marsden_online: (Blueknight)
Normally the news that a company like energy efficiency and insulation business Right House has gone into liquidation would pass through my radar with just a moment to pause in sadness for those whom have just lost their livelihoods. However this time there is an indirect personal connection - it was a telemarketing call from Right House house and the following obligation-free quote which made me decide that then was the time to start the ball rolling on actually getting grid connected solar installed here.

The first step of course was googling up solar installers in NZ and sending off for more quotes. when it came down to it though two I already had bookmarked gave the best results. A shout out here to CPS Solar (Canterbury based) who provided a lot of useful information and food-for-thought in our conversation. Definitely consider them.

My choice though has gone to Solar City despite the fact they they were the tardiest in replying to my enquiry. I'd like to write a bit about why.

First off is their innovative Solar Care offering. For $0 or $1000 down they will install panels on your house and sell you the electricity generated for a fixed monthly cost for the next 20 years. (You then use or sell excess power into the grid.) This effectively locks in the cost to you of that much power for the next 20 years, and the contract is set so that the cost-per-unit is probably lower than you are being charged now.

Personally I think projects like this are what the major generators should be doing, to conserve hydro and fossil-fuel (ugh) generation for night time and winter use. But of course they don't make money by providing people with cheap power :-/

I was almost sold on this, it works out very well for both the homeowner (who gets rapid access to solar without massive expenditure or worries about insurance, monitoring etc of the panels) and for the company who get regular cashflow (instead of constantly having to chase new installations) and to depreciate the value of the solar panels on their books :). Had I investment properties I would be having Solar Care systems installed ASAP. Any of my home-owning/paying-off friends I strongly recommend taking a look.

However the desire and years of expecting to outright own the installation asserted itself and I was unable to bring myself to deviate that far from the plan. What actually sold me on a fixed install from Solar City installation was not the price but the opportunity to become involved with / contribute to a new initiative they are setting up with the University of Otago to (quoting the flyer)
Conduct a comprehensive study into household and commercial solar energy use, to better inform and guide the nation towards a 100% renewable energy future.

(As a bonus, "Customers will have the opportunity to beta test new technologies in the energy efficiency and solar space." Eh-heh-heh ...)

This will involve a period of monitoring before the installation which is fine because for me "starting the ball rolling" on a project like this means I have a 12-18 month horizon in view for actually affording and completing it. This is something I make clear of my requests for quotes but find a lot of companies have difficulty with - and their pressure (and oft-times effectively bribes) to commit sooner is something which I find distinctly off-putting.

Companies, I am (charitably) sure that you are genuinely interested in making sure your customers get good value for money but if you want my custom please do me the courtesy of understanding that I know and understand my own values, finances and finance options and that I am not undertaking such a large project on the spur of the moment. If I am not the typical customer in this, well that is simply a sad observation on today's society.

Another issue where I have struggled to reach common ground with all the companies I have talked to is my desire to install more generation capacity than is "economically efficient" for me. (The generators don't pay a terrific amount for home-solar production fed into the grid and these tariffs have only been dropping.) The concept that I might have broader, non-economic goals like future-proofing the amount of generation on my roof (nominally economic), or happily working towards overall lower power prices for everyone else by feeding cheap power into the grid and setting an example for wider home generation is completely foreign.

(I've had to temporarily throw in the towel on that one, but the system I am getting is eminently extensible at a later date by the addition of more panels and micro-inverters.)

Speaking of finance options this entire post / mini-rant was actually triggered by a quote from the Right House article.
But the business had not had the demand for their services, from home insulation to energy advice, that it had hoped for, Fisk said.
"I think that has been influenced by whether people are getting offer subsidies to insulate their houses," Fisk said.
The company failure may seem "counter-intuitive" when there is a housing boom especially in Christchurch and Auckland, he said.
Asked if the government cuts to home insulation subsidies in 2013 had affected Right House, Fisk said he believed it had "some effect".

