Archive 2012

Taking time to look good: Jumping Spider Brendan Moyle Dec 29

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This isn't the time of the year when I'm on the computer often, and there's little sciency-stuff to write about. Hot humid summers in Auckland tend to encourage one to take it easy. I am however, taking the time to do a bit more macro-photography. One of my favourite subjects this time of year are the jumping spiders (Salticidae). They're growing large as their prey increases in abundance. One of the most widespread natives we have is a Salticid by the name of Trite planiceps – it's distinctive black carapace and front legs make it easy to spot. It's often found around flaxes and other native shrubs. Albeit yesterday I was surprised to find on on the back of my neck in the kitchen. I guess it was either a great optimist or had me confused with vegetation. Maybe I am moving too slowly…

I got this shot in an area of local bush a couple of days ago. The spider is kindly undergoing part of it's grooming behaviour. Many spiders do this grooming on a regular basis. It's a bit different to the normal stalking pose you might see.

The Salticids (family of jumping spiders) are well known for their excellent eyesight. They are able to discern shapes in 3D. Other spiders are suspected only to be able to sense movement, and rely on other cues (vibrations, chemical-signatures) to identify prey.

NZ Tunnelwebs Brendan Moyle Dec 11

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These large lurking spiders are common in the NZ bush. Their nocturnal habits though mean they are rarely seen by people. On occasion they do wander into people's houses. We had one crawl across the kitchen floor earlier on afternoon. Fortunately in our house we keep a cool head around large spiders. Actually we tend to be enthusiastic greeters to such arachnids.

Nonetheless, the best time to see these spiders is at night. It is extremely rare to see them out of their tunnels. Nonetheless, I managed it with this large beauty. This is the NZ Hexathelid Hexatheles hochstetteri – one of the very first species from NZ to be described.

This Mygalomorph spider is unusual for having 6 spinnerets rather than 4. They are some of New Zealand's largest (by weight) spiders.

#1 Wanderer

#2 Closeup- the small eyes are clustered at the front edge of the carapace

#3 Adapted to kill- the spines on the front legs help trap the prey long enough for the fangs to strike

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This is why I use Nokia maps Brendan Moyle Dec 10

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From the Victoria Police in Australia
Online Warning – Mildura Police are urging motorists to be careful when relying on the mapping system on the Apple i-phones

Technology is a wonderful thing until it lets you down.
But in reference to my earlier post, if you're going to be using your smartphone as a GPS system, it needs to be an accurate navigation system. This is one of the big reasons I've stuck with Nokia.

On reviews, technology and phones Brendan Moyle Dec 10

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In this internet age modern consumer electronics depend a lot more on reviews to get market share. I was reading the Herald’s review of the Nokia Lumia 920 this morning and I think this also exemplifies the endemic problem to such reviews. The problem with reviews is they often leave the buyer out of the review. In short, they’re so technology focused, they lose sight of the fact that well, people buy these things to use based on their aspirations. These aspirations don’t always match the things the reviewer finds important.

A case in point was the reviews of the Sony DSLR’s when I made the move from Minolta (film SLR) to digital. Almost every review knocked back the Sony DSLR’s on the basis of the jpeg-engine. The jpegs out of the camera weren’t as nice as the Canon or Nikon equivalent. For someone like me who didn’t shoot in jpeg, but in raw formats instead, this is just ‘who cares’.

When it comes to the actual Nokia phones, well, I think everyone appreciates that Nokia’s decision to dump its very dated and creaky Symbian OS for Windows (rather than Android) is practically the last throw of the dice for Nokia. One only has to look at RIM and their Blackberry to realise how rapidly market share can evaporate.

Personally, I’m not a Lumia 920 customer. But I do have the 800 which runs on Windows 7.5 (not 8). Many of the things that kept me with Nokia rather than jumping to an iPhone or Android aren’t actually detailed in the review.

First, I don’t use my phone as a camera. It doesn’t matter how good or how bad the camera is on a smartphone, it has no weight in my decision. The NZ Herald review highlighted this is one of the selling points of the 920. But I’m either shooting with a DSLR or a mirror-less camera like the Nex 5. The physics of light can’t be overcome by good software. A large sensor and great lenses gives my regular cameras the edge. Now, I concede that a lot of buyers won’t have my preferences. And maybe Nokia is trying to create a selling point for people who are ready to ditch their compact cameras. But it’s not part of my purchase decision.

