Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Merry Christmas

If anyone is still reading this at this point I'd like to wish you a merry christmas.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Ice cream shops in Finland

People who know me know live in Kouvola ... its also not a secret what I think about the place. Well Kouvola has an incredible and good secret (not the railway station), it is home to the best hand made ice cream in Finland. Ice Cream or as its known locally Jäätelö

Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce to you ...


Kouvola is a bleak and grey Finnish town (perhaps this comes across a little in the image above), but just behind the glass windows of the store front resides an interior of colour and flavour which is a breath of fresh air in the bleak greyness of Kouvola. While Kouvola would be an ideal town for a director like David Lynch to re-shoot a bleak surreal movie such as Eraserhead, it is not the sort of place where you'd expect to find rich colours and great tasting ice cream ... but as it happens Kouvola is home to the best ice cream shop in Finland.

Certainly this shop belongs more to a place such as Helsinki, Tampere or Turku.

Perhaps predictably enough the owner is not a Finn, but an Argentinian who moved here (with his Finnish wife, why else...) and found that he couldn't get a job. Not one to be held down by the prejudices of others Sergio has built himself a job ... and what a great job he has done!

caminitoIceCreamAs soon as you walk in the door you're greeted by an assortment of excellent ice creams of the like you will be hard pressed to find anywhere else in Finland.

As well as taking advantage of local flavours (such as Metsamarijat) you can find exotic and delicious flavours from Mango and Banana through to the (just tried it today) Jasmine flavour.

Yes, Jasmine, just as in the Chinese tea.

Its just great.

Naturally Sergio serves coffee (both the crap drip filter style often served up here and quite nice Espresso), hot chocolate a selection of Teas and even some home baked breads and pastrys (for the genuinely hungry).

Everything is made on site by the owner Sergio (who being Argentinian loves bright colours). Naturally the interior is decorated in the colours of his home town, with some bright oil paintings of the region adorning the walls.


Downstairs he has his ice cream making factory as well as more tables for patrons and even a playground for the kids.

downstairs at Caminito in Kouvola

Naturally even the reserved and stoic Finns enjoy hanging out here during the long summer days, and despite not selling beer or other booze here seems to attract quite a turnout.

Lets face it, its nice to be able to take the kids somewhere away from the typical beer selling Kahvilla (and the people you typically find there) isn't it...

As you may have noticed on this blog, I don't do free advertising; so this isn't an ad. In fact its quite unlikey that anyone reading this blog will even be in Finland. I just thought that it was quite funny to find such a Jewel in this place. Either way I love it and I hope it continues to do well.

I really like Sergio, he's a lovely fella with a great attitude on life. He and his brother inlaw work bloody hard on this place and they deserve to succeed (not sure that the average Kouvola resident deserves such good ice cream though). I spent some time to do some photography for him of his place, and thought I'd also use the same images on this blog to plug him a little (not that its likely to help so much ...)

Anyway ... if you're in Kouvola drop in ... perhaps I'll see ya there!

Sunday, 20 December 2009

frost on the lake

This year we thought we'd buy some "Nordic skates" (here they're called retkiluistimet).

These attach to the bottom of regular boots or in some models require you to use particular ski boot bindings. We bought a set that attach to regular boots because we often like to ski and hike in places. Ski boots aren't really good walking boots ...

They work best on plain ice, normally in Finland by the time the lakes are frozen they are covered with snow, making it impossible to Skate.

This year we've had a long warm period in November with the temperature only dropping below 0°C in December.

We've had clear cloudless skies and -10 or -20°C all week, so we expected the lakes to be frozen and snow free.

So, armed with our new toys we set off for a local lake to try them.

We didn't expect to find that the lake was covered in what at first glance was snow, but we discovered to be frost.

It was quite simply the most stunning display of frost ice crystal growth I've ever seen.

We struggled with the skating a bit then gave up as it was too hard ... should have bought the skis.

As you can see above the ice was growing up in 3 dimensional sheets which looked like small ice plants all over the ground, with small leaves in all directions. This is how it looks close up

a beautiful "ice cover" of plant like ice structures.

Walking on them you could hear the smashing of the ice (as it was still -17°C), I felt like a kid breaking beautiful crystal in a shop with every step.

We dumped the skates in the bushes and set off on foot to explore and walk around a little.

Hope you enjoyed this little winter wonder here ... today its started snowing lightly so it's all going to be buried and crushed. In places they were so densly grouped as to look like snow at first.


Friday, 18 December 2009

facebook conversation

As a responce to a facebook conversation I thought I would answer the questions I was asked. Since Facebook does not provide enough space, I thought I would answer them here.

Honestly, you two seem to have it in your heads that you are qualified to tell other people how to live.

and you seem to think you are so godly that no one can offer you any advice or suggest to you anything other than what you are doing. This is a typical attitude of somone brought up in "the machine" which promotes all to be individuals, expect rights but not accept any responsibility.
stop breathing in the air of your own smug and adress this question ..."What do you suggest?"" What would you have me do?"

Ok ... I'll step up to that plate ... I suggest you actually look at things, you know, you have the ability to stop listening to all the confusion created by who can yell loudest (belongs on an ICE Hockey ring, but not in reasonable discussions) and start reading and looking.

I don't just mean here on Facebook or "some website" I mean start doing research yourself using reputable data and verifiable sources.

I can't spoon feed you what you should do yourself but I can say that IF you have QUESTIONS go seek the answers, you may find that they are not what you have been told.

For instance I once worked for a company that goes by the nickname of GS in Tokyo. At that time I was reading about Australia and I was pissed off at what I was reading about "drought" and water supply in my home town.

I felt from the reports (having lived there the first 20 years of my life) that the issues were presented wrongly and that the facts were being distorted. After some research I decided I would quit my job and try to fight this in the only way which I thought made sence. Via the established system not via some protests.

My intention has been to get involved with the administration, legislation formation and planning
Understand that I enjoy being able to clean my asshole with toilet paper,

so do you just waste reems of it? Do you value it in any way ...
and that much as our grandparents had everything they needed, so did feudal Japan, medieval Europe,

a key element of things are missing between them and us.


I bet your grandfather would be annoyed at you leaving food on your plate, wasting stuff, throwing away what can be repaired.