Now this is a Stuff article so don't assume that quote from the liquidator (probably not yet familiar with the company finances) is entirely in context. It's obviously being played a bit by the reporter and as such I believe it reflects a wider feeling that the only reason people might be interested in getting into solar (and more broadly other technologies) is the money. That's a meme I'd really like to squish out of society's group consciousness because there are so many wider possibilities once you broaden your view from what is purely best for the individual.

[tangent]For example Christchurch (City Council) is currently looking at painful rates rises and having to privatise some of it's utility assets to afford the costs of the earthquake rebuild foisted on us by the national government. But we could build a new asset as a (somewhat seasonal) electricity generator right alongside the rebuild to offset some of that cost if only by generating some of the power required. I think most households and businesses would be happy to have some council-owned panels on their roof in exchange for the promise of lower rates increases (or the offset in lower electricity costs).[/tangent]

It is true that for the majority of homeowners (unlike well-privileged, mortgage-free, no-dependants self) the availability of subsidies will probably have a significant impact on the affordability calculations. (And part of the genius of Solar Care is how it simplifies that calculation.) It is good business for eg. an installer to point out the available options which may make what they are selling more affordable.

[aside]If you have a mortgage with Kiwibank also check out their Sustainable Energy Loan (link not guaranteed to be current).[/aside]

But I don't believe it is broadly good that our consumerist, buy now (worry about paying later) culture tries to rush people into accelerating financial plans that should be taken time over and focuses on the monetary payback value of long-term purchases to the detriment of other values. And just like if your business relies on the government topping up your employees wages because you don't pay them enough to live; if your business relies on pressuring people into making financial decisions for cashflow perhaps you should take a hard look at how sustainable it / its growth path really is. When I look at who I give significant amounts of my actually-earned money to, you better believe I'm taking that into account. Often it is through [your business'] salespeople that I have the most direct experience of that.

[aside]No I'm not a fan of commission sales, why do you ask?[/aside]

Disclaimer: this has not been any sort of solicited promotion and I have no connection (yet) to any of the mentioned companies except as outlined above. (Haven't even signed and returned the quote.) :p
marsden_online: (BlueDragon)
So just before Xmas I spent large on a nice new Samsung Galaxy II S, top of the line Android smartphone. There were a couple of issues getting my number over to it, but that was resolved.

I received one call on it before Xmas and sound was a bit rough but I think that was the other end. Last night though I tried to make a couple of calls and couldn't hear the people on the other end at all.

This morning I've been running tests and digging around online. The phone speaker - "call speaker" and try disambiguating that from the "main speaker" in google searches.... - responds to diagnostics fine so it's not a hardware issue. It is an issue which seems to crop up quite commonly and is usually fixed by a software or firmware update but none are available.

Contemplating reset to factory settings ... I'm not going to try taking it back to the store until after New Year madness. Besides which, I'd be without a phone for however long it took them to sort it out.
marsden_online: (globe)
Unsurprisingly Telecom (well Chorus) over much of the country, but they don't get Christchurch!

Enable Networks get Christchurch and Rangiora and outlying settlements. Enable are owned by the Christchurch City Council (ie publicly owned) and they've been building a dark fibre network in Christchurch for a while now.

Herald story covering all areas
More and More - media releases on Voxy about Christchurch + Enable.

I'll be watching the Telecom/Chorus split with some interest - assuming the shareholder vote is just a formality will Chorus (to become C2) be a listed company, adding a fraction of desperately needed depth to our stock market?
marsden_online: (Blueknight)
One of the common suggestions on is a free wireless network in Christchurch's rebuilt center city. While I am all for the rebuild including the infrastructure for high speed wired and wireless connectivity I'm not so sure about the "free" at this stage.

What it boils down to is that someone will have to pay for it, and I think that money - public money, rates money - could be better spent elsewhere in the rebuild.

