Tag Archives: 157.240

Cooking up trouble

I’m having problems finding the ingredients for my cooking.  Having taken up doing occasional meals in the slow cooker I am enjoying trying out the various menus and making my small contribution to the running of the household.  But finding the right ingredients is a challenge.  I need a tin of whole tomatoes but the nearest supermarket doesn’t stock any, well not NZ made ones.  Plenty made in Asia and even the Watties ones, which I expected to be locally produced given HB’s agricultural base, were imported (from Italy).

I don’t go shopping at the supermarket with my wife very often because I used to be a grab the cheapest and run shopper.  Not the lady of the house though; she inspects everything and makes a real effort to buy NZ made wherever possible.  Now I’m all in favour of this and its good to know that the food on the table is not likely to be plagued (literally I suppose) with contaminants of some sort, but its a real challenge.

So where is this leading?  Down in Dunedin the forces are mobilising in support of the railway workshop people in an effort to retain their jobs.  The Hillside site was established in 1875 and has been responsible for making some of NZ’s iconic railway stuff but the proposed axing of jobs comes about because of the move to maintaining foreign built rolling stock.

Throughout the country we’ve seen the loss of jobs as companies have either moved their businesses overseas in search of lower cost manufacturing opportunities or they have closed up shop in the face of competition from cheap imports.  Some NZ businesses have managed to find a way to keep going and all power to them I say.

The people of Dunedin have the right to take up this cause on behalf of the people who face job losses and I wish them good luck in trying to achieve a good outcome.  But I wonder how many of them will, once they’ve been on the protest line for the day, hop in their foreign built car and drive to the foreign owned supermarket and buy imported food without even looking at the labels.  Every can or box of food made in China or Malaysia or Italy that they put in their supermarket trolley threatens the job of some other Kiwi.  But then we all want the cheapest don’t we, at least until its our jobs that are threatened.

It seems to me that this is another case of NZ’ers wanting it both ways (a subject I’ve blogged about before).  If we were really serious about keeping NZ jobs in NZ then we’d all be inspecting the label on everything we buy and wherever possible buying the one that says Made in New Zealand.  Unless we all do that then the situation in Dunedin will just be repeated elsewhere many more times.

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Do we need an NZERA?

The appointment of Roger Sutton as Chief Executive of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority has been widely welcomed as a good move and in the best interests of the region.  From the little I’ve seen of him on telly I would tend to agree.  He has the communication and leadership skills to bring great vision and drive to a very important organisation.

What a pity that our politicians don’t have the same skills.  Words like self-serving, poll-driven and short-term thinking spring to mind when I hear a politician speak.  The drive to retain power in a system that sees them facing the risk of being sacked every tthree years stunts their ability to think and act in the best interests of the country and its people.

I am of the view that New Zealand faces a disastrous economic future unless something drastic is done to sort out our problems.  I’ve posted before about the economic impact of the leaky home crisis, the Christchurch earthquake and the meltdown of finance companies.  These things, along with world economic conditions, will make life very hard for us all.  But what are those responsible for managing all this doing?  Making minor adjustments to things like student loans schemes and Kiwi Saver (but not their own super scheme I note somewhat cynically).

Perhaps we need to sideline the politicians and appoint a New Zealand Economic Recover Agency headed by someone like Roger Sutton?

Someone able to assess the situation, get a handle on the key factors plaguing this country and then make the hard decisions,not just short term, to help us make progress and get back to a reasonable standard of living.  Not a political appointment, subject to three yearly changes of governments, but an enduring appointment (obviously with safeguards) of someone with vision and leadership skills to sort us out.

So bring on an NZERA.  I’ll vote for that.

Up, Up and away!

Over a period of several days we watched with interest as a building (historical but not importantly so) was attacked by workmen, its cladding removed and base exposed.  Then it was jacked up into the air and lowered onto the back of a large truck for removal.  As we passed the site on the corner of busy Napier street each day we speculated as to where it was going but all was revealed when its journey across the road (no more than 50 metres) was completed early one morning.