Second, build quality and call quality matter. I travel a fair bit. And one thing that Nokia has always done well is their hardware. They make good phones. The Lumias are good, well-built phones. I don’t want a compromise product that isn’t going to stand up to the odd bit of rough treatment. I also use my phone to make phone-calls. That means I also am going to put a bit more weight on that. I like to hear clearly and talk clearly. (How many phone reviews still cover call quality?)

Third, I like a good GPS system. The combination of Nokia maps with the Nokia Drive GPS system is great. It simply comes with the phone. Nokia has a superb maps and driving GPS system. I can find remote waterfalls in the countryside, and sports-fields hidden in the maze of Auckland urban streets.

Fourth, well, it’s a windows phone. As someone who uses Windows at work and at home, that means instant compatibility. Word, excel and pdf documents are at my fingertips just with the phone. There’s no need for any 3rd party apps or the like.

Fifth, it is an excellent music player. When I’m traveling I like to listen to music the most. Not movies, not games, but actual music. If you’ve had to experience Chinese pop music you’ll understand why :) . The music player is superb here (based on Zune). I’m not sure how the 920 stacks up as this wasn’t covered in the Herald review.

In terms of the actual apps, it turns out I’m not a big app user. The phone does all the email and web browsing already and integrates with facebook neatly. I suspect I’m not alone here in needing few apps. There’ just a small number of apps I regard as essential or valuable. Here’s my top 10:
1) MapMyRun- app for measuring distance, pace and speed of walks, runs and bike rides
2) Connectivity Shortcuts- quickly manage access to WiFi, Data, Bluetooth & Airplane mode in one tile. Being able to turn off the 3G Data connection means you can utilise WiFi hotspots for most of your data needs.
3) Nokia Drive- awesome GPS navigation app that comes free with the phone.
4) NZ Herald- sorry Stuff, I like the Herald app much more.
5) Stop the Music- convenient for forcing the music player to stop, rather than count down for minutes when paused, before stopping.
6) World Clock- handy for keeping in synch with those friends overseas
7) Seesmic- a better twitter client than the native twitter client for Windows phones
8) Skydrive- access your stuff on the MS 'cloud' easily
9) Weatherduck- weather app with ability tile favourite locations to main screen
10) Amazon Kindle – The Kindle reader actually works well with the 3.7" screen of the Lumia 800

So, in short reviews need to be used with some caution. They are a useful source of information. But they’re not going to be written with you as a specific consumer in mind. Hence, I think you need to identify what it is you want from a phone. Start with that and see how the various phones measure up. There are some nice selling points to Nokia and the windows OS.

How to write a news report on Wildlife Poaching Brendan Moyle Nov 07

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After reading many of these over the years, I believe I have discerned the formula for writing the successful news report on wildlife poaching. This is all that it takes:

1) Always support the trade-ban. Trade bans are always the right thing to do. They are a brilliant conservation strategy that creates much wailing and gnashing of teeth in the actual black-markets. Removing legal competition, inflating prices and creating a niche for organised crime always discourages poaching. Because everyone knows that bloating the profits of crime syndicates through a ban, is the last thing these guys want. Rhinos have been subject to an international trade-ban since 1977. Don't question its effectiveness. Making criminals rich has got to deter poaching eventually.

2) Tantalise and shock the reader. Everyone needs to be told that wildlife is poached for traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). And TCM is only ever used for one thing of course- aphrodisiacs. Readers love being told this stuff. On no account should you actually tell the readers that wildlife is poached for a myriad of reasons and it is almost always, has nothing to do with aphrodisiacs.

3) Call for more law enforcement. Obviously nobody has since say, 1977 for rhinos, ever thought of this before. The shoot-to-kill policy adopted towards some poachers in African states is just us being soft towards poaching. What we need to do is 'more'. Whatever that means.

4) Call for more education. Anti-consumption 'education' campaigns have been running in many Asian countries since the 1990s. We're not entirely sure where the consumers are or what their motives are, so broach-brush approaches are being used. Because nothing kills off demand faster than the constant reminder to people that the wildlife products have medicinal properties in their culture.

5) Make proposals to reduce value of the wildlife. For example, dehorning rhinos was started in the late 1980s as a way to discourage poachers. With barely any horn left, poachers would have little desire to hunt the rhinos. We've been waiting for this to work for two decades of course.