So instead of a free service I'd suggest partnering with someone like to provide cheap wireless access over the central city with one centralised source of billing. Then private individuals or businesses could set up their own additional hotspots to extend the network across the city.
marsden_online: (Blueknight)
Some ways the internet and other information technologies are allowing farmers to accelerate and fine tune their response to the market.
Connecting the clever farm
From an armchair in South Canterbury, he can follow a wool auction in Melbourne via satellite and track the prices other growers are getting for their lots.

"Watching prices gives me a pretty good lead," Aubrey said.

"With the sales coming through I might recognise some of the property names from New Zealand and its characteristics and that gives me a good steer," he said.

"If we think the market is where we want it, I send an email through to the selling company and off we go."

This level of connectivity and the ability of farmers to access real-time information is becoming the lifeblood of agriculture in the 21st century.
"The modern No 8 wire is data and how it can be converted into meaningful information, how it can be twisted and bent and used," Walker said.
marsden_online: (bomb)
Via RWW,
When most people think of Tutankhamun, they think, rightly, of the Egyptian king's tomb artifacts: including alabaster jars, gilded chariots and most of all the golden sarcophagus. But powering that astonishing 1922 discovery, and contextualizing it afterward, were the materials generated by the find's lead archaeologist, Howard Carter.
In 1995, the staff of Oxford University's Griffith Institute of Egyptology, the custodians of Carter's papers, started digitizing his Tut archive. The collection included all the photographs, glass negatives, reams of notes and diaries from the 1922 excavation's lead archaeologist, Howard Carter. Now, every bit of it is online at a database titled Tutankhamun: Anatomy of an Excavation.
marsden_online: (globe)
NZ technology generates electricity from passing cars
Auckland company Enervate is looking to a Singapore shopping mall for further road-testing of its innovative technology to capture energy from passing vehicles.

The company's PowerTread system, in which tubes that are compressed by vehicles and pump hydraulic fluid to turn a turbine and generate electricity, has undergone extensive testing and simulation over the past three years.

One PowerTread unit can capture enough energy from vehicles on a roadway to supply power to up to three typical New Zealand homes, the company says.

Edit: Found a video from TV3
marsden_online: (Kea)
It is my opinion that Christchurch roofs should be coated with solar panels, feeding into the national grid (and providing an investment return to the householder).

Today two relevant links came my way, one to a company which does grid-connected solar installations in New Zealand and one* to a site aiming to help people lease their roofs as sites for solar generation, rooftop gardens, comms towers ... whatever.

Unfortunately it only covers the US and Canada, or I'd sign up like a shot. Anyone know anything similar in NZ, or anyone looking to rent a roof? :D


Unfortunately Powershop's T&C prohibit the customer to "generate electricity or inject it into the distribution network" (8.3.e) I commented on the phone when I signed up that would probably ultimately be the reason for my next change in electricity company. However if someone could get enough rooftops covered to -be- a generating company that might be negotiable.
marsden_online: (Blueknight)
Finland has officially become the first country in the world to make broadband a legal right - on par with healthcare and education - for all of its citizens.

Every Finnish citizen will have the guaranteed right to access at least a 1Mbps (megabit per second) broadband connection.

I feel like we're standing still.
marsden_online: (globe)
Tom Szaky wants to be the rag-and-bone man to the world, collecting the rubbish no one else wants – cigarette butts, razors, expired pills and plastic food wrappers – and turning an enormous profit by finding new uses for it.

His US-based company TerraCycle already has rubbish collecting and recycling operations in six countries and expects to launch in 11 more (including Japan, Australia and Sweden) in the next year. He launched TerraCycle in Britain last September and in Ireland this month.