The physio building
Pic004 April 2011

What would the vacated site next to the medical centre be used for?  Was the medical centre expanding? Would it be car parking for the medical centre?  All that expense to move the building must have been for a good reason we thought, but we quickly learnt that it was to enable the adjacent car sales yard to expand.

As if we didn’t already have enough land covered by car sales yards and we don’t already have enough cars consuming energy and polluting the air with their carbon emissions.

Throughout NZ there are many such car yards and as you walk past them in the morning you will often see the cars sitting with their motors running so that the car sales people know they are ready for the next customer who comes in and wants to look at the vehicle.

Obviously I’m a driver and use a car to get around so I’m as guilty as everyone else but I do have pangs of guilt so you’ll have to bear with me in this blog.

The question I’ve got is what are we going to do when the oil runs out?  Some, like me, think thats closer than we care to think about but others think its decades away and we’ll have some technology solution by then.  Whichever way you look at it the time will come and then we’ll have to change something in the way our society works.

So more space being taken over by car sales yards in a street in which two new dealerships in new or refurbished buildings opened in the past few years doesn’t seem like great progress to me.

Its a very wet day here so now I’ll have to get the car out to go to town, driving past the car sales yard on the way:-)

Where is God?

Where is God?  A question you might ask given calamatous events all around the world, and even in our own communities.  A question that deserves some thinking, and if I may be so bold, some words.  Not answers because the question is too big for answers, but lets see where words take us in this blog.

Your response to the question will probably depend on whether you view God as a divine figure, a father or parent, a heavenly being perhaps, or whether your consider the concept of God to be a human construct, one created out of human experience, expressed in language in an endeavour to make sense of the realities of this world.

My particular thinking is the latter.  Not for me the God of the parking space (this is when you get in your car to go to town you pray to God that a parking space will be created just for you when you get to the supermarket even if you happen to change you mind on the way and got to the mall instead).  Sorry, this divine being, holding the fate of individuals in her/his hand, doesn’t do it for me.

I’m at the stage in my journey where I see the hand of God (a human construct), the work of the divine, in the world around me expressed in the everyday pleasures and calamities of and through people.

When we look at Japan or Libya or Christchurch or our neighbourhood we see ordinary people doing extraordinary things.  Motivated by compassion, justice and love they are in there rescuing people they’ve never seen before, caring for neighbours they wouldn’t normally talk to, making a stand for those people in their community who are oppressed or suffering or down trodden or excluded.  And it doesn’t have to be  mighty works –  love as shown in a kind word, a cup of tea,or  a phone call is God seen in our lives.

So for me God is there, not making this cracked earth shake and quiver, not sending rolling waves of water crashing into villages, but rather encouraging and uplifting people to help and rescue and comfort people.  God is in the hearts of the children down the road baking cup cakes for Christchurch; in the strong arms of the firemen working in dangerous conditions to pull people out of buildings; in the brains of the engineers selflessly working to contain the nuclear reactors in Japan.

Go God!

ps I’m not sure where God fits into the lives of Hurricanes supporters:-(

pps Obviously these words don’t explain death and distress and pain as epitomised by starving children dying because the leaders of their nations are corrupt and tyrannical or families in NZ torn apart by the scourge of drugs such as P. I’m not sure that the concept of a father figure God can explain that either.  To me it lies within (there’s a church song that says “the kingdom is within you”) and so we each have the ability, the capacity, to be a source of good in the world or to be a source of bad.  Jesus certainly shows us which is the better way.

It’s a risky world out there

Directors and senior executives will be nervous.  In the wake of the February 22 Christchurch earthquake and the more recent Japanese earthquake and tsunami I would expect many organisations to be taking a long hard look at their risk management strategies.

Risk management (RM) has long been an agenda item for directors who are expected to have an oversight of risk management in their organisation and to satisfy themselves that risk management policies and procedures designed and implemented by executives are consistent with corporate strategies.  Part of this assessment is the risk appetite of the organisation but the events of Christchurch will be changing both risk profiles and appetites making many directors nervous.

