Monday, October 31, 2011

Interesting figures

There's a post on pundit this morning with some interesting figures in it. From the 2011 budget, a breakdown of social welfare spending :
Sickness benefit: 782.38 (3.40%)
Unemployment benefit & emergency benefit: 1,028.95 (4.40%)
Accommodation assistance: 1,264.23 (5.50%)
Invalid's benefit: 1,346.84 (5.80%)
Student loans: 1,589.68 (6.90%)
Domestic purposes benefit: 1,894.64 (8.20%)
New Zealand superannuation: 9,575.37 (41.30%)

I wasn't aware that superannuation was such a large component and unemployment so small. And it makes the few decades tricky as our pensioner population increases. I'm well aware that increasing the retirement ages disproportionately disadvantages the poor - the better income you have the earlier you can retire. That number is going to increase though.  And with news that Mana is gunning for superannuation for Maori at 60 rather than 65, I can't see that as anything other than irresponsible. (Their reasoning for that is pretty nasty by the way - the fact that Maori die earlier is not a good reason to let them retire earlier, it's reason to try and fix healthcare so they live longer)
And if the unemployment spending is such a small proportion, I don't see how you can reasonably expect to save any money by bashing on the beneficiaries. 4.4% of 23 billion is 1.012 billion. Cut 10 percent out of that and you save 10 million dollars. Which probably less than it would cost in administration to reorganize everything. If nothing else, it makes it quite clear that the unemployed are considered easy targets to vilify and bash by the current government.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

To small to Fail.

I like the idea. It's something that still needs to be fleshed out, it is one of a number of threads that I've seen recently that give me some hope that we're not completely devoid of ideas about how to run the world in the future. Yes, if we gamble economically we stand a good chance of losing some of the time. If those bets are not huge though, they don't threaten the system. Even with failures, if we a seen as small but willing to have a go, I can only see that as a benefit for talented people wanting to try new ideas. Which I would hope, would lead to more talented people and a good chance of winning more than losing.

One of the best signs that I've seen Occupy protesters hold up is "To big to fail is to big to exist". When you're trying to build a sustainable system, I think it's quite a good maxim to bear in mind. If you have an institution (or a bunch of similar ones) that when hit, will quite possibly cause horrendous disruption in an economic system i.e. to big to fail, then it should be limited. No single factor in an economic system should be able to take the system as a whole down.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The gap gets bigger.

In stark contrast to a couple of weeks ago, there are now a number of larger media operations covering the occupation protests. There's a fair number of them who are doing it badly, writing them off as confused anti-capitalists who don't know what they want. Which is silly, with a very small amount of digging you'll find that while they may not have the answers the occupiers are essentially protesting against inequality. Maybe you aren't that concerned, but I think journalists at least should be willing to put a little more effort into their work.

I seriously don't think that there would be many protesters out there who would have a problem with CEO's earning hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars if everyone else was could feed their children and not have to beggar themselves to put their children through school. as things stand though, the gap between the rich and the poor grows and while money is forthcoming to solve the problems of rich, governments do little to try and change the fortunes of the poor. As for our lot, even the things they claim to have done to help like the home insulation scheme) were not their doing. That was a deal the Greens worked out with the previous Labour government if I recall correctly. We're better off here than a lot of the rest of the world, but rather than try and fix the problems, our politcians (yes, I'm looking at Labour to), just coast, assuming everything will get better. Which is a fine recipe for everything getting worse.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Placebo placebo placebo

I went to a quite spectacular music festival a couple of years ago, called splore. It's only on every two years so I didn't go last year. Which is sad. And entirely beside the point. In the little market place there were a few people selling "Power Balance" bracelets. Which are essentially a con. I thought it was quite interesting at the time, given that they were getting people to test them by pushing and pulling them off balance, putting the bracelet on them, pushing and pulling again with miraculous results. They were doing it to to many people for people to be plants. Interesting up to a point. A little bit of digging and the explanations are clear. Forces applied in similar places but in different directions before and after. The longer explanation. The blinded experiment (get the salesman to do the normal routine, don't tell whether the person is actually using the bracelet or not) video showing it's a crock. And then there was the actual admission by the company that there is no evidence that it works (on the wiki page).

