How to change the world

English: Riot police in Washington, D.C. takin...
English: Riot police in Washington, D.C. taking a lunch break at the Old Post Office during International Monetary Fund protests. Français : Des membres de la police anti-émeute font une pause-déjeuner à Washington durant des manifestations contre le Fonds monétaire international. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Why do people think that petitions and protests can change the world? Well, they can but only if many, many other factors also fall in line. I’m thinking here of the protests about Post Offices or Bank Branches that are shut down when the demand for the services falls away.

If demand is falling, then the branches will not be financial profitable, and the bank or Post Office will be very unlikely to keep them open. Banks and the Post Office and not charitable institutions and have to make a profit for their shareholders, and they would not be able to do that if the branches are unprofitable.

English: ANZ Bank branch in Temora, New South ...
English: ANZ Bank branch in Temora, New South Wales (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the same way cash strapped public services (such as the Police) are also being forced to close public offices. While the Police closures mentioned in the linked article cite the danger to the volunteers who man the offices, and the closures are supposed to be temporary, many people believe that the real reason is costs. In fact the Police management claim that using modern technology police of the street can be more mobile and do not need to use the offices so frequently.

Whatever the true reasons, protest and petitions are unlikely to have any effect. If changes are for operational or financial reasons, then unless the reasons change, the changes are very unlikely to be reversed. Any opposition is going to be ineffective.

English: Graph of profits made by BAIR company...
English: Graph of profits made by BAIR company from 1892 to 1903. The values are taken from page 131 of “The World Abir Made: The Margina-Lopori Basin, 1885-1903” by Robert Harms from Issue 12 of the Journal of African Economic History of 1983. The first two years are averages of a value given for a two year period. The black line represents a general trend described by Harms for years with no data. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sometimes a protest or petition can be effective, but that requires that a lot of things go the the way of the protesters. In this country the Mixed Member Proportional election system was selected in 1996 to be the method of electing Parliament.

There were two main factors that enabled the selection of MMP as the election system. Firstly, there was a feeling that a change needed to occur, as many people thought that with the then existing system a vote for a losing candidate was a wasted vote, and that minor parties were unable to make an impression on Parliament – frequently a minor party would get 10 to 15% of the vote, but would get maybe only one or two seats out of 100.

English: Election signs for the major parties ...
English: Election signs for the major parties plus a sign supporting the MMP side in the referendum in the constituency of Ottawa South. Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty is the Liberal candidate there. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the two previous elections, one party, Labour, had secured more than 50% of the vote, but had lost out to National, because they had won more seats. Naturally the Labour voters were incensed by this seeming injustice.

The second big factor was a small and vociferous group of people who felt that it was necessary to change and the system and who were able to use their political connections to influence media and political commentators to promote their favoured system, MMP. It also helped that they had no effective opposition, as the opposition was politically naive and unorganised.

Crowds outside the National Assembly, with sig...
Crowds outside the National Assembly, with signs calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Said Musa. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dubious tactics were alleged (and probably were used, on both sides), and well before it came to a vote in a referendum on the subject, it was almost a foregone conclusion. Actually the result was closer than many people predicted, though in retrospect that was probably just due to political inertia, and many people voted for the status quo of the time, rather than the new and untested alternative.

There were no real financial or operational reasons for not changing the voting system. If, say, it made it a lot more expensive to run an election, then the voting system would not have been changed, and if it made it a lot more complicated to vote (as did one of the competing systems, STV), then it would not have been changed.

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Similarly, if the proponents of the new system had been disorganised, disunited, or politically naive, then they would not have stood a chance. They would have failed at the first hurdle, which was getting a Royal Commission to look into the options set up.

As an example of how it can go wrong, fairly recently a referendum was held to decide if we were going to keep our existing flag or get a new one. There was no groundswell of dissatisfaction with the existing flag, except for the niggle that it kept getting mistaken for the Australia flag and vice versa.

English: Flag of New Zealand. Taken outside th...
English: Flag of New Zealand. Taken outside the Beehive, Wellington Deutsch: Flagge Neuseelands. Aufgenommen vor dem Beehive, Wellington. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There was no politically inspired organisation to push for a new flag and there was no obvious contender for a new flag. Therefore, there was no momentum going into the referendum for a change in the flag. So the referendum came down to firstly choosing between some mediocre choices for a replacement and then a fight off between the existing flag and the alternative.

An interesting point is that the “winning” alternative was not the one that got the most votes at the first count. As the selection was done on the STV system, as flags were removed from the list and the votes were reassigned, the second highest polling flag in the first round gained enough votes to overtake the highest polling flag.

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This demonstrates a deficiency of the STV system, though its supporters would claim that it was an advantage! In any case the alternative flag lost out to the existing flag by a fairly wide margin.

As an example of how to change the world, this debate and referendum was a dud. There was just not enough political nous on the side of those who would change the flag for it to become a reality. In addition, while the change was sponsored by the Prime Minister, it was not adopted by his party in a comprehensive way. It gave the impression that it was a pet project of the Prime Minister, and was not fully endorsed by his party.

So that is brief and by no means exhaustive look at how to change the world. It starts with a small number of dedicated and driven people and builds from there. It doesn’t matter if the ideas are actually good or bad, because if you can get the ball rolling, people will fight to sign up for the cause.

English: Thetford Post Office Centrally locate...
English: Thetford Post Office Centrally located dedicated Post Office at the top of King street. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you can’t build the support, well, then your aims and ideals will go nowhere. That’s why little protests about Post Offices and Bank Branches will never win. They can’t build the momentum.

Enormous snowball made in South Park in a snow...
Enormous snowball made in South Park in a snow-covered Oxford (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


A woman searches for inspiration, in this 1898...
A woman searches for inspiration, in this 1898 painting by William-Adolphe Bouguereau. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In Terry Pratchett’s series of Discworld books, one of the characters, Hwel, a dwarf, is a playwright, and writes plays which are obvious references to Shakespeare’s plays. Indeed some of the books themselves have themes based around Shakespeare’s plays.

Hwel is tormented by inspiration. He is a dwarf, and therefore by heredity a dour reclusive and unimaginative entity, but because of his mind is full of myriads of ideas, he is compelled to travel among humans and write his plays.

The witches (Jennifer Hunt, Suzanne Curtis, an...
The witches (Jennifer Hunt, Suzanne Curtis, and Sonja Lanzener) surround Macbeth (Remi Sandri) in this 2004 Alabama Shakespeare Festival production of the Shakespear masterpiece. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

These ideas sleet through the Discworld universe impinging on and inflaming his dwarf brain. Hwel is also tormented by vivid dreams, which he then struggles to put down on paper. He is always dissatisfied with the result and is constantly revising and rewriting his plays.

Hwel is an excellent example of an inspired individual. His character is obviously a reference to Shakespeare, and many of his traits, such as his dissatisfaction with his inability to capture his ideas and concepts on paper, are traits found in many inspired individuals.