The process of developing a RM response is to review all the potential risks and then rate them for probability (likelihood) and impact.  These likelihood and impact scores can be three or five or ten point scales or percentages based on subjective scales.  The scores are then typically multiplied to produce a numerical rating for the overall risk.  This quantification of risk provides a tool which is used to allocate priorities (management attention?) and resources to dealing with the different types of risk.

The problem with this methodology is that applying a mathematical approach to risk is meaningless when the unexpected happens.  From my experience the likelihood of earthquake was rated low throughout the country and the impact was never considered to be as catastrophic as has happened.  How many managers compiling risk profiles have researched the likelihood and impact of tsunamis in New Zealand?  The result has been risk profiles that focus on employee theft, plant breakdown, bad publicity and quality control lapses.

Directors and executives will need to revisit their risk management plans.  An assessment of the adequacy of insurance cover is an obvious starting point, but strategies for dealing with an inability to access business premises, the loss of vital records (and the backups which are typically stored in the same business district) and the personal impact on staff of a major event will all have to be revisited.

Many businesses are finding that suppliers affected by the earthquake are not able to meet their commitments or that the affect of the catastrophe on customers is having a direct impact on production, sales and credit collection.

Having realistic mitigation strategies in place and tested for such circumstances is now an important objective for all Chief Executives and senior managers, and directors will be putting pressure on them to ensure that these strategies (policies and procedures) are realistic, sustainable and effective in light of recent events here in New Zealand and around the world.

Tuis, noise and technology

The song of the tuis has returned to the Napier hill.  No, not the snap of a can being opened or the splashing of liquid into a glass, but the song of our native bird.  This morning the birds were in full voice, filling the peaceful morning with a most enjoyable sound.  As I did my daily constitutional I realised that the noise usually present in our streets was absent.  The birds were having a field day and I could actually hear them.

Of course those who live in big cities won’t be used to peace and quiet like we are here in the provinces but I do enjoy those moments when the world seems to retreat and we can enjoy the sound of, well, less noise than usual.

We do live in a very noisy world.  If it’s not the banging and clattering in cafes (making a pot of tea is positively silent by comparison to coffee) or the “background” music in shops, it’s the noise of traffic reverberating through the suburbs.

When the residents of New York looked out their windows and saw the first horseless carriages I suspect they were probably looking forward to no more clattering of the horses hooves or the pong of their droppings.  Little did they foresee what impact the technology of the automobile would have on our planet.  Quite apart from the greenhouse gases they emit in their operation and the resources consumed in their manufacture and running, vehicles are noisy.  People ride in them, cocooned in an air conditioned environment with the audio system playing their favourite music while outside the rumble, rattle and roar of the engine resonates with the road noise from the tyres.  Anyone in the vicinity cannot but notice the passage of the vehicle.

Is there a lesson there for us –if technology does hold the key to our future is it a better future?  Does the lesson of our noisy world suggest that perhaps not?  Maybe the future will be different but not an improvement/

Ps:  some people will appreciate the irony of me writing about a noisy world given my hobby of playing bagpipes 🙂

Art Deco Napier
D&S Pipe Band on parade at Napier’s Art Deco

That’s me, front left talking to the band.

Less Government In Our Lives?

“I want it both ways”.  That’s what many people in New Zealand seem to want.  We are constantly berated by some about getting Government out of their lives or business.  On the web site of one NZ political party is the comment “New Zealanders know best how to spend their own money, not the government”.  In the NZ Herald on Wed 26 Jan the headline reads “Business leaders support partial privatisation of state assets”.

At the last election New Zealanders voted the National party into power to govern based in part by promises of reducing taxes and that has been implemented but any gain has been offset by the increase in GST.

But as soon as something goes wrong we hear these very same people holding their hands out and expecting Government to come to the party.  While not decrying the enormous tragedy of the Christchurch earthquake, the first reaction of business has been to turn to government and ask for handouts, the very same business that wants lower taxes and less Government.