Well, he said, it's not the same people, but it's a good rick, why let it go to waste. For a while now, you've been able to get a necklace with gold nanoparticles that will improve your everything by realigning the energy flow of the body. Somewhat implausible if you ask me. This is not to say that there isn't some sort of psychological placebo effect at work. Placebo effects are powerful at altering our perception of things. I'm willing to go so far as to admit that anyone who's taken in by one of these things could perceive that their own performance is better than it was (confirmation bias anyone?). I've not seen anything to say that the placebo effect actually changes an individuals physical performance. And I'm pretty damn sure that these nano particles are not realigning the bodies energy flow to increase performance - in short, I think it's a crock. If you want to convince yourself that you are faster wand stronger with better balance and health, find yourself a lucky piece of sting - it's cheaper.

For now, I'm going to ignore silly stuff like this in favour of sitting in the spring sun contemplating another splore. trust me, it's a much better way to spend a morning.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

ummm.... yes.

Emma Hart offers an entertaining description of her conversational skills. Funnily enough, I think it's a fairly accurate description of mine as well. Maybe not bang on, but close.

Monday, October 17, 2011

See, this is just unncessary.

Students have taken the clock tower. The Auckland university clock tower. I'd say it's got to the point that they feel the only way they will be heard is if they're disruptive (a sentiment I tend to agree with). So they barge into what is theoretically a public meeting - though it's a bit rich calling it a public meeting then barring the people that the meeting will most affect.

All that's fine. It's rather unnecessary of the police to bring in dog units. Do they seriously think that setting dogs on people (or threatening to) is going to solve anything? Short term aim - get people out of the building by threatening violence. Long term fuck up. It's not going to do anything other than piss people off more and set the public against the police. Which is a bad thing. It puts everyone further away from reaching a solution. Those who back the short term use of violence are less likely to then turn around and negotiate given that they have set in their minds that these people are only worth setting the dogs onto - even more worrisome when you realize that these people are educating people they don't think are worth talking to. And those with the grievance will have one more grievance to add to the list which given that they've already said enough, is only going to make them more likely to protest in the future.

These are not terrorists. These are our own people, our own children who are being shut out of their own lives. Talk to them, actually listen to them, include them in the process. I don't like the idea of an us vs them society but it's what we'll end up with if we're not careful.

Statute of limitations

I don't think you get to blame previous governments for not doing stuff when you're six weeks out from completely a full electoral term. It's a bit ... pathetic really. Especially when you try and put a little bit of the blame on the current opposition for not pointing it out during the current term.

Morgan Godfrey at Maui St has, I think, an astute observation. National need to accept responsibility. Not because they put the ship on the rocks but because that's what a government is meant to do - a problem arrives, the government should step up up to the plate and say "this is now our problem and we're going to sort it out".

I could live with this.

I'd even go so far as to tentatively think that it's a good idea for Wynyard Quarter, a satellite Te Papa . One of the worries I've had about the development down there, lovely as the idea of parks on the waterfront are, is that there's nothing down there to draw people to the area. And I'm sorry, but apartments and corporate headquarters won't do it - the waterfront should be for more than just lunchtime office workers and people wealthy enough to afford and apartment on it (I can't imagine apartments down there being cheap even if they do follow the classic Auckland apartment style of small and nasty). Given that so much of the national collection is stored, it'd be nice to have a bit more of it out and on display.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Blame where blame is due

I'm getting a little sick of the people defending the governments response to the Rena oil spill. The gist of the defence appears to be that John key didn't drive the ship onto the reef and therefore it wasn't his fault. Which is entirely not the point. The government/maritime NZ etc aren't being blamed for putting the ship there, that's the captain and navigation officer's fault and their well on their way to being processed. Criticisms of the goverment are criticisms of their response. An entirely different thing. We're an island nation, a lot of our importing/export is done via ship. One would hope that someone in authority would have been looking at worst case scenarios and planning.
It's not the governments fault the ship is on the reef, but once it was there it's somewhat ... pathetic, that it was left for 4 days of fine weather with nothing being done and bad weather that would make doing anything more difficult. Sure, a day maybe, but then everything should have been swinging into action.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

I do it for the money ....

It seriously bemuses me that people even think to ask questions like these sometimes. the idea that scientist go into science for the money is just ... ludicrous. In NZ, at least if you're lucky, you can get a job as a scientist with a comfortable income. there's a few rich ones around but I seriously suspect you'll find that they're rich coincidently, rather than having set out to get rich by doing science. Personally, the only reason I can see for doing science is so that you can spend a life figuring out how interesting stuff works. Which is fun. Analogous to Matt Damon's defence of teachers actually.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Grandiose Engineering.