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Pratchett leaves the question of the source inspiration open. As above, they sleet through the Discworld universe impinging on the brains of all, especially those like Hwel, like neutrinos sleet through the material universe, only rarely interacting with other matter.

Everyone has ideas. Inspiration is a sort of high grade idea that has the wow factor and it is likely that simple ideas and inspiration have the same source. It is also obvious that ideas and inspiration actually spring from inside us, from inside our minds.

Inspiration (sculpture)
Inspiration (sculpture) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There is probably not a particular part of the brain where ideas arise and inspiration is found, though some brain injuries result in people being unable to act voluntarily, these people however responding to instruction. (Caveat emptor: I’ve not been able to find an example of this on Google)

Inspiration seems to happen more frequently when a person is forced or required to look at a problem or issue from a different point of view, or when novel ideas are considered in conjunction with one another.

Think outside the box
Think outside the box (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As I sit here, wondering what I should type next, I am looking for inspiration to come to me. In my mind I consider a number of possibilities, which run through my mind one after another, quite quickly. Some seem to be more attractive than others and the rejects seem to fade or drop back into the background.

So, it turns out that I decided to write about what goes on in my head when I get an idea. I can only assume that similar happens to others when the undertake a similar activity like writing a blog, or a novel, or even a letter to a friend.

Thoughts in the Night, Dreams During the Day
Thoughts in the Night, Dreams During the Day (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Often, I find, one idea leads clearly and obviously to another. I write one sentence and soon find I’ve written a paragraph or two, and then I pause for thought and the process repeats. Eventually I end up with the full completed letter or blog post or whatever.

Inspiration is thinking outside the box. Terry Pratchett once said “I’ll be more enthusiastic about encouraging thinking outside the box when there’s evidence of any thinking going on inside it”. That’s true indeed, but the point of the “thinking outside the box” idea is to encourage people to discard conventional thinking and think in an unconventional manner. That’s easier said than done.

Schroedinger's Cat
Schroedinger’s Cat (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One way is to take conventional thinking and analyse it into facets or factors, and discard or reverse one of them. In a scientific but probabilistic setting, such as that of Schroedinger’s cat thought experiment, conventional thinking is that the cat must be either alive or dead. Thinking outside the box leads many people to consider that the cat is both alive and dead.

Some people seem to have success in deriving inspiration from a mind map or even a list of words. Some people have been known to use drugs or meditation to aid inspiration. It seems that the human mind is conservative and conventional in the most part, and that inspiration, when it doesn’t come freely, can be aided by persuading it to be more adventurous.

example mind map with Mapul
example mind map with Mapul (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Meditation and mind maps or whatever tool is used to free the mind for inspirational thinking may be necessary in some cases, but in many others inspiration comes without the need for such things. Some people, like the dwarf Hwel above can’t help being inspired and this, as in Hwel’s case, is not necessarily a comfortable feeling.

Inspiration come in small chunks, such as the decision to drop all plans and do something different from usual or huge blocks, such as Hwel’s and Shakespeare’s plays. As I said above, it does some to vary from person to person, and possibly from time to time. For instance, if I’ve done the same thing 20 to 30 times recently, I may be inspired to do something different, for a change.

weather symbol
weather symbol (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you search on Google for “inspirational” you will find that many of the search results are for “inspirational quotes”. Most of these are in fact trite homilies, intended to list the spirits of those who need it, exhortations to remember and to treat friends and families well, and similar.

They are not inspirational in the sense that I have been using the word above. Nevertheless, the sheer number of such quotes appears to indicate that some people feel the need to post them in the hope that they will help others. Whether or not they actually help others is something that it would be hard to gauge. I sometimes wonder if only the people creating and posting these posts get any benefit from them.

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Some people are inspirational in that they persuade people to do things that they would otherwise not do. This could be good (Mahatma Gandhi) or bad (Adolf Hitler). A truly inspirational leader can change the world.

Inspirational leaders can be bad because their rhetoric and behaviours can override the sensibilities and consciences of their followers, which is particularly true of Hitler. Even the followers of good leaders can do evil at times, instituting pograms and wars against followers of other religions.

English: journey of people's crusade
English: journey of people’s crusade (Photo credit: Wikipedia)



English: Traffic Jam in Delhi Français : Un em...
English: Traffic Jam in Delhi Français : Un embouteillage à Delhi (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In Australia there have been traffic jams up to 28 kilometres long. In New Zealand the end of the holiday period is likely to create “traffic hell“. Meanwhile, those of us who have stayed at home, have found the roads to be eerily empty.

Why do people rush away at Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere? Of course, it is our summer, and getting away from home for a few days is always attractive, but it is evident that if thousands of people try to travel the same roads at the same time there will be congestion.

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I call those who join the exodus and arrival progressions lemmings. This is of course unfair to both the furry creatures and to the humans. Lemmings don’t really commit mass suicide, and the humans, in many cases, don’t have a lot of choice of travel time.

In the Garfield cartoon, Garfield meets a mouse who is half lemming. Garfield asks the mouse what a lemming is. The mouse replies “A gerbil with suicidal tendencies”. (This cartoon may be online, but I’ve been unable to find it. The Garfield strip for my birthday is quite funny, though.)

In our bigger cities, there will always be traffic problems, because of the sheer number of people that need access to the CBDs and who have to come, in the main from dormitory suburbs. If the roads were sufficient to carry all the traffic it is likely that there would be little room for the CBD itself.

The land of the automobile, the USA, has probably reached the best compromise between the needs of the car and the needs of those who live and work in the centres of cities. Special roads carry cars from the outskirts to the centres of the cities where special buildings have been built to house the cars during the day while the owners are working and shopping. Other special roads take traffic past the city centres and on to other cities. Other countries have copied or extended this model.

Nighttime view of Downtown Los Angeles and the...
Nighttime view of Downtown Los Angeles and the Hollywood Freeway, USA. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Humans often don’t have much choice of when they travel, given that they have to work and working days around holidays are pretty much fixed. Some places even shut down on certain days to avoid having to staff offices when few people will be around.

In the Southern Hemisphere Christmas falls in summer, so the natural desire is to go away from home at this time of the year, on a holiday or, as they say in the USA, on a vacation. So it is unfair, really, to call them lemmings. They don’t have a lot of choice.

English: Bank Holiday Monday traffic approachi...
English: Bank Holiday Monday traffic approaching Horncastle This queue stretched from the town centre beyond the speed limit signs. Oh joy! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The lemmings are unfairly tagged with the appellation of suicidal maniacs. The story goes that periodically the lemmings migrate usually as the result of population pressures. Geographical features have changed over the millennia and consequently the lemmings fall over cliffs (which didn’t feature in the ancestral environment) or drown in rivers and fjords which have widened since their ancestors swam them.