I'm aware (more than most I'm sure) that stuff dies so that I can live.

I've grown and killed and my own food. I'm not afraid of it and I'm not some pathetic squealer who talks about the horrors of the meat industry while eating at Mackers. In this case this is my wife butchering a hare ... tasted pretty good too.

I guess that out here it would classify as "Organic meat".

So I respect what I eat and know what it means to be fed (it means something died for me to live).

Weather its a hare we shot on our property (for eating the food we grow) or a fish I've caught, its something living which I killed so that I can eat.

I don't expect many Americans (with a burger in their mouths) would be able to do this and will probably label me a freak or something.

But I counter that everyone who eats does this or pays someone else to do the dirty work. At least I am aware of what it all means, aware of what my choices mean and aware of the responsibility to respect what I depend on .. you know, we all depend on the environment.

you then say:

Shit, to be quite honest, I could tell you both stories that would turn your stomach about waste and pollution. But I know that because of that waste and pollution hundreds and thousands and millions of people can afford to eat and have a roof over their heads. If you can show me a different system, please do.

So I would ask you about your ethics ... and suggest that you've justified this to yourself based on swallowing a lie.

Once upon a time I used to have a job as an electronics technician, servicing 2 way radios, for the last 15 years that's been a no go as stuff is made by big factorys (assembled by robots) to take away the possiblity that I can even do this work.

The choices we make in how we do things today (eg make to throw away) have profound impacts on not only the environment but on people. Micro economic prospects disappear.

Of course, we all exploit our environment, every creature does. But we exploit it in a wanton way which is at a scale which defies comprehension (thus many don't).
But, people as a whole wanted more.... See More

Yes, people are fundamentally greedy. Our society is not driven by people anymore, its driven by systems. These systems (legal entities) have no ethics, they are just mechanisms or instruments we have created (assuming you know anything about law too). They give us exactly what they think we want, and have totally different rules of governance than you do over your kid. These machines run our lives and actually have no way of perceiving the environment, because they are not made of the stuff we are.

How do you punish a company? You can't. Thats another fundamental shift ... we are not governed or directed by people any longer, but by systems which have people in them. The systems constrain the people to do what the systems want (and if you don't they'll eject you and put in someone who will). The interesting thing is we made these systems.

People make metaphors on this (Skynet in the Terminator and the Matrix) but rarely do people grasp that these mechanisms are both real (in a legal sence) and yet not of our world. Before you dismiss this idea just think about the National Government of any Country and ask if anyone has any control over it.

Have you heard yourself say "politicans today just do what the polls suggest, they're not really interested".

I think you'll see what I mean.

You raise the point that:

Unfortunately, exploiting natural resources causes an environmental impact.

Yes, but are we doing things as best practice or not? I'm pretty sure not. Do you agree with exploiting little children just because you're more powerful than them? Or do you not do that because "that's illegal" ... well, what it if wasn't?

Think about how many people are employed by the natural resources sector. Then consider basic economics, and what would happen to the rest of the economy if you suddenly pulled out all those jobs because they're "dirty."

You are quoting black and white sorts of all or nothing nonsense ... think about things differently. Have you considered that people could be employed in "green jobs".

For instance, the State Government in Queensland wanted to build another dam to provide more water for farmers in the "drought" (where the water would come from to fill the dam in a drought is a question I won't go into here).

However another government agency did a review on that and found that:
  • unless the dam would be built just to give the farmers water for free, the cost of water provided this way would either be borne by the community or have to be sold to the farmers to cost recover. The Farmers would not accept the water at that cost: thus the dam was not economically sustainable in reality
  • farmers were wasting their water through poor practices such as this
    which just encourages evaporation losses
  • any jobs created by the dam construction would be short term thus not sustainable
  • all required water needs could be met using alternative methods of irrigation, thus there reallywas enough water for all needs and expansion
  • more jobs would be created in the irrigation industry than in the dam building which would be local and sustainable, benefiting the small towns

The real kicker on this project was that the State Department of Works review found that it would cost less to do the alternative than the Business as Usual solution.

I would encourage you to start thinking about this problem differently. You might notice that I have not once dipped into religious rhetoric about saving the planet or climate change or even said you have to have less ... I have only argued for doing things better and doing things which don't count out humans.

Have you seen this new term getting around "jobless recovery" .. yes, so as the economy "recovers" we don't generate jobs ... lovely.

Doing things better does not mean going back to the stone age. For instance, take a moment to read some ideas in this blog of mine, I discuss some practical ideas on how we could make better use of our power and water grids.

Try reading this post on this blog or even take a look at my masters thesis here, for more ideas on a theme called "Ecological Modernisation". Which does not seek to take us back to the caves, it seeks to advance us, move deeper into technology to seek answers to problems and encourage ethical use of resources.

With our global population going through the roof


and our habits of dumping things "over the fence" or taking it "away" are rapidly becoming impossible (cos someone is there already). Presently we're taking the approach of dumping it on the poor and the weak because we can.

But that's ethics again.

So ... I think I've answered your questions, and told you what I'm doing ... what are YOU going to do? Go on holding the coats of people who pollute to turn your stomach while they get rich and you get the blankets and beads in the short term?

The ball is in your court fella ...

nice bit of irony

a friend of mine brought this one to my attention..

It regularly shits me off that we focus on stuff like CO2 and ignore the important issues like:
  • land clearing
  • pollution (like toxic stuff)
  • exploiting less powerful countries
and instead all get caught up in something which would all just go away if we stopped propping up old cartels with funding and let the market modernise as it can.

the techno illiterate

I was just reading this article about IRAQ insurgents being able to intercept transmissions from US military "Drones" with $25 software.

Bloody funny stuff ... reminds me of a story I heard back in the 90's that the US Navy was using Microsoft Mail in plain text as the data transfer protocol between battle ships.

This just highlights the problems created in our highly technical world with people who barely have a clue being responsible for the purchasing (and probably the evaluation of) technical systems. They brandy about brochure words and play games of "buzz word quotation" in an attempt to bluff those who don't know what that buzz word may be.

For instance its the reason we've been saddled with a White Elephant such as the Desalination plant on the Gold Coast costing tax payers in excess of 1000 million dollars and sucks up enormous amounts of energy.