A lot of their material is sourced as (already clean) industrial leftovers, but
Unpaid waste collectors are the backbone of TerraCycle’s recycling programme. Any person or group can sign up on the company’s website to join a 'brigade’ and collect the used packaging of any featured brands. It is free of charge to post items to TerraCycle and for each item sent you earn 2p to go towards the charity or school of your choice. 'The number-one reason people give for joining the brigades is they don’t want these materials ending up in a landfill, and they say they want to do their bit for the planet,’ Szaky explains.

The financing of the brigades – the donations to charity, the shipping and website costs, plus a retainer to TerraCycle – is met by the companies whose products are collected (for instance Kraft, which makes one of TerraCycle’s most popular 'waste streams’, the Capri Sun juice pouches).

Heck, I'd further sort and deliver for recycling more of my rubbish if it had somewhere like this to go.
marsden_online: (Blueknight)
So why did I learn about it from an Australian article?,kiwis-open-hydro-powered-free-cooled-data-centre.aspx
Some of the cool stuff
no power is required to cool the rassk for ten months of the year using chilled water and outside, provided the outside temperature stays below 18 degrees.
The facility is capable of both peak lopping, during which the data centre feeds electricity back to the mains grid to the operator, and power islanding, during which the facility takes itself off the grid completely
In times of grid emergencies during very high demand times, The Colocation Company has a commercial arrangement with energy utility Orion to sell power to the generator. This includes the power used by the data centre as well.
Traditionally, data centre customers pay for the amount of space they use, but at The Colocation Centre, they are charged NZ$0.69 (A$0.56) per kilowatt-hour.
marsden_online: (write)
In my Facebook feed today someone had liked something like "We can put a man on the moon, but we can't stop an oil leak?"

But wait, -can- we put a man on the moon? America did it five times between 1969 and 1972. That's nearly 40 years ago now. So if for some reason we absolutely had to put a man on the moon, how long do you think it would take? The oil spill is in what, day 50-something. That fast?

At its peak, the Apollo program employed 400,000 people and required the support of over 20,000 industrial firms and universities. It has been estimated in 2005 $US (which is close enough enough to 2010 that I'm not going to recalculate it) that cost about $170 billion. It was a -massive- project.

NASA was working on doing it again, but the program was cancelled earlier this year when President Obama said "we've been there before" and set his sights on Mars instead.

There is one similarity. 5,000 ft (1,500 m) below the ocean might as well be the surface of another planet for us squishy air-breathing surface dwellers, or be it an environment diametrically opposed to that on the moon.

In all this I'm still waiting to hear the outcry about the use of oil in general, or much attention given to the fact that there must still be about 4000 -other- oil rigs in the gulf of Mexico. (2006)

And from
marsden_online: (write)
Neighbourly goodwill is being kept alive in the Christchurch suburbs by special online communities.

Residents of Condell Ave in Papanui have come together online to share excess vegetables, borrow ladders, find babysitters and even stop parties from getting out of control.

The online street list, thought to be one of the first in New Zealand, was set up by market researcher John Veitch as a way to revive community spirit.

What I find most interesting is how
- easy long-distance communication broke up up the idea of ' neighbourhood' as distance ceased to be a barrier to people keeping in touch with their tribes,
- and now the technologies have reached their global maximum and come full circle, helping people build communities around their immediate area
marsden_online: (Blueknight)
So I spent most of yesterday at the Christchurch BarCamp unconference (twitter #tag #bcchch)

It Rocked.

I don't think an official head count was ever done, but there would have been between 30 and 40 people from the web dev scene in Christchurch there, ranging from random webmonkeys like myself to high-powered programmers living in NZ but teleworking for outfits in Australia or the States. There were even a couple of people down from Wellington.