Illustration of swan-necked flask experiment u...
Illustration of swan-necked flask experiment used by Louis Pasteur to test the hypothesis of spontaneous generation. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

These theories were used to “explain” why numbers of lemmings are found dead at some times and dead lemmings are rare at other times. The Wikipedia article on the animals has some interesting theories on issue, such as the spontaneous generation of the animals in mid air resulting in their demise on hitting the ground.

While we may laugh at these theories, we must remember that in 1530s science was nowhere nearly as sophisticated as today. In 500 years time, it may be that our scientific knowledge may look just as silly.

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I believe that people don’t have to all travel at the same time. Sure the dates are constrained and working requirements also constrain the dates that people can travel, but usually there is some leeway. People could travel a day earlier or a day later. Most employers are more than happy to accommodate such slight variations. If it is impossible for an employee to vary travel dates then a change of travel times would do the trick.

Frequently the call is for the roads to be widened or, as the euphemism has it, improved. This solution may well work in a country like the USA which has a large population which is concentrated in cities with little population in between, but is problematic in smaller countries. In New Zealand, not only are the main centres much smaller, but the population is a lot more dispersed than in the USA.

English: Traffic problems are not new.. Did bo...
English: Traffic problems are not new.. Did both sides have separate car parks? Did Proud Edward go home to think again about the terrible state of London’s traffic congestion. Outside the car/lorry park. A reenactment? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When these factors are considered, it may not make sense to continue to continue to build wider highways in smaller countries. A six lane highway that may be heavily used four times a year doesn’t make economic sense. A four lane highway that is heavily used much of the time does make sense.

English: View of Moscow's MKAD / highway ring ...
English: View of Moscow’s MKAD / highway ring Deutsch: Blick auf den Moskauer Autobahnring MKAD (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I frequently hear people call for “improvement” of roads that I regularly travel with few hold ups and issues. This is because I travel at times which are called “off peak”. People travel to work at the same times every day, and consequently you can travel easily in the opposite direction to the majority and wonder if they could not slightly change their schedules to avoid the hold ups, and indeed some people do do so.

English: Tilehurst Road This is normally chock...
English: Tilehurst Road This is normally chocker with traffic in the morning peak period. After a night of steady snow, on the Friday before Christmas, many people had decided to stay at home. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some people travel in to work very early (and leave early too, of course). Some people “work from home”. This latter can be a euphemism for goofing off of course, but most people who work from home treat this option seriously and with the state that the art of technology has reached, people can usefully contribute from home.

There is an example of the pitfalls of merely “improving” roads near where I live. When I came to this city I recall sitting in traffic on a four lane (two each way) highway into the centre of the city. Subsequently a motorway was built into the city and the four lane highway is relatively lightly used. (The road I refer to is on the left of this picture).

On the right State Highway 1 (SH1) Wellington ...
On the right State Highway 1 (SH1) Wellington motorway, and in the centre the North Island Main Trunk (NIMT) rail lines heading for Porirua and the Wairarapa Line rail lines heading for the Hutt Valley : from left Wairarapa up, NIMT up, NIMT down, Wairarapa down. Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Obviously in this case the motorway was not considered at the time that the four lane highway was built, but it does demonstrate that often the most obvious solution can often be less than efficient over the longer term.

English: Road Works on the A43. The road is re...
English: Road Works on the A43. The road is reduced to one lane for a section and the temporary traffic light has turned red (seen in the distance). Traffic is beginning to emerge from the other direction. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Politics is a funny game.

Photo of the "Beehive", Parliament B...
Photo of the “Beehive”, Parliament Buildings, Wellington, New Zealand. The flags are at half-mast to mark the death of en:Pope John Paul II on 2 April 2005 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A very funny game. You go into it as a winner, and unless you die or quit while on top, you go out as a loser. Very often a politician will resign or declare that he/she won’t stand when it is pretty likely that he/she will not achieve re-election. If he/she should rise to become leader of the party, then he/she has the additional responsibility of winning or losing an election.

If the party fails to win, it is relatively rare that leader lasts long as leader, as there are always aspiring leaders waiting in the wings. Very often the loss of an election triggers a reshuffle that sees the leader and his closest associates losing control of the party. If the leader survives the reshuffle, he/she may fill the role of “elder statesman”.

A political map of the world with each nation ...
A political map of the world with each nation coloured to signify which side of the political spectrum each nations ruling party is of. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Politics in New Zealand is going through a time of turmoil. With an election scheduled for next month the ruling party has come under intense pressure from a political commentator who has acquired some emails between high level members of the party and a blogger aligned with the party.


English: Groucho Marx & anonymous blogging
English: Groucho Marx & anonymous blogging (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This issue has already caused the resignation of a minister of the ruling party, but in my opinion, this close to the election this doesn’t mean a huge amount. It does dent the aspirations of the minister in question. (A minister is the person responsible for a Ministry, which might correspond to a Department in some political systems. It’s a large self-contained portion of the public or civil service).

English: John Key, leader of the New Zealand N...
English: John Key, leader of the New Zealand National Party Македонски: Џон Ки, лидер на Новозеландската национална партија. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In previous elections, the communication between the politicians and the public was through the “media”, newspapers, TV and so on. In this election, bloggers have come to the fore, and the standards, either imposed from outside or adopted within the media business, no longer apply. Although there have always been some underhand dealings, since some media reporters will be aligned with one party rather than the other, it appears as the result of the rise of blogging as a political force, that skullduggery will be paramount in this election.

Skullduggery (board game)
Skullduggery (board game) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Briefly, a left wing commentator has received copies of email communications between high level members of the government and a right wing blogger. The left wing commentator has added two and two and got…. well, let’s say four and a half. He’s written it up into a book, which has sold, as I understand it, pretty well for a self-published book.

Brunswick is a stronghold of left-wing politic...
Brunswick is a stronghold of left-wing politics; this building’s architecture is typical of the suburb (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve got part way through the book and what has amazed me, more than the actual information contained in the emails, is the tone of the communications. To say that they were vicious in their attacks on the opposition would be an understatement. This is shocking in communications between ministers of the Crown and a supposedly independent blogger.

Also the book states that the usual time scales for the supply of information to interested parties, media or public, were altered for the right wing blogger. In other words not only was he pre-warned that he should request information from the ministry, but the supply of information to him was, apparently, expedited again by the ministry so that he got it first.


English: Former Conservative Club
English: Former Conservative Club (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Whatever the shenanigans surrounding the content of the emails, it is evident that the emails were obtained by hacking. This is stated by the mainstream media without qualification as if that explains everything, but really, it doesn’t. So far as I know, it has not been reported how the hacking was done. It may not even have been hacking in the technical sense – some “mole” may have simply forwarded the emails.

English: Andy
English: Andy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If the emails were obtained by hacking, this raises an ethical dilemma for the political commentator in question. Hacking is illegal and the emails can be considered to have been “stolen”, although it is difficult to see how electronic information can be stolen, since it is not comprised of physical things, and the original owner still has his own copy of the emails.