Excuse me – if you reduce taxes and cut back on government expenditure for the armed forces and you decrease the capacity of Government Departments like DoL or Civil Defense or agencies such as hospitals, how can you then expect them to respond adequately in the event of a disaster?

Government is facing huge bills from recent catastrophes – last year’s Canterbury earthquake, the leaky building situation, the Pike River tragedy, the bail out of financial institutions.  In addition the GFC (Global Financial Crisis) has seen a significant slump in tax revenue as the economy has contracted.  Now everyone expects the Government to step in and provide handouts for businesses that can’t operate in Christchurch and to support people with grants.

A simple example to illustrate the point I am making.  People in suburbs are complaining that after ten days they still haven’t got toilet facilities.  The city’s infrastructure has been severely damaged and a quick fix isn’t possible.  So the sight of thousands of portable chemical toilets being delivered is a relief (excuse the pun) for everyone.  But why aren’t there stock piled supplies of such essential items – toilets, tents, food, water etc at strategic places around the country?  Because we don’t want Government in our lives, we want to rely on private enterprise.  But private enterprise is never going to plan for an emergency.  Its never going to carry excess capacity for contingencies.  It can never supplant the work that Government does and must do as a back stop for our society.

Another example:  there’s been a push by some in Government to cut back the scope of fire fighter’s duties to focus solely on fire fighting.  Fortunately, senior people in the service have fought to keep the broader scope of the fire service and we’ve seen the result in recent days in Christchurch.  Superbly trained and committed fire fighters doing what private enterprise could never do.

“New Zealanders know best how to spend their own money, not the government”; Yeah right.  We can spend it on TVs or cars or lattes and don’t worry about tomorrow, Government will step in and pick up the remains of our lives when things go so terribly wrong.  When will we wake up?

Technology and Food

How will you cope if the supermarkets in your community are unable to open? What will you eat? An interesting question given that the people of Christchurch have been experiencing just that in recent days?

One thing I miss from my childhood is the easy access to fresh food that our family was fortunate to have. I was brought up on a small farm just outside Hastings where my parents grew crops for J Wattie Canneries. Peas, all sorts of beans, asparagus and tomatoes were staple crops along with peaches, sweet corn and potatoes. I enjoyed being able to pick vegetables and eat them fresh, nothing like what you now get in the shops. The tangy white juice from sweet corn eaten on the cob (raw) is never matched by the flavour of processed corn. Eating a tomato off the plant in the paddock is a treat and being able to pick and eat peas off the vine in the paddock is, well, probably what I miss most.

We’ve developed a society where we are so many steps away from our food that when disaster strikes we are not able to fend for ourselves. Vegetables and fruit in our local super markets is grown hundreds of kilometres away even though you can go down the road and see a farm that once grew these things now covered in grape vines. Tins of peaches and tomatoes on the shelves contain fruit grown in China or Spain or Australia, rarely these days in New Zealand and, I suspect, not here in Hawke’s Bay. Tinned apricots, once the hall mark of Central Otago, are now imported from overseas.

This food chain depends on technology in so many ways that when something happens to disrupt that technology chaos ensues and we are left struggling. The transport chain is now so extended that it is, in my view, fragile. I worry about current events in the Middle East and the potential impact they will have on oil supplies because they will translate into another oil shock and the resulting crisis for New Zealand will, in my view, be something we have never experienced before.

My frustration is that I don’t have a simple answer. The world isn’t simple anymore and while the idea of going somewhere remote and getting back to basics sounds appealing, it’s not a practical solution. Te Radar tried it but I can’t see myself coping anywhere nearly as well as he did in that situation.

From time to time I grow some veges in pots but I won’t survive long on what I produce

My Vege Garden

I think I’ll settle for checking the cans of food and bottles of water I’ve got stored in my emergency kit in the garage and continuing to hope that any disaster doesn’t last longer than my tolerance of baked beans and peaches.