Topics covered (not in order)
- introducing open source projects with local connections like CrowdFusion (publishing) and GroupServer (mailing list management),
- an introduction to Forensic Computing,
- background on the ACTA and publicACTA meetings which were happening in Wellington yesterday, and why ACTA is bad, mmm k?
- The Case of the Midnight Note (roleplayers especially LARPers - follow that link!) a 'transmedia' game which the Wellington tech community ran across Twitter/Facebook/blogs/the real world as a fundraiser to send people to Webstock, and how the team behind it is partnered with DigitalNZ to see what sort of Augmented Reality games you can create merging the world of today with the archived history of yesterday.
- ethics + sustainable development practice for programmers
- some of the really shiny stuff you can do with html5/css3
- Idea management
- A round up of various informal groups that meet up regularly in Christchurch to discuss internet technologies & issues
- and more

I even got a solid line on a co-working cluster with space available here in Christchurch :D

Edit: And next year I'm totally taking my laptop -with- me
marsden_online: (Default)
1. Debris flow - a little water, a lot of moving earth.

2. The Giotto probe - launched in 1986 to meet Halley's Comet
marsden_online: (Ghostfighter)
via SciBlogs .
Published in the Jan 21 edition of Nature, the paper outlines how the researchers were able to create a high-water-content hydrogel using only water, a bit of clay, and a pinch of organic components (details below).
The recipe for this hydrogel goes something like this: take some water. Add about 2-3% by mass of clay. Mix, and add 0.4% by mass of certain organic components*. Shake well, at least metaphorically, for 3 minutes or a bit longer.

And voila! The final product is a transparent hydrogel with some very interesting properties. It’s able to stick together, which means it can easily be built into structures etc. It also keeps its shape, so any structures it’s used for can be free-standing – all due due to its ‘outstanding mechanical strength’.

It’s able to self-heal when damaged, and preserves biologically active proteins for catalysis (great for setting up reactions involving enzymes). In fact, it has some interesting applications for building reaction sequences using blocks containing different enzymatic activities.
marsden_online: (Default)
OK, so I also got up late on this grey gray day, but here it is nearly 11am and I've just finished my morning reading. A couple of unrelated items just as quickies:
Augmented reality turned up to 11

Clay Shirkey rants about women

This comment about giving other people veto power over your actions is equally applicable for those of us who aren't women but nevertheless still have issues with putting ourselves forward :)
It’s tempting to imagine that women could be forceful and self-confident without being arrogant or jerky, but that’s a false hope, because it’s other people who get to decide when they think you’re a jerk, and trying to stay under that threshold means giving those people veto power over your actions. To put yourself forward as someone good enough to do interesting things is, by definition, to expose yourself to all kinds of negative judgments, and as far as I can tell, the fact that other people get to decide what they think of your behavior leaves only two strategies for not suffering from those judgments: not doing anything, or not caring about the reaction.
marsden_online: (Blueknight)
The need to solve a problem for one invention has helped three entrepreneurs come up with an environmentally friendly way to recycle tyres - and now they are close to taking it commercial.
The process is contained within a 12m container and involves breaking down shredded tyres by heating them to 650C in a process called pyrolysis.

The gases produced by heating are cooled and the liquids distilled to make carbon, steel, oil and gas.

The gas is used to fuel the machine which means it is self-sustaining and it does not release any black smoke, acrid odour or toxic emissions.

The oil can be used as fuel for boat engines and the steel can be reused while the carbon can be used in making rubber mats and hoses.

Now please to be extending to other hydrocarbon products - like the mountain of plastics accumulating at council recycling centres around the country :)
marsden_online: (Blueknight)
So Thursday necessitated an immediate re-install of Windows (which was tentatively scheduled for today anyway). The file-system delays were tedious but tolerable - but when .exes start corrupting (like my FTP program) there's no point waiting.

Mostly back now, and the machine is running much snappier. In addition to reinstalling Windows this time I'm going through the process of moving everything off the other partitions, formatting then moving the data back to fix up any file-table issues. This is not going to be a short job, but it can also be done piecemeal.

First up is the applications partition, because this had to be done in conjunction with the reinstall (stupid applications storing data in the windows user directory). A purge is well overdue.