English: (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

However that is merely a matter of definition and the concept of stealing appears to morphing to include such illegal access to information. The usage has been around for a long, long time as evidenced by the concept of the theft of someone’s ideas and the concept of “intellectual property”.

English: Supporters of opposition party candid...
English: Supporters of opposition party candidate Kumba Ialá run beside his motorcade as he enters Guinea-Bissau’s capital on the final day of campaigning, 26 Jun 2009 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Anyway, the political commentator has in his possession stolen information. He looks at it and discovers that it can be used as evidence that the right wing blogger and others have been organising attacks on the opposition political party, and sometimes on unfavoured members of the right wing party. Should he use this stolen information to inflict damage on the right wing party or is it more ethical to ignore it? He chose to use it.

There is also a section where the right wing blogger and his associates appear to have engineering a coup in a minor political party, an ally of the right wing.

English: New Zealand National Party Cabinet mi...
English: New Zealand National Party Cabinet minister Judith Collins, at the National War Memorial – Wellington – 15 Sep 2010 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

More damaging than any other are the revelations that senior members of the ruling right wing party have been involved in and even encouraged these activities.

As I said above, the left wing political commentator now has a dilemma. If he publishes, then he is making public emails that the right wing blogger will have wanted to keep secret for obvious reasons. Among the information about the political goings on was personal information and correspondence of the right wing blogger. This he kept secret.

An Eagle bone whistle, a sacred instrument use...
An Eagle bone whistle, a sacred instrument used in the ceremonial practices of many Native American religions. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There is a place for whistle-blowers in society, to alert the wider population of misconduct and illegal activities carried out by people or organisations, but such whistle-blowers are usually insiders, people who work for the organisation, rather than outsiders, who infiltrate or otherwise spy on organisations or people.

English: This image was taken at the Europa Le...
English: This image was taken at the Europa Lecture 2008, University of Aukland, and is owned by the European Union Centres Network. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The political commentator has to decide whether he should publish the damaging content of the emails or should he just destroy the copy that he has been sent? If he doesn’t publish then the right wing blogger and his associates can continue to perform their allegedly dubious activities. On the other hand, if the political commentator publishes the contents of the emails, it could be argued that he is behaving unethically.

The Whale-oil Factory on Jan Mayen Island.
The Whale-oil Factory on Jan Mayen Island. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It comes down to the conscience of the political commentator. Evidently he has decided that it is in the public interest that the contents of the email be brought into the open and that this outweighs the ethical considerations of receiving the stolen emails. He has decided to publish his book for the public good, and has chosen to publish shortly before the election for maximum impact.

The Kiwiblog Kiwi
The Kiwiblog Kiwi (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Opponents of his point out that by publishing before the election he is not only bringing the mess to light, but he is also assisting the the left wing parties, not to mention making money on the book. It’s worth considering whether these opponents would behave any differently if the situation were reversed.

English: New Zealand Parliament Buildings, Wel...
English: New Zealand Parliament Buildings, Wellington, NZ. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

[Sorry for the excursion into our local politics. Normal service should be resumed next week!]

Sporting Times

Sport in childhood. Association football, show...
Sport in childhood. Association football, shown above, is a team sport which also provides opportunities to nurture social interaction skills. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We as a race spend a lot of time on what is loosely called ‘sport’. From the ad hoc beach cricket and ‘touch’, through the more organised school age sports, through the grade sports all the way up through the local and national representative sports, both individual and team.

The individual and team sports pull in a huge number of supporters, officials, organisers and so on, so it is rare individual who has not been in some trivial or profound way involved in sports at one time or another.

Strongmen event: the Log Lift & a referee (bac...
Strongmen event: the Log Lift & a referee (backwards). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sport is obviously of great importance to the human race. I don’t know of any animal that indulges in activities that could be called sports. Of course, males of many species battle other males for dominance and control over females or territory, and their young do seem to practise for these battles, but there is no sense in which these battles are fought for pleasure. They are too serious for that!

Great Battle
Great Battle (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The roots of sport can be found in interpersonal contests of course, like arm wrestling to see who is the strongest, or quizzes to see who has the best memory and so on, but human contests don’t usually have the serious implication of battles between animals of other species. Very often they can be cooperative contests as training exercises so that the group as a whole can perform better.

Two young men arm wrestling
Two young men arm wrestling (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This would be very useful indeed to hunters, who as a group would be benefit from the increased accuracy with the spear or the bolos, or even the simple thrown stone.

The technology would also have benefitted from such practice contests. Each contestant would have seen how his fellow contestants had improved the technology. That’s no doubt how the woomera or atlatl came to be invented, in a contest before the hunt.

Mokare with spear and woomera, another woomera...
Mokare with spear and woomera, another woomera lies at his feet. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sport can also serve as a way of defusing or sublimating a dispute between rival groups. The tests of skill replaced an actual contest, and rules of procedure were imposed on the contest, so that, mostly, no one actually got killed.

The smallest group of humans is probably the family, which has a flexible definition. It could be as few as two people or as many as twenty. The concept of the nuclear family, mum, dad, kids is fairly new, inspired by cheap or affordable housing, and the ubiquity of affordable transport.

English: Indian family in Brazil posed in fron...
English: Indian family in Brazil posed in front of hut – 3 bare-breasted females, baby and man with bow and arrows. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Anyway, whatever the size the family team ‘competes’ usually in a more or less friendly fashion with neighbours. However neighbourhood families ally themselves in competition with other neighbourhoods to form villages, suburbs, cities and so on up to countries. Only at the highest level is there no global group, though the United Nations aspires to that title.

United Nations - New York
United Nations – New York (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sports give humans the chance to compete, and they seem to enjoy it. How else can one explain the rise of sports like snooker, card games, and contests which don’t rate the name of sport, such as beauty contests? Is car racing a sport? Obviously some people are better at these marginal sports, so is the contest the key? It seems so.

When there is no one else around humans will compete against themselves or against chance. Solitaire, a card or peg game for a single person is popular and automatically installed on most computers. It is used in cartoons to characterise a lazy or disinterested employee.

The initial layout in the solitaire game of Golf.
The initial layout in the solitaire game of Golf. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Often a person may not be particularly proficient at a sport but may still enjoy it. They may enjoy it particularly at one or two removes, as spectators.  Spectators may identify strongly with the sports person or team in which they are interested. If they come across supporters of some other person or team, they may interact adversely with them, even to the point of fighting with them.

English: Angelic Supporter used in Heraldry
English: Angelic Supporter used in Heraldry (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Parents are notoriously partisan supporters, yelling support from the sideline to their offspring, often I suspect to the embarrassment of their children. Parents also tend to overestimate the abilities of their kids and tend to push them more than they should. Sport for kids should be fun, but pushing them too hard can spoil their enjoyment of sport, which is a shame.