PS: White Elephant:

A white elephant is an idiom for a valuable possession of which its owner cannot dispose and whose cost (particularly cost of upkeep) is out of proportion to its usefulness or worth.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

junk journalism

it may seem trivial, but the press should have some sort of responsibility. For instance I was reading this article which asserts that the Government in Australia has undertaken big spending and had poor results. I'm tempted to accept that argument as it stands, but then the author (Stephen Kirchner) starts down a seemingly unrelated topic and discusses a speech by the Secretary of the Treasury who makes a statement and quotes Ken Henry:

But he went on to suggest this expansion "has never been reversed and I think I can safely say that it never will be"

Not so fast Ken!.

So it seems that he wants to disagree with this and sets up an elaborate argument. But you know he doesn't once say why he thinks it is unlikely that the expansion of Government will be reversed.

So either Stephen gets carried away with his discussion on spending issues and looses the point, or the Editor has chopped it. So the Jury is out for me ... is he

  • a dickhead just setting up a strawman argument to make his personal points
  • a victim of editorial interference
  • or incompetent

dunno, but either way it is just another example of the poor journalism that the Australian seems to be filled with these days.

Like this one, where the headline appeals the the ordinary persons fear that by defending themselves a criminal will go unpunished and they will be punished. But when you read past the headlines you find a different case which is clearly no longer defence and perhaps not even burglary either.

What happened was truly horrific, and my heart goes out to the victims, but the significant departure from the ordinary (and the headline grabber) is:

What followed was described in Reading Crown Court as self-defence that went too far.

[the victim] ... escaped after throwing a coffee table and getting his brother Tokeer, 35, to help chase offenders down the street, bringing one of them to the ground.

Walid Salem, one of the intruders, suffered a permanent brain injury after he was struck with a cricket bat so hard that it broke into three pieces.

Neighbours saw several men beating Salem with weapons, including a metal pole.

I just shake my head that the Australian tries to contort this into something else and then goes on to leave so many very disturbing issues alone and unanswered.

poor journalism

Sunday, 13 December 2009

the dogma of Infinite Growth

or in reality ...

limits to growth

Something which is central to the climate change argument but is conveniently ignored (probably because its in the way too hard basket out in the back yard) is the limits to growth.

Thomas Malthus wrote an essay on the topic of population back in 1798, later another organisation (called the Club of Rome) put together a similar idea in 1972 which was called The Limits to Growth.

The concept of limits to growth is intuitive to anyone who has any common sense (typically those who have ever worked with things in the natural world, not just big city fantasy land).

Even for big city dwellers (who think food comes from the supermarket, milk from bottles and water from the tap) if you put a plant into a pot it will eventually become "root bound" as its root system fills all the available space in the pot. You can keep pouring in more nutrients and energy, but the plant will eventually stop being able to grow.

However Thomas Malthus's view on this has widely been rejected. Evidence against it has come from the amazing population (I can only call it) explosion that has happened since the industrial revolution.

Curiously I think that its the same people who are saying "Climate change is not caused by people" who are also saying "there are no limits to growth".

In an ideal theoretical world I'm sure its true ... there may be no limits to growth, but there must be changes to accommodate for this.

So with that in mind, lets look at something else ... by now I think most people are aware of this graph:

I'm sure its about the most contentious bit of data representation there is right now. Like is the data cooked, is the data false ... blah blah.

Science is about being able to reproduce things and ensuring validity. So if something is true then is should be validatable and repeatable. Further it should also match with other ways of looking at things. Well let me introduce another hockey stick ... but this time the data is quite a bit more certain.


Uncanny isn't it ... how closely this resembles the CO2 outputs.

So, if you are looking for any supporting evidence on rise in CO2 and human involvement well perhaps these two support each other quite a bit ... it would seem pretty expectable that if the human population has gone up over the same period at the same rate that the other graph of CO2 is just about bang on.

So where is the surprise that everyone is trying to deny?

To me its looking rather like Thomas may have been on to something back then...

Friday, 11 December 2009

population changes and (mis?) management

I was reading this morning in the Australian says that our population is "growing the fastest since the 1960s and double the global average. Net immigration accounted for two-thirds of this people boom".

It went on to put a number on that, we had 511,000 new arrivals last financial year.

Give or take, that's a population the size of the Gold Coast just sprouting up.

What the hell

There is the viewpoint that we need to grow our population in Australia. Well this is the growth in the population of 3 major cities since between 1911 and 2001.

3AussieCitiesPopThese three cities account for nearly half the Australian population.

To explain the graph a little I put Brisbane on a different scale to the others because unlike Sydney or Melbourne (which over the period have increased in population by around six times) Brisbane has had its population grow by nearly twelve times since 1911 (From 139,480 to 1,650,422)

This represents a startling management challenge, which I think anyone who lives in these cities may feel has not been entirely well performed.

Also, anyone who lived in any of these cities has seen amazing changes in how life is in those cities every 10 years.

When I moved to Brisbane in 1983 it was a nice sprawling country town. There was not insane traffic and you could get out into the countryside quite easily.

At that time the population was 1,028,527 ... but when I left in 2001 it had swollen to 1,619,280 and you could really notice the difference. Traffic was worse, public attitude was more strained and road rage and other less than ideal social problem was on the rise ... so lifestyle was certainly not better.

I imagine Sydney has undergone similar changes (although perhaps not as straining as Brisbane).

But I wonder if this is in our interests in Australia ... I mean really.

Firstly Australia has a really poor record of environmental management, and I'm not just talking about how we manage our natural heritage (which should be a national shame), I am talking about how we've been managing our agriculture and forestry practices. Look at the Murray Darling crisis for just a start.

Our politicians espouse protecting our lifestyle, but seem to be busily facilitating its erosion.

I grew up on the Gold Coast, it was a nice place back then ... quite but pretty. Its been turned into a massive tourist point and people are relocating there at a rate which defies understanding. This has resulted in the destruction of vast areas of mangroves and other critical habitat for allowing everyone to have a "water front" villa.

