SciBlogs

Archive 2009

Tragic end to year for journalism Peter Griffin Dec 30

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It’s been a tragic end to the year for the profession of journalism with a fledgling reporter and a seasoned journo dying in unusual accidents.

Helen Bain (38), the former Dominion Post reporter and Sunday Star Times political editor has been revealed as the woman who drowned when she fell from her horse attempting to cross the flooded Ruamahanga River near Masterton.

Helen had left journalism to become communications manager for Forest & Bird, a role at which she excelled. In early November, I chaired a panel featuring Helen and The Press reporter David Williams talking about the relationship between journalists and environmental groups. Helen spoke convincingly and knowledgeably about what makes for good reporting of environmental issues.

She clearly loved her job, loved advocating the preservation of New Zealand’s native beauty and loved getting out into the open on horse back. I’ll post the audio of that panel discussion if I still have a copy of it on my recorder. Helen will be sorely missed.

On Sunday we were informed via the Herald on Sunday of the death of another journalist, 29 year-old Daniel Pilkington, who covered the technology beat for Auckland publisher Action Media.

I didn’t know Daniel, but a former tech journo myself, keep track of who is covering the beat and had read his articles online. He was reportedly found dead the bathroom of an Auckland bar with a hypodermic needle in his hand (see article below).

On behalf of all the Scibloggers and the staff of the Science Media Centre, I extend our condolences to the families and friends of Helen and Daniel.

Herald on Sunday report of Daniel Pilkington's death

Herald on Sunday report of Daniel Pilkington's death

Apple, e-ink and that much-rumoured tablet Peter Griffin Dec 30

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My tech discussion with Simon Morton and Rowan Quinn on Summer Report this morning centred on the increasingly convincing rumours circulating about the looming arrival of a tablet computing device created by Silicon Valley giant Apple.

Etched in stone?

Plans for an Apple tablet: Etched in stone?

MacRumours, Wired and Tech Crunch are all reporting that Apple registered the islate.com web domain back in 2006 and that “iSlate” was registered as a trademark by a Delaware listed company both in the US and Europe. Another Delaware company (Delaware has the tightest confidentiality provisions in the US which is why the majority of companies are registered there) is called iGuide Media LLC and has attracted attention because some of the company documents carry the name of Regina Porter, Apple’s senior trademark specialist.

So, it seems likely that Apple has been covering its bases by preparing web domains and trademarks for the debut of a tablet-like device that may be called the iSlate or the iGuide. Here’s a summary of the other rumours to have surfaced in the last couple of weeks, but the key components include:

- A 10 inch device modeled on the iPhone or iPod Touch

- A US$700 – $900 price tag

- Will have a mobile chip in it so can update content over the wireless network

- Will have a high-resolution screen to display high definition video and will be able to display electronic ink – rather like the Amazon Kindle, but in colour.

- Will debut at an Apple event on January 26 in San Francisco and begin shipping from March or April.

- Ebook sales will be available through iTunes and applications designed for the tablet downloadable from the Appstore.

What about screen glare?

Pixel Qi - e-ink, in colour with video. Is Apple a customer?

Pixel Qi - e-ink, in colour with video. Is Apple a customer?

All of that sounds very plausible and a logical new direction for Apple given the burgeoning interest in ebook readers and slate-like devices for displaying digital content. But the reason for the Kindle’s success is that it allows you to read a book on a digital device without the eye-straining and headache-inducing  results offered up by illuminated and backlit LCD screens. The Kindle and Sony’s e-ink makes ebooks easy on the eye. So how can Apple better this using conventional LCD technology and attempting to offer up a screen that will do both high-resolution video and text that replicates the look of a book’s pages?

Well, that’s the golden question, but there are plenty of companies well underway working on such technologies that would allow exactly that. Chief among those companies mentioned in relation to e-ink delivered via conventional LCD is Pixel Qi. Consider this bold claim from the company’s website:

The readability and legibility of our new screens rival the best epaper available today. What’s new about our screens: fast video rate update (refresh), and fully saturated color at low pricing because we use standard manufacturing materials, processes and factories. Our screens use 1/2 to 1/4 the power of a regular LCD screen, and when integrated carefully with the device can increase battery life between charges by 5-fold. You can use our screens in laptops outside in bright sunlight. Look for this dramatic power savings in 2010.

So e-ink, colour display, video, embedded mobile connectivity and the power of deliver mechanisms like iTunes and the AppStore sound like a pretty good combination for Apple – if it can pull it all off.

The route to premium content?