English: Wildman Supporter used in Heraldry
English: Wildman Supporter used in Heraldry (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Those who continue to enjoy their sport and become good at it can become heroes to a large number of fans. The All Blacks are almost revered in New Zealand and the national team who play the national sport can not only receive adulation but can also be paid a lot of money.

Of course if the national team fails that can lead to a sense of devastation for their followers. Failure can be losing to another team or simply not winning. Recently the New Zealand All Blacks drew with the Australian team and it was almost as if they had lost! Fortunately the All Blacks won well the next weekend, otherwise the country might have sunk into depression.

All Blacks v Wallabies
All Blacks v Wallabies (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sports stars in the most part realise that they are representatives, but the stresses on top sports people is tremendous. The All Blacks are a good example of this. One or two of the top echelon of the rugby players in New Zealand have not succeeded in withstanding that pressure and have had issues with alcohol and violence. In a lot of ways it is unfair to expect exemplary behaviour and expertise at the top level of the sport.

Nevertheless, a surprising number of top sports people do appear to be genuinely nice people. These days, the team captain, winner and loser, has a microphone stuffed under his or her nose and is expected to give an instant analysis of the game, and to their credit most appear to come up with something intelligent about the game, congratulating their opponents, win or lose.

English: interview
English: interview (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Interestingly, after the drawn game I mentioned above, both teams were disappointed, but for slightly different reasons. The All Blacks were expected to win, and were expecting to achieve a record number of wins, and their disappointment at not winning was obvious. There was a sense of let down. The Australians, however, obviously believed that they had missed a great chance to beat the All Blacks.

Shows All Black haka before a match against Fr...
Shows All Black haka before a match against France, 18 November 2006. The All Blacks won the match 23-11. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Grand kids

English: A typical Deutsche Bahn railway stati...
English: A typical Deutsche Bahn railway station clock (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This post may be a little late this week, as we took the grand kids to a local “wildlife park”. Which leads me not so subtly into the topic of the week.

Peacock sitting on grass. Photo taken in Stagl...
Peacock sitting on grass. Photo taken in Staglands Wildlife Reserve, New Zealand. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As kids we used to go to Granny and Grandpa’s house quite frequently. I recall sleeping over at one time, and in later years my sister lived with my Granny. I recall it being fun, but that was mostly because we could poke around in their house and garden. They had a long garden with a goldfish pond, a few apple trees, a garden and a large wooden shed.

Guinea Fowl at Staglands
Guinea Fowl at Staglands

What I don’t remember is being taken out to “wildlife parks” or similar by my grand parents. In fact, I don’t remember going out with my grand parents anywhere. I’m pretty sure that we must have gone out with them, but it must have been rare and we probably only walked around the block or something.

We did use to have big family parties and I do remember my Granny being at my Uncles and Aunties’ houses during family parties. My Grandpa died fairly young so I don’t remember him at them.

Part of the park.
Part of the park.

It’s different with our grand kids. I don’t know if it is because we are much more active than my grand parents were or because we are able to drive them to places. Neither of my grand parents drove that I can remember.

In contrast we fairly often drive our grand kids on trips to various places, sometimes in conjunction with their parents, sometimes without.

Kaz, Tim, Louise, Hamish, Duncan
Kaz, Tim, Louise, Hamish, Duncan

On Sunday, their uncle (my son) and his wife decided to take my grand kids to a local “wildlife park”, called Staglands. I went along and so did my daughter, their mother. Staglands is a fair way out of town, in a beautiful picturesque valley. My daughter drove the kids there, and I drove my son and daughter-in-law.

The sole survivor of presumably a brood of ducklings.
The sole survivor of presumably a brood of ducklings.

We didn’t stop to take photos of the valley on the way there, as we travelled independently and didn’t want to keep them waiting. As it turned out, we got there first. The road is a secondary route between a major north-south valley (the Hutt Valley) and the  Coast Road.

Tracey's Cave
Tracey’s Cave

It is a fairly quiet road, most of the time, so is a favourite road for serious cyclists, the ones with lycra suits who are not afraid of some fairly serious hills. I’ve no problem with them, but they did make it difficult on the narrow road at times.

Toasting Marshmallows with Hamish
Toasting Marshmallows with Hamish

Staglands is 17km up this road, so that part of the trip took a while, but we got there and parked, waiting for my daughter and the grand kids. They all hopped out the car and admired the guinea fowl and peacocks which roamed the car park.

A handsome Kune Kune
A handsome Kune Kune

I was informed that the brown peacocks were the female ones then we paid the entry fees and went in. The path bypassed the café and wound down to a couple of small lakes, with the usual wildfowl, mainly ducks, including one small survivor of a presumably larger brood.

Sparrow on Top
Sparrow on Top

On the way it passed a small cul-de-sac with a “cave”, Tracey’s Cave, with a constant splash into a pool of water which created interesting ripples.

Kea, too busy tending the plumage to chat.
Kea, too busy tending the plumage to chat.

We then followed the main path up to a barn where there was a fire burning in a barrel. Did I forget to mention that we bought small packets of marshmallows and sticks at the gatehouse? Ooops. Great fun was had toasting the marshmallows, something that I’ve never seen the point of, until now.

Trout pool
Trout pool

Just down from the barn was a small paddock with a number of Kune Kune pigs. These are fairly small, hairy pigs. Kune Kune are friendly and docile animals although I would not like to be in the paddock with them. The kids, Hamish, Duncan and Louise, loved feeding them out of the small packets of feed that we bought at the gatehouse.

Tim, Hamish, Duncan, Louise and Kaz, with parakeet
Tim, Hamish, Duncan, Louise and Kaz, with parakeet

A walk-in aviary was next, which contained Kea. These are a large alpine parrot, which in the wild are attracted to people and  their cars. Naturally people stop to see them and the Kea respond with thievery and destruction. They pinch sandwiches and pull the rubber bits from cars.

Hamish on the Swing Bridge
Hamish on the Swing Bridge

The Kea in the aviary were less exuberant than that preferring to preen out of reach, but other birds, small parrots, were friendlier and would sit on one’s hand. A passing sparrow stopped by overhead on the chicken wire roof.

Duncan on the Bridge
Duncan on the Bridge

The stables contained horse, donkeys and small lambs and goats, all of which got a ration out of the small bags of feed. It almost seemed that these larger animals were taking the small portions simply to be friendly.

Louise at the Bridge
Louise at the Bridge

Next was a larger aviary, planted with toe toe, a large tussocky grass with plumed flower heads, much like “Pampas grass” which is well known in some other countries. Small birds, such as finches, cockatoos and budgerigars live in this aviary.

Facade with creepers
Facade with creepers

The kids all love the “swing bridge” which connects one half of the park with the half on the other side of the stream. The first area is a mock recreation of small settlement from around the 1900s, which has been used as a set for films. Up from there is a large pond with a walkway, with on one side, a wooden railway with a push cart, usually a hit with kids, but for some reason unused today. Though I did push Duncan along in it.

