who was a rather grim character, did not see it that way and often gave him a hiding.

Guy Fawkes for our gang was a wonderful time to launch rockets and have fun with crackers. Some of them were quite powerful. Many of our neighbours soon got to know not to respond to knocking on the front door at night if they had a rather nervous disposition.

I think it was Cliff’s idea that I should put a Tom Thumb cracker in one of my father’s cigarettes. It turned out to be a fizzer and my father laughed as he told me that he would skin me alive if I tried that again.

These days we are much more safety conscious and I suppose that is all very sensible. However, I fear that we are encouraging our youngsters onto gadgets that deliver secondhand experience. Instead, they could be making forts, going scrumping (nicking surplus fruit) and having adventures that teach you the limits that society insists we all accept.

I wonder if Richard Branson was like Cliff when he was young? He certainly has that “Let’s Do It!” attitude and his latest venture is to take his Virgin Airlines into space travel. The trip will cost you up to $200,000 and claims have been made that 700 tickets have been sold.

Alas, looking at progress so far, real space travel is some time off and many customers will only able to do it in their coffins. If I did that I would ask to be off-loaded in space and return to earth as a falling star - on Guy Fawkes Night of course.