Don't just take my word for this ... Google (bless its little heart) has given us the tools to go check out these sorts of things without having to invest huge amounts of money and time ... have a look below

View Larger Map

If you like fishing, you can kiss good by to this area as the great fishing spot it once was ... mangroves are going and so too are the breeding grounds for fish. Not to mention the increased pressure on fishing created by the increasing population. As boat traffic is manic (along with the jetSki's I can't even enjoy sailing there anymore.

The urban sprawl is encroaching inland too, and what were previously lovely areas (habitat for wildlife) are being cleared to become just another urban wasteland.

Its like this all up and down the coast, from Coffs Harbour to Rainbow beach. Matter of fact its pretty built up between Coffs and Sydney ... and I'm willing to bet its not empty between Sydney and Melbourne?

Used to be that my family and I could live in a place where we could go fishing and enjoy walks along the shore


and we could find wildlife not far from our homes ...



Its fast disappearing ... So what are we doing to ourselves and for what benefit?

Work colleagues who owned land in the "hinterland" have sold up to developers to turn it all to urban corridor all the way between Brisbane and Southport. Much of this change can be attributed to the growth in population ... but is it good?

Lucky for us others are seeming to ask the same questions.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

twisted researcher (tortures data till it confesses)

A friend of mine posted me information about something quite bizarre yesterday.

The ecological footprint of a pet dog is twice that of a 4.6-litre Land Cruiser driven 10,000 kilometres a year.

my first reaction: Ha ha ha ha ha haaaa haa ha hha

It reminds me of another stupid one I saw some months ago about Google contributing to global warming. Clearly this circus is attracting academics who are getting paid by saying anything as long as they flabber on about Global Warming.

I have not got my hands on th book or research yet, but from reading this site it seems that their methodology of analysis is something like:

they calculated a medium dog eats 164 kilograms of meat and 95kg of cereals every year. It takes 43.3 square metres of land to produce 1kg of chicken a year. This means it takes 0.84 hectares to feed Fido.

They compared this with the footprint of a Toyota Land Cruiser, driven 10,000km a year, which uses 55.1 gigajoules (the energy used to build and fuel it). One hectare of land can produce 135 gigajoules a year, which means the vehicle's eco-footprint is 0.41ha – less than half of the dog's.

They found cats have an eco-footprint of 0.15ha – slightly less than a Volkswagen Golf. Hamsters have a footprint of 0.014ha – keeping two of them is equivalent to owning a plasma TV.

Well, assuming fido eats chicken, not beef or some other meat ... the old scale of falsehood of "lies, bloody lies and statistics" comes immediately to mind.

DSCN8589They make some very interesting twists of the tail here. I will need to examine their methodology but by choosing to calculate the energy of the vehicle and claiming then that the land can produce 135 gigajoules a year, exactly where this would be and how is interesting.

I don't see any mention of the amount of land required to absorb the pollution (mining isn't clean you know) nor do I see any amount of land involved in that.

They seem to have taken quite a distorted view of ecological footprinting (as described by the authors who created the concept Wackernagel, M., & Rees, W. (1995). Our Ecological Footprint: Reducing Human Impact on the Earth.: New Society Publishers.)

You can read another summary of their book on New Scientist, but it is not in any academic style, more like a "womens weekly" sort of article. To be fair they make some interesting points on bringing perspective to the issues of this.

I'll look this up and post back when I have done the analysis, meantime here is a critique which is brief but well done that suggests they are out by about 10 times (under estimating the car - over estimating the dog).

So it takes 613 gallons of ethanol to drive the Land Cruiser 10,000 kilometers. That translates into 0.61 hectares of corn land.
... 0.062 hectares worth of land to feed an overfed dog.
its a worthwhile read if you want to.

So, when does debate become just a meaningless diatribe of confused blither? (about 20 years ago by my reckoning after the JASON group produced findings of global warming which the US Govt sought to ignore for self interest purposes)

Monday, 7 December 2009

shonky education places

Just reading this post on the Australian warning chinese students to be aware of institutions that

... "mainly enrol international students under a short-term business model based upon education as export"

sounds fair and wise to me.

I'm just sad that its got to the stage that this sort of shit is common enough in Australia as to come to the attention of the Chinese government.

gotta ask though ... wonder who's setting these up?

... and why on earth should anyone be worried about the impact of this? Shit do you want to have a reputation for being party to shonky education rip offs? I sure don't.

reading this bit is interesting:
Australia has almost 150,000 Chinese students who ... fund an estimated quarter of all Australian university teaching
hmm ... personally I think Australian Universities should not be used as income methods as it sets up conflict of interest issues. I recall at Griffith Uni there was an incident where an academic who had a view about something related to China was "ordered" to retract his viewpoint or all Chinese access to Griffith would be blocked ... many of those students are studying in china by "distance education". This essentially allows China to exert influence on our education system.

Dangerous if you ask me

Friday, 4 December 2009

Junk Science part 2

PRESCRIPT: I thought I would start this by saying that thinking can be hard for lots of people, if you're not good a thinking then it may be that simple statements of "fact" work better for you.

Let me make one for you
C02 is a greenhouse gas, humans have and are altering the balance of this and this is having an effect on our climate.
So there you go, now you don't need to be distracted by all the junk science that the folks who wish to say it isn't verifiable will throw in your direction.

If thinking confuses you then you're probably also going to buy some charlatan's trick down at the flea market for $100 cos he says it'll make you $1000 ... or you'll send away $10 to one of those ads you see in magazines in building site toilets. If you're either of the above then I caution you that reading further here will probably confuse you ... but I have put in some pretty pictures to make looking at this page easier for you ;-)

Science is about exploring what we know and using this information to extrapolate. This means to essentially make predictions.

bridge 2 helsinkiExample ... an engineer makes a bridge and based on his calculations determines it will support the weight of X Tonnes.

This sort of science is familiar to us all. As it happens I cross this bridge on my way to work every weekday and it seems to be supporting the train without much stress.

Most of use either use the results of or participate in science almost all the time, even if we don't understand it. The fact that you're reading this page is an indication of the usefulness and effectiveness of quite a few branches of science.

The problem is that while everyone uses science few have any experience in evaluating it. To make things worse building bridges is something we've been doing for thousands of years, but understanding our climate is something we've only just started to do since the 70's.