The inevitable scars of forestry, which should quickly heal.
The inevitable scars of forestry, which should quickly heal.

After the pond was a large open paddock with deer, sheep and goats. A notice on the gate mentioned that the animals in the paddock could be “quite pushy”. A quick scramble and Hamish, Duncan and I had a glorious view of the valley, only slightly spoiled by a large logged area on the opposite side of the valley.

Hamish with sausage rolls
Hamish with sausage rolls

Then it was back down to the gatehouse and the café for re-fuelling. Hamish managed a couple of large sausage rolls (a mistake – I got the order wrong, it should have only one!) and was still hungry. Duncan went for a more sophisticated hot dogs and chips, while Louise claimed to be satisfied with an ice-cream though she did help herself to he mother’s chips. Tim (my son) and Kaz (his wife) both had nachos. I had a bacon and egg panini.

Duncan rides the stagecoach
Duncan rides the stagecoach

Staglands is a great place for that sort of trip and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. It is great to be able to spend time with the grand kids, and it a shame that, for whatever reason, we didn’t get to do similar with our grand parents.

Louise and Duncan on the stagecoach
Louise and Duncan on the stagecoach


English: yellow traffic light Español: señal d...
English: yellow traffic light Español: señal de tráfico amarilla Deutsch: gelbes Verkehrszeichen Français : feux de signalisation jaunes Italiano: segnale stradale giallo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I believe that some firm or other once tried to patent the colour yellow, but I’ve not be able to track this down so far. Although this sounds silly, I believe that the firm extensively used the colour yellow in all its adverts and publicity material and believe that people identified the firm’s adverts by the blocks of yellow colour used in the adverts and that a competitor could take advantage of this by using adverts with similar blocks of yellow. One can see where the firm was coming from, of course, but thankfully the attempt failed I believe.

Yellow is, in the societies that I have lived in anyway, associated with sun, well-being, summer and generally good and beneficial things. In subtractive combinations of colours, yellow, along with magenta and cyan are the primary colours. Many computer printers use these three colour. When I was researching this post I found that computer screens use additive combinations and the primary colours are red, green and blue. (“Research” is a fancy name I use for Googling for something – I usually end up at Wikipedia, so ‘caveat emptor‘!) Apparently the reason that there are three primary colours is that the human eye contains three types of cone cells, and each type is most sensitive to one of the ‘primary colours’.

English: Three doors in Wilmington Square Thre...
English: Three doors in Wilmington Square Three adjacent doors in the primary colours in one corner of the square. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some animals have four types of cone cells and thus would see four primary colours. According to the Wikipedia article on the subject some human females may have four types of cone cells. Most placental mammals seem to have only two types of cone cells so can only distinguish two primary colours. As Wikipedia says, it would be wrong to suggest therefore the world ‘looks tinted’ to them. It would look normal to them.

I said above that the colour yellow is generally associated with positive things, like summer, warmth and other things. It is however also associated with cowardice, but I haven’t really been able to find out why. This Yahoo Answer is inconclusive, for example. The best answers, in my opinion, relate it to the ‘yellow bile’, one of the four fluids that were assumed to circulate around the human body. It was assumed that one character was determined by the balance of these four ‘humours’.

English: An un-official 80cm FITA archery targ...
English: An un-official 80cm FITA archery target Italiano: un bersaglio FITA non ufficiale da 80cm per il tiro con l’arco (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hmm, what else about yellow? The centre of an archery target is yellow, although it is often referred to as ‘gold’ for some reason. Interestingly, in the obviously related sport of darts the centre ring is red or black. Rifle shooting, which also uses a target of concentric circles, uses only black and white, with the circles quartered and the inner circles all coloured black, the outer ones being white.

Yellow flags flown on a ship used to indicate that the vessel had a contagious disease on board. A plain yellow flag stands for the letter ‘Q’ in semaphore core and the speculation is that this was used because it was the initial letter for the word ‘quarantine’. The Wikipedia articles says that these days the plain yellow flag is used to indicate that a vessel is free of contagious disease and requests boarding for customs inspection. I had not heard of that change of meaning, but then again, I’ve not had need to raise a yellow flag! The current flag used to indicate contagious is a quartered yellow and black flag which stands for the letter ‘L’ in semaphore code.

Edited version of Image:Color_icon_blue.svg.
Edited version of Image:Color_icon_blue.svg. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In many cases yellow is used to indicate warnings as in ‘yellow alert’. A yellow alert is usually one level below a red alert which is usually the top level of seriousness.  Generally a yellow alert means ‘avoid, take care, and be alert’. The GeoNet site currently shows a yellow alert level for the volcano called ‘White Island’ which is around 50k from the coast of New Zealand. The volcanoes on the mainland are currently quiet. Incidentally if you look closely at the Crater Floor image at the bottom right you will see Dino the Dinosaur quietly monitoring the volcano as he has done for several years.

Warning sign.
Warning sign. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Animals are often referred to as ‘yellow’ although it might be more accurate to describe them as ‘light brown’. Some birds, however, are definitely yellow and domestic canaries have given their name to the colour ‘Canary Yellow’. The Yellowhammer, introduced into New Zealand from Britain is a handsome bird with a yellow head breast and belly, marked with black, and with a yellowish brown back. They can form quite large flocks and are probably more numerous in New Zealand than they are back in Britain (as are many European species). The American Yellow Warbler is also a fine yellow plumaged bird.

A Yellowhammer on North Island, New Zealand.
A Yellowhammer on North Island, New Zealand. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are some yellow animals and someone has made a collection on this web page. Most appear to be cold blooded or insects, but there are a few ‘yellow’ mammals. The mammals don’t look particularly yellow actually, but the snakes, spiders and crabs certainly are. Some albino animals (eg ferrets) tend to look distinctly yellow at times.

English: Tree with yellow leaves in autumn
English: Tree with yellow leaves in autumn (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In autumn (fall) leaves on some trees go yellow, while species have leaves that turn red. This is because the chlorophyll which is green is lost in the autumn as the trees prepare for winter. Many flowers, like the buttercup, have yellow flowers and domestic plants like the tulip or the rose have been bred to have yellow blossoms too. Daisies also have yellow centres and I’ve seen speculation that yellow plants are the colour that they are because the pollinating insects are sensitive to that colour, which makes sense, but I’m not sure if that is the whole story, since I believe that most insects’ eyes are most sensitive to ultraviolet. The pollen that the insects inadvertently transfer from flower to flower is often yellow.