I've been waiting for quite some time for the next round of grandiose engineering. By which I mean engineering that pushes the limits. The English in particular, back in the day were quite good at it, mustering thousands upon thousands of men and building trains and huge ships and factories, the like of which had never been seen before - the industrial revolution essentially. Imagine a farmer from 1750 walking into a huge factory and seeing masses of moving steel and hissing steam. It might not be a welcome sight given that it's likely just put a whole lot of people he knows out of work, but it would surely be impressive. We haven't had any for a while. The Hoover Damn was probably a candidate, given the technology of the time. The Delta works in Holland are probably a contender. It's got to the stage where even the 3 gorges dam in China, is just engineering. Sure not easy, but not grandiose. Science fiction has the grandiose in spades, my favourite I think, is the space elevator, even today though we're a while away from being able to build that though.

The American Institute Of Physics is proposing a project, it's definitely inspiring. And it's definitely on the edge of what people convenience of as possible. They think they they are capable of sending robots to the moon, getting them to build solar arrays, collect power and beam that back to earth. In a word, it's a huge project. Expensive, hell yes. Capable of removing a huge swathe of our dependency of fossil fuels though and thus worth a look. As an added bonus, we'd finally have a permanent moon base. It's border-line science fiction.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Four weeks.

It's taken four weeks, 15,000+ people in Wall St, 70 cities around the world, before it's important enough to get into NZ's favourite tabloid, the NZ Herald.  Only in the world section though, even with the local event being completely blatant about getting organised. Four weeks.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Cybernetics ho!

Ars Technica is reporting on the development of a brain-machine-brain interface. This is officially very cool. Everyone, I presume is familiar with the idea of a brain-machine interface. It's the ye olde trick of putting some sensors in someone's brain and getting them to control something like a computers mouse, by thinking. It's been done many times before. This time though, their working on feedback coming back into the brain. The idea being that if you're an amputee you could get a new limb that you could not only control but that you could feel things with. The brain could register how much pressure the amputee is using to grip something rather than the amputee having to guess based on sight. Or you could use if for remote controlling mechanical limbs in dangerous environments. Or maybe an exoskeleton. Any which way, it's the beginning of proper cybernetics.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Hrm? Wall St? Financial place in NY isn't it?

So Wall St has been occupied for almost 3 weeks now. Here in lil 'ol New Zealand there are obviously more important things to pay attention to. Like someone's strained groin. And even if that hadn't happened, there's plenty of other newsworthy events like the PM getting to spend a gormless couple of hours hosting a radio show. Multiple weeks of protest in the US's largest financial district, that's obviously not very important for a serious newspaper like the NZ Herald which brings you the important stories like whether a non-psychic calf can correctly predict the winner of a rugby game.
If you read much, in NZ you might have found out about the protests a couple of weeks ago. I only found out about them at the end of last week. Not via any decent sized media organization though. Go have a quick search of google news for occupy wall st (the name of the protest). There's a few of the big names reporting on it now - The Guardian, WSJ, ABC. The interesting bit though, is which other publications are making the cut., People's World, WFMZ Allentown(?). It gets worse if you start looking for specifics. Apparently Anonymous have threatened the NYSE website (I'm presuming not the actual exchange it self) - biggest organization to cover that angle? Bloomberg. Then it's people like Death and Taxes, Dissident Times and The Street. None of which I am familiar with. In short, where's the news?
There are some bright spots, but they tend to be coming from the blogosphere. I would recommend this piece from Ezra Klein to give you a little background about what's going on. Unless of course you're already way more in the loop than I am.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

A little bit creepy. Possibly a lot creepy.

Facebook have taken a lot of crap over the past few weeks with their interface upgrade. Personally, I don't think the change in the homepage warrants them taking much crap. Their new "seamless sharing" policy however, they deserve large amounts of crap for. They've stepped over the line from making things easier for their users and partners to creepy. And then there's this. There is possibly a case to be made for not censoring rape jokes. It would probably run along the lines of it make it easier to see who the complete assholes who make them are. If I recall correctly though, a while back Facebook was censoring pictures of women breastfeeding because we could see their nipples(!) Which in their view constituted pornography (idiots). Not so much a double standard and more of a wtf? If the later is breaching their terms of service, I don't see how the former isn't.
Here's a wee thought experiment for you: what do you call someone who sneakily follows you around the streets after you've visited them, thinks rape jokes are funny and that the tiniest glimpse of nipple is pornography? Creepy really seems to fit.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Can to.

The IgNobles are back - my favourite so far this year - a comparison of apples and oranges. A quick and easy dismissal of the supposed truism that you can't compare two radically different things.