You've only got to watch TV shows exposing magic or exposing how 'tricksters' work to know that people can fall for tricks easily enough.

Tricks don't make science wrong, or contradict it, they are just tricks.

A central component of science is being able to construct arguments which can then be examined and tested for validity. This essentially is what a trickster does not want

  • examination and scrutiny
  • questions
  • and testing
So just making an argument is not a proof.

There is a model for that concept (not needing proof) and that is called RELIGION, but religion is not science. While religion has a place in developing the spiritual side of humans its is not really appropriate in building a bridge or in a discussion which is about technology (and its results). Go look at the history of denial surrounding pollution, for instance when mining companies want to cover up the effects of their pollution on the population.

Right now, the science of climate change is really a hot topic and being subject to intense discussion. This is only a good thing, because this needs to be a science and not a religion. The problem with much of the discussion is that some people have different beliefs and have different agendas, and many direct discussions in areas to push their personal beliefs.

In this blog entry I'd like to examine one piece of crap which is currently circulating Australia, so I thought I'd make it public here for your examination of it in whole.

After all, just like the skeptics say .. if its not full of shit it will stand scrutiny right?

As its large I thought rather than bore you with a full examination I would just get you thinking critically about some of the central assertions at the beginning of it and you can demolish the rest as the sort of babble used to confuse idiots.

(NOTE: I just came across this well put together site on skeptical science and a nice summary of the climategate issue). If being a Skeptic means questioning in a reasonable way, then I encourage you to read that above link, it will answer many questions. If however to you Skeptic means "deny everything not comfortable" don't bother reading anything, you already know everything)

Firstly the proported aim of the sus presentation is to suggest that an Emissions Trading Scheme is not a good idea. As it happens I agree, I think that an ETS is not the best solution to the problem.

But they actually argue that its not necessary because there is no basis to the science of global warming, there fore there is no global warming or if there might be then its not caused by us.

Now this is an entirely different assertion, and has implications.

Slide 3 states their position in brief:
  • We agree climate change occurs
  • We agree CO2 is a greenhouse gas
  • We want you to know that no one has any evidence that CO2 will over heat the Earth &
  • An Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) will never ever prevent climate change.

Well, these guys make their first strange assertion. They agree that C02 is a green house gas, yet they seem to be confused about that because they then contradict that with the next statement that there is no evidence that C02 will over heat the earth.

Its either cunningly worded (sign of a trickster) or its stupidly worded (sign of something worse).

Of course C02 will not overheat the earth ... the sun will. However it is the concentration of C02 that plays a central role in this, by absorbing radiation from the sun and just like in a microwave oven being warmed up. That is what a Greenhouse gas means ...

(but then Leon Ashby who supports that junk "truth" is a grazier so perhaps he's missed out that part of his schooling while shearing the sheep ... dunno? Maybe he's just put his name to it and not read it like the IPCC panelists he mentions in his slide show. Its interesting to see how CO2 absorbs heat in the atmosphere, this is not up for dispute by the way, only how much is the question).

Neat that they avoid that point ... unless they think its a gas to be used in greenhouses for growing better plants.

Either way they neglect the important point of concentration. Such a simple thing but they speak in absolutes.

Lets say you weigh 80Kg ... that's 80,000 grams. Now if you drink 10 grams of alcohol (a standard drink) you'll probably feel pretty good. You have just added a concentration of 0.0125% of alcohol to your body ... now if you drank 200 grams (20 standard drinks) of alcohol you will probably not feel so good and yet you've still added way less than 1% to your body in fact you've added just ¼ of a %

Next they make another interesting point on slide 4 where they ask and answer:

Is C02 a pollutant? NO!
  • It is odourless, colourless and non toxic
  • We all drink it in soft drinks and beer
  • It is necessary for life (photosynthesis converts CO2 into O2 and carbon)
Ok ... start your car up in the house and leave it running for a while ... then tell me its not been polluted. While C02 is a naturally occurring compound it is important to remember that it is a waste product of our metabolism.

Actually there is a balance needed for everything, even good things (benficial things) will become a hazard if the balance is wrong. Stating that its non-toxic and necessary for life is complete bullshit, put a plastic bag over your head and see how you go. I am certain you will pass out before the atmosphere in the bag reaches anywhere near 100% C02.

Seriously, just how dumb do they think you (the reader) are.

Adding the bit in there about soft drinks and beer is amazing, do they think your lungs are in your stomach? Come on fellas.

Slide 5 demonstrates that C02 increase will be good for plants ... at least for their metabolism ... well so? We're talking about a different thing, concentrations and warming. If it got to the stage where C02 increase would effect plant growth or your respiration we may well have more pressing issues.

What has this got to do with the (already admitted) Greenhouse gas issues? Nothing, its a classic straw man argument.

The basic idea of a straw man argument is to "win" an argument by leading attention away from the argument and to another topic. I encourage you to take a moment to read this page, which explains this and how to spot it.

Slide 8 goes on to bamboozle you with cunning charts to show you what little amounts of C02 we (Australia) contribute to what is in the atmosphere of the world. They then produces a chart to show how little Australians are generating.

Well sure ... but that's hardly surprising ... compare our population to the rest of the world as they have compared our C02.

right ... you can hardly see it can you

Yet you can see our contribution to the amounts of C02 in the atmosphere.

Seems like the sort of junk stats stunt that people who play "the shells game" employ.

Funny, it was just a few years ago that the "Skeptics" were proving that "we couldn't be responsible" because volcanoes produced more of the C02 is in the atmosphere. Well, that argument went down like the Hindenburg didn't it.

Slide 9 gets to the punch line ...
What will it cost the taxpayer?
Nice wording there ... why is it the taxpayer, and not "humanity" ...

Hmm ... smells like business trying to drum up sentiment more than anything else. I don't recall any arguments about "what will it cost the taxpayer" being bitched about when we sent fellas off to die in horror in World War 1 or 2 ... instead there were propaganda campaigns to encourage every able bodied young man to "do the right thing"

Side 12 makes an interesting point about China increasing its C02 levels.

Firstly, consider that in 1987 the power consumption of China was in the order of 459 KwH/person, while in Australia it was 8,224 KwH/person. That's around 17 times more per person in Australia (yes, seventeen ... ponder that a moment) and we have 100 times less people.