English: Daisy (Bellis perennis), Wellington, ...
English: Daisy (Bellis perennis), Wellington, New Zealand (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Finally to end this ramble through the colour yellow, I’ll just mention that the inanimate world also has yellow chemicals. The element sulphur is the obvious one, though some Chromates, some Iron compounds, and lead iodide are examples of yellow compounds. In addition chemists (and almost any schoolboy) who have put sodium compounds into a flame will be familiar with the deep yellow colouration of the flame that results. It’s often the first step in the analysis of a compound.

Sulfur (Photo credit: d4vidbruce)

America’s Cup revisited

The Emirates Team New Zealand yacht passing Dr...
The Emirates Team New Zealand yacht passing Drake’s Island, at the start of their run during the America’s Cup AC500 speed trial on 2011-09-11 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I started thinking about this week’s posting and had settled on writing about the role that supporters play in the context of sports when I suddenly realised that I’d written about this subject before. After pondering for a bit, I decided to write instead about the Americas Cup, which I have also written about earlier. For those who don’t know, this yacht competition, sailed in the thrilling AC72 yachts, was won 9-8 by Oracle Team USA, who made an amazing comeback from 8-1 down.

I think that it is fair to say that New Zealanders expected their team to win from 8-1 in the lead as they only needed to win one race to win the regatta and the cup. It is also fair to say that almost everyone in the country both knew about and supported Emirates Team New Zealand, to the extent that the whole country almost came to a standstill at 8am which is when the racing started, New Zealand time. I can definitely state that the traffic on the motorway as I drove to work at 8am was much lighter than usual. Many people in Auckland decided to make their way to Shed 10 on the waterfront where the matches were shown on giant TV screens.

Go @EmiratesTeamNZ. #americascup
Go @EmiratesTeamNZ. #americascup (Photo credit: KLIM ANDREEV)

When the score was 8-1 the supporters were ecstatic, expecting a quick finish to the regatta, but as the Oracle Team USA yacht continued to win, the feelings changed first to worry then to despair, however I don’t think that many if any failed to hang on until the bitter end.

Emirates Team New Zealand
Emirates Team New Zealand racing


Contrast this to the situation in the US where most people didn’t even know that there was a yacht race on!

There is no doubt that Oracle Team New Zealand appreciated the support from the supporters in New Zealand and for that matter in the US, and acknowledged the continuing support in defeat. They would have also felt that they were representing New Zealand and would have felt a huge responsibility as a result. The looks on the faces of the team members after the final race would have reflected their own personal disappointment and the disappointment for having let their supporters down.

Watching the racing
Watching the racing

Explanations for the extraordinary comeback by Oracle Team USA are naturally speculative. It is probably down to a number of factors, but was likely to stem firstly from the alterations that Oracle Team USA made to their yacht during the regatta, making it faster and more manoeuverable and secondly from better boat handling learnt during the regatta, not least of all from Emirates Team New Zealand.

Dean Barker
Dean Barker

Reactions in the US to the win are interesting. The Slate expounds at length on the fact that Larry Ellison, chief executive of Oracle has expended multi-millions of dollars on the America’s Cup, that holder of the cup can pretty much determine the rules of the regatta and that the yachts are so expensive. They touched on the fact that the Oracle Team USA yacht had only one American on board, the team being predominately from New Zealand and Australia, with the only other American starting the regatta on the boat being kicked off in favour of Ben Ainslie, who is British. It almost seems that the Slate was on the side of Emirates Team New Zealand!

Ben Ainslie
Ben Ainslie

The New York Times is more restrained, merely pointing out the huge input of cash that Larry Ellison has injected into Oracle Team USA, and commenting on the fact that yachting is a niche sport in the US but that 1 million out of 4 and a half million in New Zealand were watching the cup. (I actually think that it was much higher than a mere one million!). So, no denigration of Oracle Team USA, but no real congratulations either.

An interesting thing about all the reporting of the 2013 America’s Cup is that the American yacht has been almost universally been referred to as “Oracle” while the other yacht has generally been referred to as “Team New Zealand”, which says a lot about the general perception of who was actually racing for the America’s Cup. I believe that the Oracle Team USA yacht does not have a name beyond “17” but the Emirates Team New Zealand yacht is named “Aotearoa”, which caused American commentators some problems.

Larry Ellison on stage.
Larry Ellison on stage. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The challenger of record for the next America’s Cup regatta is likely to be an Australian yacht club, which brings back memories of the other remarkable comeback in the America’s Cup history, when the Australian team came back from 3-1 down to win 4-3 and end the longest winning run in sport, but nothing is likely to top the sheer spectacle of the wonderful AC72 yachts flying on foils in the 2013 America’s Cup regatta using techniques developed and perfected by Emirates Team New Zealand and adopted with such success by Oracle Team USA.

Flying on foils
Flying on foils

There has been no criticism or vilification of Oracle Team USA by New Zealanders or the New Zealand press so far as I know, although the Oracle Team USA team boss, Russell Coutts, has come in for a little criticism, simply because Coutts is a New Zealander. There is talk, though, that Coutts may return to Team New Zealand, if Team New Zealand in fact survives. This might be an issue since Team New Zealand do not have a billionaire backer and mounting an America’s Cup campaign takes a mountain of money.

Russell Coutts
Russell Coutts

Ben Ainslie, the British tactician on board Oracle Team USA in the later races has mentioned that he would see a British challenge for the America’s Cup. It would certainly be fitting if a British challenge were to prevail and finally take home the America’s Cup. Although it officially belongs to the New York Yacht Club I believe, it was originally awarded by the Royal Yacht Squadron (Based on the Isle of Wight in England) to the yacht America in the very first race for the cup.

The Yacht America
The Yacht America

The America’s Cup

There’s a competition going on in San Francisco to decide the winner of the America’s Cup. Those people who do not have an interest in yachting may not have heard of it, but it is the Superbowl of the yachting world. Currently it is being fought out between Oracle Team USA and Emirates Team New Zealand. The New Zealand team currently lead 6 wins to 1. [Update: The score is now 6 – 2.]

For spectators on the shore yacht racing normally happens a long way off and with few visual clues as to what is happening and it is often next to impossible to tell who is leading and even who won the race. The yachts are visible as small white dots although the deployment of a spinnaker will swell the dots and may introduce a bit of colour, but the to-ing and fro-ing of the yachts is still difficult to decipher.

The America’s Cup is different in that technology has come to the spectators’ assistance. A view can be shown on television of the yachts as seen from a helicopter or motorboat shadowing the yachts, but it will still not be obvious who is leading, since when going upwind the yachts travel at a significant angle to their target course. At each side of the course the yachts must change direction, a procedure known as a ‘tack’. If both yachts are travelling on parallel courses it is possible for the trailing boat to appear to be leading.

So to help spectators the live view is overlaid with graphics which show each yacht’s distance from the mark (the target for this leg) or from the finish line if the leg is the last one. The graphics also show the boundaries of the course if the yachts are approaching them. The distance between the lines for the two yachts shown who is in the lead and by how much.