Health & Safety
Swapped out the virus checker and firewall because I'm not convinced Comodo's real-time and on-access scanning wasn't behind some of the issues. Bit sad because it's otherwise really good.

I installed the Xmarks plugin for Firefox pre-reinstall to save those bookmarks, of course My Opera already took care of those, and there weren't any to speak of in Chrome, but if I was running the beta I could have used Xmarks there too.

All three of the above browsers have portable versions, which I am now using exclusively. Safari doesn't but I only use it for occasional testing and as a loan browser when someone else wants to borrow my internets, so I'll reinstall that at some point. I've an idea Avant does but I hardly ever use it anyway.

I had previously hacked Opera to keep mail outside Windows, so getting that back was a straightforward import in to the new version. RSS not so much - I'd exported my list of feeds but had no way of including the information about what was present, nor would Opera export the articles as mail items. So I lost all the articles I had saved and had to clean up about 500 I'd already read that were re-downloaded after the import.

Web development
I'm sadly breaking myself of using the old (2002) Dreamweaver suite. Notepad++ seems to be an adequate substitute for coding (after a couple of tweaks to the syntax colours). Fireworks was wonderful but sadly is starting not to pick up on some of the elements in modern .psds. I haven't (open) sourced a replacement for that yet.

I was already using Filezilla Portable (FTP) and WinMerge portable (File comparison) and those just copied back in.

With the help of Google docs I'm hoping to avoid reinstalling MSOffice (again 2002) for anything. I may have succumb to Excel for HeroForge, but I still have it on the Tablet (and of course writing a web-based equivalent is still on the project list).

Foxit portable reads pdfs just fine :)

Fortunately I already stored Evernote data outside the Windows directory. Unfortunately it decided to sync everything down from the web before giving me the chance to import it back locally. Either way, I have all the data.

Ah Picasa, how I love/hate thee. You store some information in the file meta-data (good, especially captions thank ghod), some in .ini-s in the directories (OK) and your databases including the faces in the windows. user. directory.

My plan for not losing all that hard work mostly worked
- copy out the relevant directories pre-reinstall,
- post-reinstall initialising Picasa then quickly closing it before it could get far in it's scanning
- copy back in the relevant directories

Unfortunately I'd made the initial backups a few weeks ago, so I lost some data that had been added since and a few other quirks appeared (groups of faces without names attached for example).

I really do need a better photo management application, I just haven't found one yet. On a related note now that the reinstall is done I can finally go ahead with testing the new Fotobounce beta that has been sitting in my mailbox since before New Year

Now to find out if whatever had rorted CivII from running on this computer has been resolved :D

(Although if the wind has in fact gone down I might pop out and do some gardening first. No, there it goes again.)
marsden_online: (bomb)
Via TVNZ News,
Nelson, New Zealand's sunshine capital, is planning to turn its sunlight into power.
Neslon wants to become the country's first 'solar city' with a scheme to help 1,700 homes switch to solar powered water heating over the next four years.
So popular that the council's had to run a ballot to choose the first homes to capitalise on solar energy.

And much more information is available on NCC's solar hot water heating webpage. Not only are they effectively giving their residents a long-term (10 years for a few $k) low interest loan, which interestingly is targeted to the property not the owner, but they've used their size to negotiate lower prices, are making sure people get their government subsidy and waiving the fee on the building consent.

It certainly puts Christchurch City Council's paltry $200 subsidy and token installation on a few of it's own 2650 housing units to shame.

For those in other cities, pointers to your local council's equivalent schemes welcome in the comments :)

While I'm on the subject, here's an update on my own solar hot water system. I've had the programmed nightly top-up turned off recently because even with the few hours of summer sun we've been having there's been plenty of hot water at the top of the tank. I flicked it back on Monday night for a boost and the resulting spike (just 3 hours) nearly doubled our power use for Tuesday.

Can I mention that I also love PowerShop's daily reporting, viewable down to day/night meter resolution :D More on that in a few days time.

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