Now to put something into perspective you couldn't even run your fridge on 459 KhHours per person.

(NOTE: a KwH is a Kilo watt hour ... Kilo being thousand. So if you run a 100 watt light bulb for one hour you've used 100 watt hours of power. So if you do that every night for 5 hours:
356 x 5 x 100 = 178000 or 175 KwHours, a fridge is about 350 watts)

So, since 1987 do you think we've require less energy per person? In fact it went up to 10,502 kWh (source) by the year 2002 (can't find latest data right now) so its likely to be at least that now.

Sticking with 1987 numbers, if we multiply the per person power needs by the population we get some truly scary numbers
Australia needs 164,480 G/Watt hours of energy
China needs 918,000 G/Watt hours of energy

So imagine what will happen when everyone in China has even the most basic of services (like electric lights, fridges and TV). If you think that China producing more than 5 times more C02 in the future will have no effect on the concentrations then gosh.

Now, ask anyone who has visited China and traveled around and you'll see that China is investing enormous amounts into alternative energy (meaning ones which don't just burn something). They are rapidly moving away from depending on burning things for energy because they can see that we can't keep doing this.

Ok, sure we could if we went back to live like our grandparents did ... but with our expanding population and needs we need to modernize.

In Australia our energy consumption relies on burning things, which of course produces C02

If you look at the graph to the left I've plotted the data of how we generate our energy.

The red portion is the energy generation which does not rely on burning something ... its about 1%

So after we cut through all the bullshit about our energy and how it will "effect the taxpayer" it looks like the VAST majority of energy (and therefore C02 generation) could be substituted by something else than burning coal.

So, its all down to how we do things not "to do or not to do"

So lets stop bickering about the bullshit of things and just start doing things better.

What could we do?

Well manage things better for one. If you read my blog post about water use you will see that persuing alternative methods for water usage in South East Queensland will actually reduce our power demands just to have water available in our towns and cities.

The red line represents power with the approach of ocean water desalination (currently being followed by the Queensland State Government) and the blue line represents the power requirements trend for alternative methods. The amazing part of this is that a factor in this graph is that population doubles over the period from 2001 to 2056. By the way, BAU means Business As Usual .. doesn't look good to me.

Perhaps if we continue business as usual we'll have no business (a common cry of business against modernization at any point in time "ohh, we can't afford to do that").

I recommend that you look into some alternative (to the Bush and Howard style thinking) and examine an emerging trend called Ecological Modernisation. This 'frame of reference' starts analysis from the concept that that we can do things better and therefore save money.

Doing things the way we are doing things hasn't really changed since the mid 1960's ... only we've been given more toys to distract us.

beads and blankets anyone?

Say ... I've got this game to play with you ... I've got three shells and I'll put this pea under one. If you can guess which shell its under I'll give you my blanket, but if you get it wrong, I get to keep yours ... sound fair?

PS: don't get me wrong, I'm not saying Leon is a dope, he seems to have done some good things and be on the right track with land management ... its just that he's got the bull at the wrong end on this one.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

junk science

?One of the problems with people interpreting stuff seems to be that folks can't seem to tell what the difference is between guys like Carl Sagan and Uri Geller.

Of course its not helped when people who are scientists Phil Jones are seen to be blurring the lines between Carl and Uri.

This whole debacle has shown up how bad for science it is when it gets bent around by politics and belief.

I somehow think that just like religion we need to separate science and state, but the challenge here is how. As surely in our sophisticated world science is an integral part of our society (well if you don't live on an island like Robinson Crusoe). So its crucial for all members of society (who vote) to grasp what's going on.

Maybe we should teach Science in schools. Hang on ...

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

extreme views (political climate change)

I see this morning that being a skeptic is now being an extremist

The Government has attacked Tony Abbott as a climate change sceptic after its hopes of getting the emissions trading scheme (ETS) through the Parliament this year appear to have been dashed

My my ... how the worm turns. Not so long ago saying "climate change" branded you as a heretic and an extremist. Now your an unbeliever if you dare to question.

I start to think that Parliment will soon begin to look like this ...


and ministers will be sworn in ...


forming the new front bench ...


sworn to their role of holding up the belief against questions and against the heretics who seek to ask questions.

You know its funny, some years ago I went to a public meeting held at the University of Queensland where Bjorn Lomberg gave a presentation on his book "The Skeptical Environmentalist" there were howls of "foul statistics" in the audience and I too felt challenged by what he said.

But in the post analysis (heated discussion on the way back to the car) I said to my friends that if we can't properly criticize his argument, perhaps his points are valid (you can bet that wasn't a popular view).

What is more striking is his present view:

...that we should instead adapt to short-term temperature rises as they are inevitable, and spend money on research and development for longer-term environmental solutions ...
sounds reasonable to me ...

(PS: whatever my personal religious beliefs, I believe strongly that Church and State should remain separate)

Monday, 30 November 2009

Cathedral at Tampere

We went for a drive over to Tampere this weekend, mainly because I wanted to see the interior of the cathedral at Tampere. I also wanted to see some of the artwork of Hugo Simberg

The ground floor entrance reveals a moody interior with great architecture. The ceiling above supports the second floor ...

Tampere Cathedral Interior

There are a few reasons I'm interested in it ... firstly (while its not large) its beautifully designed and decorated inside, especially when you consider that its a Lutheran Cathedral.

It shows an interesting Gothic sort of character, combined with the traditional central European sorts of things (like the organ). You can see the second floor "balcony seats".


This shot is an ultra wide, showing from the pews up to the interestingly decorated ceiling, note the use of "wings" to fill in arches and the serpent over there in the top right hand corner at the top of the dome.


The Resurrection meaning

Probably the most striking feature for me however is the lovely art work behind the Altar. Unlike so many churches with a crucifix depicting the death of Jesus on the cross, this has a beautiful artwork which has is depicting the rise of the dead to the after life.


To me, this is so much more the message of salvation (which is supposedly what the church is sending) than a depressing one of sacrifice and suffering which is usually sent.

Lastly, a view from the 'balcony seats'

Tampere Cathedral Balcony

I love it ...