A graphic from an earlier America’s Cup Regatta race featuring the smaller AC45 yachts.

The graphics also show the yacht speeds though I’m not sure if that is the speed towards the mark or finish line or merely the straight line speed. Another thing that the graphics can show is any ‘bad air’ that the leading yacht is casting over the trailing yacht. The leading yacht’s sail disturbs the the air as it flows over it, and this disturbed air is less efficient at providing the trailing yacht with energy and so it tends to travel a little slower. The leading yacht is said to cover the trailing yacht and the trailing yacht will endeavour to escape the cover.

The most interesting times in a yacht race are when the vessels are rounding a mark. The graphics for this are a circle round the mark and a series of dots or blobs representing the yacht’s course, as if the yacht were dropping a bucket of dye every second. There is also a countdown clock indicating the number of seconds that one yacht is behind the other.

The two finalists
The two finalists

So there’s plenty of information about the races and it makes for fascinating viewing. (There are some people who still don’t get it and who watch it for 5 minute or so and then go and do something else, but then again, Formula 1 leaves me yawning). The course in San Francisco is very close to the shore and this does allow spectators a good view of the yachts, though I suspect that most of them will be keeping up to date via cellphones. There’s an app for it!

Race six, won by Emirates Team New Zealand
The huge number of on course spectators can be seen in the bacground

[Update: I just watched latest race. Oracle Team USA won this after a near capsize by Emirates Team New Zealand.]

The class of yacht being used in the America’s Cup in San Francisco is designated as AC72. These are huge catamarans (dual-hulled yachts) with fixed sails and full of the latest technology, computers and hydraulics. A failed battery cost Emirates Team New Zealand one race!

Oracle Team USA
Oracle Team USA (boat #2)

The yachts are spectacular in action as they rise up out of the water on hydrofoils, which reduces hull drag to nothing and allows the yachts to reach speeds of up to 50mph (44 knots). This does not come without its dangers and several of the yachts have dipped their bows into the water leading to at least two incidents where yachts have “pole-pitched” and tipped over in one case killing one of the crew. In both cases the yachts were severely damaged. Emirates Team New Zealand dropped their bows into the water in one case  but appeared in no danger of flipping over. Oracle Team USA were one of the teams whose yacht was almost destroyed  in an incident.

Oracle Team USA yacht capsizes

The yachts are filled with technology and are very technical to race, apparently, and have proved very popular in San Francisco with huge crowds turning out to watch action. Millions more are of course glued to their TV screens and cellphones. And this, below, is what it is all about.

English: The America's Cup
English: The America’s Cup (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hey Noni No

It was a lover and his lass,
   With a hey, and a ho, and a hey nonino,
That o’er the green cornfield did pass,
   In springtime, the only pretty ring time,
When birds do sing, hey ding a ding, ding;
Sweet lovers love the spring.

I haven’t written a poem for a long time and I was lacking a topic for today, so I started on a poem about the spring. However it didn’t work, wasn’t working, so I gave up and quoted the bard, above.

Spring seems to engender creativity to match the burgeoning growth and fecundity of nature. As the days get lighter in the mornings the birds seem to get louder and louder as well as earlier and earlier, so that you almost feel guilty when indulging in a lie in.

spring (Photo credit: promanex)

The birds are of course breeding, nest building, and raising young. Round here that seems to mean that the Tuis rattle through the air, crashing from tree to tree. Tuis are not clumsy flyers, but are noisy ones. This means that the smaller and quieter birds get on with their business less noticeably, though a fantail was curiously looking at me while he was hopping about in the bushes. Who knows what he was up to?

Fantail 1
Fantail 1 (Photo credit: A. Sparrow)

The feathered pommie immigrants are mostly songbirds, and so thrushes and blackbirds are evident in the dawn chorus. Oh, and there are plenty of chattering sparrows here. I may have mentioned this before but in the UK the sparrow population is still declining, and if the sparrows here continue to prosper, it could be that we could send some back to repopulate their original homelands.

English: House Sparrows on a restaurant roof n...
English: House Sparrows on a restaurant roof near Mt. Cook in New Zealand (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We have had a really good spring so far and all the plants and animals are a week or two ahead of where they would normally be. In particular the grapevines are reported to be doing really well this year. The danger is that a wintery throwback may occur, nipping all the buds off the sprouting plants, including the vines, killing early insects and dooming some of the new chicks to starvation. I understand that early and luxurious growth is not necessarily good news for the wine industry either, since restricted growth concentrates the flavours or something.

Grape Vine
Grape Vine (Photo credit: Fire Engine Red)

The wine industry use helicopters to reduce the effects of late frosts. Hiring a helicopter for a few hours is apparently a cost-effective way of fighting frosts. This has led to conflicts between wineries and their neighbours in some places – who wants to be woken by a helicopter at 2am?

Hmm, well, I started talking about spring and seems to have moved on to talking about wine. One more comment about wine before I move on. New Zealand has many wineries and most welcome visitors to taste and buy wines. Many are small and welcoming and others are large and welcoming.

One of the smaller ones is Salvare. We enjoyed a platter of food there on the deck overlooking the vineyards. We also sampled their wines and their olive oil in a very relaxed atmosphere.

One of the larger ones is Mission Estate. Mission Estate was set up by a religious order and is a luxurious place with an award-winning restaurant and is located on the outskirts of Napier. We had tea there in the grounds of the splendid house overlooking the vineyards and Napier. There was a wedding being hosted there in that lovely environment.

If you go there be sure to see the Quiet Room which reflects the religious nature of the founders of the Estate. While we were there I bought a very nice bottle of wine, ironically produced in Marlborough and not Hawkes Bay and I would have bought the t-shirt if there had been one in my size!

These two wineries are merely examples of ones that we have visited. There are many, many others and scattered amongst the vineries are artisan breweries, olive oil producers and similar enterprises most of whom welcome visitors, (though opening times vary).

Back to spring in Wellington. Apart from the deafening clamour of the birds and their to-ing and fro-ing, spring is evident in the foliage. The lawn, which I last cut a week or two is showing a green flush already and the bushes are all sprouting pale green leaves. There is a small bush by our front door which is home to stick insects later in the year. Being a northern hemisphere species it loses its leaves in the winter and becomes stick-like and dead-looking and is now bursting into leaf. No stick insects yet, though.

Water spheres on spring larch foliage
Water spheres on spring larch foliage (Photo credit: OpenEye)

The temperatures have been high for this time of year, mostly. Clear skies have meant the occasional nippy morning and cars left out have had films of ice on their windscreens, but generally spring this year has been very pleasant. However, we are currently heading for a reminder that winter is not long gone, since the forecast is for wild weather on Tuesday and Wednesday. Batten down the hatches!

English: Spring storm, Queen Charlton The scen...
English: Spring storm, Queen Charlton The scene is similar to 180243 by Derek Harper. It is included for the difference in conditions, weather and time of year. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)