6) Mock anyone who expresses doubt. The trade-ban is the corner-stone of a brilliant conservation strategy. The collapse of rhino numbers due to poaching, the extinction of the Western Black subspecies, the loss of all wild rhinos in Vietnam- are all utterly minor setbacks. Anyone who wonders if we should be considering legal trade isn't a "true" conservationist. They're in the pay of the Chinese or the hunting fraternity or something. The trade-ban is brilliant so there's nothing to debate. We just need to spend more money on doing what's been failing for over 30 years.

(Sorry, I'm in a slightly dark mood)

Mapping tiger smuggling Brendan Moyle Nov 05

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One of the first problems I ran into with researching tiger smuggling was the bias. A lot of the studies had been done by organisations based in India. Imaginative and creative arrows were being drawn across India, Nepal, into Tibet and over into the eastern provinces of China. The two big gaps were interdiction rates inside China, and the case of the Indo-Chinese tiger.

At the last SCB meeting I gave a paper on the breakdown of interdictions inside China. This data was obtained after some patient relationship building within China. The basic breakdown is as follows:

Figure 1: Smuggling Map 1999-2010

Province in coloured as deep-red are hotspots. These are provinces that have had multiple cases of smugglers being intercepted. The obvious characteristic is each is a province that borders range states with wild tiger populations.

Provinces in pale-red are low-interdiction cases. These are province that have had one arrest only.

The map also is instructive as it gives some idea of the scope of the international borders smugglers can take advantage of. It should come as no surprise that parts also show geographical trends also. Amur tigers are intercepted in the north (Heilong-Jiang/Jilin), Indo-Chinese & Bengali in the south (Yunnan), and Bengali in the west (Tibet).

Smuggler caught with 16 Tiger Cubs Brendan Moyle Oct 29

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A colleague drew my attention to this story out of Thailand
BBC-News Thailand

The story is principally about a truck-driver, paid to smuggle 16 tiger cubs from Thailand into Laos. The driver was caught when he attempted to avoid a police checkpoint. With 16 cubs, it is practically certain these same from a 'breeding facility' within Thailand. Tigers can produce 4 cubs in a litter but less is also common. Getting 16 cubs from the wild within Thailand would involve a very serious effort in search, risks of mortality in transporting cubs out of the wild, and risks of being caught within the reserves. It would be much easier and less risky to get the cubs from a captive source. Such animals would also be more familiar with people and hence, more sedate to transport.

The interception is indicative of two enforcement issues. First, crossing borders is the riskiest aspect of the illegal supply chain. From an economic perspective, the 'black-market firm' is better placed to pass this risk on to people who are willing to bear it at a lower price. The driver said he'd been paid 15,000 baht ($US 490 or £300) for the job. The second is that the size of the shipment (16 live animals) shows that enforcement agencies are being ineffective. A good sign that enforcement is effective is reductions in shipment size. This is the easiest thing for smugglers to do to reduce their risks. It does inflate their other costs (fewer units transported each trip drives up the average costs). So, the fact they are making large shipments here mean that they have little to worry about from law enforcement.

The story implies that the cubs are being smuggled for parts for traditional medicines. This seems unlikely. It would be much easier to kill the tigers within Thailand and transport the parts in a more cryptic way. This would also mean the smugglers did not have live animals to care for and feed for the duration of the trip. I suspect the most likely explanation is that this is the nucleus for a 'tiger farm' within Laos. Thailand and Vietnam are known to have breeding of tigers occurring in 'commercial quantities'. This may now be a reflection of the attempt to do the same within Laos. With actual wild tiger numbers in Indo-China being critically low, captive sources of tigers are much easier to locate and transport.

This also means that the CITES resolutions that call upon certain range states to end such breeding is largely being ignored.

Tuesday #Travel – The beat goes on Brendan Moyle Oct 23

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This shot was from Jilin in Northern China. Jilin is one of the tiger-smuggling hot spots within China, which is really just a product of its geography. It has a border with the Russian Far East (and includes a relic population of Amur or Siberian tigers).

On one evening we went 'cultural' and part of the performance was these traditional Chinese drummers.

Test blog post Brendan Moyle Oct 23

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Yes, I have finally joined the world of smartphones proper. Which is as
good as time as any to try the email function out with a blog post

Sent from my Windows Phone

And the semester comes to an end Brendan Moyle Oct 18

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The part of the year where I lecture has (formally) come to an end. It's all sunshine, research and photos from here :)