Friday, 27 November 2009

ants (vs human organisations)

One of the interesting things about Ants is they remind me of people

antNestThey build their little city close to nice places and all scurry around doing what the hive needs.

Its sort of fun to watch them.

They scurry about busily, with seemingly no specific purpose. When working alone they can be carrying something back to the nest or carrying something out of it. Work is clearly getting done.

In groups it all seems to break down, with what seems to be an uncoordinated tug of war in all directions.

Eventually the item seems to get back to the nest (despite) all their efforts.

Strange thing is, no matter how disorganized it looks they are really quite successful creatures. Each ant may have totally no idea, but the hive does well

Reminds me a lot of people.

Like this week ... after spending some months working on a database project it appears that the other part of the organisation has decided they can't coordinate themselves properly and have instead gone with each member of their team putting data into a spreadsheet. Essentially leaving me with the leaf ripped out of my mouth after some struggling with pulling it in the right direction. It remains to be seen how much better their direction is ... Glad I'm not the one putting that together later ... mean time I've picked up something else and I'm wandering around with that in my mandibles.

In contrast to Ants (and our organisation), White Ants are quite organized creatures. These cool little guys normally eat decaying tree in the natural environment (and people's Homes in the urban one ;-)

whiteAntsTrackYou won't see them easily in the wild because they can not tolerate extremes of humidity and UV.

So they live inside their food and construct sealed environment walkways between food sources and their nest.

These are really hard to spot as they're made of chewed up wood pulp and blend in nicely, but on the trunk of this white Gum (Eucalyptus) their track stood out clearly.

I thought it would be interesting to give them a little challenge, so I made a small bit of damage to this walkway roof, exposing the interior.

whiteAntsFairly instantly they all set up a guard and protect the gap in their tunnel.

Notice the fellows with the pointy heads? They are quite different to the other ones there which have jaws.

Quickly they set up a strong defense perimeter but do not go beyond it ..

They are quite specialized creatures, some being defenders others being workers.

The fellows with jaws are the workers, and you can see that soon after the defense is set up they emerge and begin repairing the breech in their system.

In the image below you can see clearly the guard ants (with their antenna spread wide to sense any movement or smells) with the workers in below them already chomping and spitting up chewed wood pulp to rebuild the damaged wall.


Quite a good system they have ... no wonder they're so successful.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

H56N2 infects Parliment

The greatest fear of virologists is the combination of Pig flu (H1N1) with Bird Flu (HPAI or H5N1) that could form a virus that is irresistible to the immune system producing the dreaded so called "Pigs can Fly" flu H56N2 EWV variant.

This results in hallucinations and distortions of reality which can make the sufferer to believe that "Pigs can Fly".

It is suspected to have been to have made the mutation by extended close proximity by having their snouts in the same troughs.

It can then be passed from "high flying person to high flying" at conference venues through out Asia and Europe where snouts may be placed in the same troughs and or course via other vectors such as unmentionable secret handshakes.


The early signs of this is a fever of creation of impossible political targets without understanding the meaning of any of the underlying issues (such as the Australian ETS) which are not likely to be effective, but can induce a sweat similar to a fever in those effected with such a malady.

Look closely at our politicians ... it seems they've been infected with this deadly pathogen.

The only remedy for this is isolation of the contaminated persons. Its important to not allow them to do anything harmful while suffering from this!

and remember ... always wash your hands after handling a politician

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

the next US shock: will that be bonds?

I've never studied Economics at uni, I spent my time there in Chemistry, Computing and Environmental Science instead.

So as a self confessed non-economist you can take this how you will.

Right now the USA owes heaps to China, there is discussion that the Current Account Deficit in the US is blowing out big time, for instance:

The current-account shortfall could rise from 6 per cent to 15 per cent of gross domestic product by 2030 and net foreign debt could explode to $US50 trillion ($54.4 trillion).

The budget deficit could remain close to $US1 trillion until 2020 or later.

Scary stuff ... that same writer makes an interesting assertion which I happen to agree with:

Most analysis underplays the root cause of the crisis: the US political system’s refusal to adjust to the global labour supply shock - the sudden increase of workers leading to a sudden drop in the price of labour - from China’s industrialisation.

We all live on the same planet, so it has been obvious to me for some decades that if the standard of living in China goes up, then it will likely mean that has to come from somewhere ... well that would be from the west wouldn't it :-)

It gets worse with the USA facing nations turning away from Oil trading in US$ to possibly trading Oil in Euro ... noone will need those US$ as much anymore ...

Now, let me cast your mind back to 1971 to the time when the US economy was in deep trouble for all of its spending in the Vietnam war. They had printed bucket loads dollars and exported them off shore.

Soon enough European countries were presenting the USA with demands to fulfill their "promiary note" of gold for US$. This lead to what was called the Nixon Shock. At this time Nikon (without consultation with the IMF essentially betrayed the Bentton Woods agreement and decoupled Gold from the US$

So, with China investing heavilly in the USA at the moment (to allow the US to get at cheap imports), I wonder if the USA will do something similar again but with bonds?

"Hello, My name is Bond ... "

Monday, 23 November 2009

Environmental Science (or is it yet a science?)

one of the things which bothers me is the state of the situation in Environmental Science. All too often this subject is dragged into disrepute by people who are either complete fruit cakes (and whom seem to barely grasp the basic ideas of science) or is bound and gagged to be used as a political tool. Sometimes both occur.

As I was writing this blog idea it seems that some other people are also working in quite a different way to me to draw public attention to the short comings of the science involved in the climate change issue.

As I've mentioned before I am still unclear on the issues and facts that surround global warming, however something which I am more clear on is the effects of over development. It seems to me that this entire "Climate Change" debate is overshadowing this sort of more practical discussion.

For instance ... back in 2002 ~ 2003 the city of the Gold Coast was running critically close to the limits of its water supply. Below is some data which was sourced from the GCCC website that monitors the Hinze Dam Levels. I have added 2 ellipses to this which I will discuss in a moment. I would like to give you the link (which is here), but this data is no longer published on the GCCC website as it once was, only the less meaningful data of 'consumption'. I'm sure many Gold Coast residents are familiar with this graph...