Technology and Nature

The sight of boulders crashing onto a building and wreckage in the streets of Christchurch made me think about the human struggle with nature.  Despite all the technology, we (humankind) are powerless in the face of nature’s floods (Queensland), fires (Victoria) and earthquakes (Napier and Christchurch).  The devastation wrought by nature overcomes our reinforced steel and flood schemes and no amount of computers, eco-friendly houses or hybrid cars can stop what nature wants to do to our human constructions.

Despite that, technology does play a part in how we respond and cope.  Already social media are (should that be is?) helping people connect and cell phones are being used by people trapped in the  rubble to let rescuers know of their plight.  I heard an interview with a person managing rescuers on the ground in Christchruch from a control centre in Auckland.  He was able to direct resources from throughout the country to give maximum effect to the rescue effort his organisation was making.

News media are making use of You Tube footage posted very quickly after the event and one FaceBook site I’ve looked at has messages of support along with enquiries seeking information about family.

Of course with technology we run the risk of repetition.  Last night’s TV footage seemed to be a repeat of much footage and while this was helpful to people who might just be turning the TV on later in the evening, it did appear as though they were struggling to get new info.

In the aftermath of the quake everyone has to contend with the need to look after their own well being and that of their family/friends while at the same time having a commitment to their work and/or community.  Many have to lift themselves above their own concerns and contribute to the rescue effort and I take my hat off to all of them doing that, their commitment and hard work is a stirring example to us all of what commuinity is about.

So to all the people of Christchurch my heart felt prayers at this time.  May the basic human characteristic of love and concern for each other win through and may technology help you connect with those you care about.

Technology and Sport

Decisions made by judges (or the voting panel) in the Halberg Awards have created quite a controversy.  While the first objective of this post is not to comment on them but to talk about the use of technology in sport, no doubt I’ll get fired up to make some observations about how silly the awards make us look as a sporting nation.

We’ve seen the introduction of the third umpire in sports such as rugby and league but I note that soccer hasn’t embraced technology as yet.  Cricket is also a code troubled by how to make use of technology.  The problem for cricket of course is that calling the umpires capabilities into question by suggesting that they might not be right is not cricket so to speak.

Things like motor sport use technology for timing events and they use replays of video recordings to make judicial decisions.  Swimming has used technology to time events and uses underwater viewing facilities to observe strokes.  Lots of sports use technology in various ways to aid decision making and enhance fairer results.

But in some things technology cannot be used.  Some spports such as diving or skating can’t be judged by techology, the human factor assesses things like style and execution.  I think of the musical field where the judging of musical performances is a subjective thing.  The pitch and tone, the feeling, the interpreatation of a piece is all in the listener’s ear so technology as such can’t be the judge.

And so it is when it comes to sportsperson of the year.  Who is the best team or coach?  Are the criteria based on how much public interest and how many media columns are generated by a team?  Or should the criteria be the more objective results, the number medals, the number of wins, the number of competitions won?  And does it matter if a team is consistently well ranked; does that then make them ineligible in subsequent years?

A case in point must be Gordon Tietjens, coach of the very successful NZ Sevens Rugby Team.  After guiding them to their fourth consequtive Commonwealth gold medal in 2010 he was named NZ Rugby’s Coach of the Year.  When you look at his track record of bringing the best out of young rugby players and winning world series over many (is it nine?) years how can you go past him for coach of the year?  Yet surprisingly he’s never won that award.

What would happen if someone developed an app that took all the performances of teams and players and ranked them based on things like the event result as it ranks in world standings, quality of opposition, consistency of performance and so on.  Objective data rather than subjective feelings (hype?).  At present technology runs on objective data so it would cut out the emotive feel good that seems to have played a part in the Halberg Awards.  But then we are after all human and perhaps we need events like that one to remind us that we are fallible as humans, we are only as good as our knowledge and education and people skills and connectedness.

Bring on the Rugby World Cup.  If the All Blacks draw all their games their consolation will be in knowing that they stand a good chance of being named NZ Sports Team of the Year.