The red line in the graph tracks the dam level as a percentage, my blue ellipse shows the period of January through March which is normally the wet season for this region. As is clear from the graph the dam levels fell to less than 30% capacity just prior to the onset of the (slightly late) wet season of 2003.

Clearly this was quite a worrying time for both residents and council.

During this time a contracting company was employed to reassess the yields of the dam system. The consultant presented the (quite reasonable) proposition that Estimation by Historical Simulation was an appropriate methodology. They proposed a method of analysis which looked at remainders after periods (rather than something state over time). The decided on the simple formula of:

Storage at End of Period = Storage at Beginning + Inflow - Losses

Sounds reasonable but ignores an important point which I'll come to later, additionally it has another strange view ... in determining the Inflow they presented the following model to Council and members of the public:


some interesting issues arise from examining this data:
  • Why was a 5 year period used? (to iron out the wrinkles?? of high and low)
  • Why were periods ending in March chosen? (ending in the end of the wet season on a 5 yearly period?? like what difference would it make {my calculations show nil})

Notice the word Average in the above data chart? Now the definition of average is to add up a series and divide by the number of elements in that series.

I attempted to validate their data so using data sourced from the Rainman application (the same source as them, Bureau of Metorology) I obtain a almost identical result taking periods ending December and over a 5 year period (60 months) but not dividing by five.


So it appears that this data is obtained by taking the sum of the 60 months and not an average. If we then divide that data by 5 to form an average we find that the scale on the graph now comes much closer to that we expect from yearly rainfall data.


One can only hope that this was never used for real calculations on expected inputs to the system ... although I suppose it may have been. If it was not, then what is the purpose of this data? I can only surmise that the Ronald Coase "adage" was used in the construction of this
torture the data long enough, it will confess

Does this mean that figures between 6,000 and 8000 were used?

It is interesting to note that the peak lows of average yearly rainfall data fall significantly lower than the values provided by the rolling 60 month average. What is the purpose of this model as when you compare this with the empirical observations in Fig 1 its clear that the usage rates (based on the fall of dam level in the absence of significant rainfall for addition to its level) will not support two consecutive years of low rainfall, something which the above model seems not to yield.

Lets look carefully at the critical period of 2002 ~ 2003, the figure below contains that component in detail.


there is nothing to suggest from this model of stream flow *(the blue line, not the yearly totals) that the water supply would be in any more danger of reaching the point of failure to meet community needs than in other years, in fact 1996 looks more threatening to the water situation.

The fact remains however that it was. Given the climate variability I have no idea what this person was trying to do by presenting this. Was it just to show fancy lines and baffle people with bullshit?

Getting back to my important point before, it may just be that their model would be accurate, and at the end of a 5 year period that the dam would have the calculated amount of water in it...

Do you want to go without water for a few weeks waiting for the 5 year average to equalise?

The evidence (based on empirical data of the dam levels in the period 2001 through 2004) demonstrates the shortfalls of this rolling 60 month model in representing available stream flows, and perhaps also suggests that a basic error in calculation (remember the failure to divide by five?) was responsible for over estimation of yields.

Why was this model used? Perhaps because of mis-understandings in its construction? Perhaps these limitations had never become an issue because up until about 2001 (based on my estimates) the population had not reached the carrying capacity of the system and thus tested the validity of the model.

This is the point at which the available water in the environment (using existing water supply paradigms) is less than the demands of the population.

This is represented in the figure above as the point where available water / person reaches the same level as the water extracted per person. Using this model of water sourcing it is clear that population plays an important role in this ...

Since you simply can't get more water than is available, as the population goes up if the amount of water available remains the same then the lines must meet as essentially there is less water available to each person. This is of course why there were water restrictions introduced at that time.

To me this is an example of the inadequate levels of "science" applied in Environmental Science to date.

So, how do we move away from this?

To me the answer is clear, we need to:
  • move to more open and critical appraisal of this branch of knowledge
  • we must clear about what we are doing and why
  • our methods lay open to scrutiny and
  • open meaningful debate encouraged.

I ask can we continue to base the foundations of the planning of our society on models like this? Should we all not have vested interests in and indeed rights in being involved in the decision making process? Are we not living in a society where we have this right?

Until this happens Environmental Science will remain some sort of political tool for the justification of ends based on who yells loudest

"did too"

patterns in water


out walking today found this wonderful example of a partially frozen puddle with a little bit of snow dotting the grass poking up out of the water


lovely patterns in the water ... click on it for a larger view

Sunday, 22 November 2009


In my last blog post one of the commentors posted a link on pollution in China. I encourage you to look at that link and then to remember that it was not that long ago that we were doing exactly the same thing. In fact its because we've pushed these foul industries "away" where we can't see them that we forget what is the real cost of disposable things and our lifestyle.

Now I'm not a professional journalist, I'm just a more or less an ordinary fella in that respect. So with that in mind, in 2005 we went to visit China from South Korea (where we were studying) for a holiday. We went to Beijing, traveled to a place called Ping Yao. This is actually a fascinating historical villiage which in spring and summer is a popular tourist location in China, it also happens to be centered around an interesting UNESCO listed medieval walled city.

What I didn't mention on my above linked tourist trip snapshots of Ping Yao was the devastation to the environment which became quite clear to us on the way out of Beijing and all along the way. I would like to show some images of what we saw ... just without even going out of our way to document things as the Journalist has done in the link at the top of the page.


Along the side of the railway line was a small river, which was clearly so horribly polluted by this mine, for kilometers and kilometers!


Its hard to actually see much because of the dense smog that always filled the air. In fact the air quality is so bad there my wife was getting skin irritations in a few days and we had to cut short our trip because she was so distressed by the environment (she comes from Scandinavia where it is much cleaner).

Even in Ping Yao it became quickly clear that there just was not the proper facility for the population density there ...


Because it was winter the air was thick from the smoke of every house burning coal ... coal which happens to be high in sulfur.


of course the demands for catering to tourism increase the energy needs of the place too

pingYao roofs

Just while I'm on the subject, we went for a walk along the Great Wall ... a wonderful place


but its not for the faint of heart as its really steep ... no kidding


with often no hand rails and falling apart in many places


not for your typical tourist but well worth it for the adventurous.