The hardware alone is a fairly exciting proposition, but after the iPhone and the Kindle, hardly something that will have people worshipping at the feet of Steve Jobs as they have done in past product releases. What’s really exciting about the potential release of a tablet from Apple, is how it could change the media landscape. Apple is very powerful in the content business – it was one of the key companies that legitimised music downloads through the iTunes store, despite its tussles with the music industry.

Could it do the same for magazine and newspaper publishers desperate to make the premium content model work online?

With a rich content device like an Apple tablet that due to its mobile connectivity, knows exactly where you are, content could be delivered tailored exactly to the user’s needs. And don’t just think “print” content. There’s no reason why TV and movie content couldn’t be streamed to the tablet as well. Amazon is already experimenting with bundling newspaper subscriptions with the Kindle. Apple would seem to be in a prime position to take this further by striking deals with content publishers to bundle subscriptions with the sale of the tablet, Apple and the publishers splitting the revenue.

The speculation about the Apple tablet has reached fever pitch, pumping up Apple’s share price in the process. There’s enough credible evidence to suggest a tablet-like device will debut early next year. What will its impact be? Will it change digital publishing. And more importantly for New Zealand, which missed out on the Kindle when it opened up to international sales, how long will the Apple tablet take to reach our shores?

Scibloggers on Radio New Zealand this summer Peter Griffin Dec 29

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Several of our Scibloggers will be featuring over the next few weeks on Radio New Zealand’s summer programmes talking science.

Dr Fabiana Kubke kicked off today with a discussion on Summer of Noelle about tuis and her citizen science project.

I’ll update this post throughout the holidays with links to the audio as more Scibloggers are interviewed on Noelle’s show.

I’m also on Summer Report three times a week talking about the latest tech and science news with Simon Morton and Rowan Quinn. Here’s our first report about the discounting of consumer electronics and tech products over the Christmas sales period and a new paper in Nature detailing efforts by scientists to measure the changes in the world’s habitable zones as temeperature changes.

Summer Report scitech slot (December 30) Peter Griffin on Apple’s rumoured tablet and its implications for digital publishing.

Summer Noelle (January 4) Dr Shaun Hendy comparing the scientific outputs of New Zealand and Australia.

Summer Report scitech slot (January 4) Peter Griffin on Telecom’s broadband woes and Chinese efforts to crack down on porn websites.

Summer Noelle (January 6) Gareth Renowden of Hot Topic talks Copenhagen and climate change

Summer Report scitech slot (January 6) Peter Griffin on Telecom’s broadband meltdown

Summer Report scitech slot (January 8) Peter Griffin on the CES electronics show

Summer Report scitech slot (January 11) Peter Griffin on Mifi and France’s proposal to tax Google

Summer of Noelle (January 13) Anna Sandiford on the science of forensics

Summer Report scitech slot (January 13) Peter Griffin on Facebook’s evolving approach to privacy and the link between TV watching and mortality

Summer Report scitech slot (January 18) Peter Griffin on the German Government’s advice to ditch Internet Explore for safer web browsing options

Summer of Noelle (January 20) Brendan Moyle on tigers, crocodiles and why good looking animals do better

Summer Report scitech slot (January 18) Peter Griffin on the use of technology in responding to the Haiti earthquake

Summer Report scitech slot (January 22) Peter Griffin on Hilary Clinton’s speech about internet freedom

The year in non-fiction – pot boilers galore Peter Griffin Dec 28

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The Sunday Star Times yesterday published a list of the top ten best-selling non-fiction books of 2009 in New Zealand (see below).

It is a woeful list by any measure. Crockpots dominated. The only thing we have to be thankful for was that crackpots like Ian Wishart were absent from it. In previous years, decent works of local non-fiction, like the late Michael King’s superb Penguin History of New Zealand would have featured on the year’s best seller list, giving hope to local non-fiction writers. Not this year. It was cookbooks, self-help books and the obligatory All Black biography cleaning up.

Source: Sunday Star Times

Source: Sunday Star Times

I read a fair-bit of non-fiction in 2009. Here are some of the science and tech related titles I enjoyed the most:

outliersOutliers: The Story of Success – Malcolm Gladwell

What makes people successful? What’s the real key to those rags to riches tales we hear so much about? From Amazon.com: “Through case studies ranging from Canadian junior hockey champions to the robber barons of the Gilded Age, from Asian math whizzes to software entrepreneurs to the rise of his own family in Jamaica, Gladwell tears down the myth of individual merit to explore how culture, circumstance, timing, birth and luck account for success–and how historical legacies can hold others back despite ample individual gifts.” Fascinating and inspirational and plenty of sociological research and science for good measure.

The key take-away for me was the concept of the 10,000 hour rule – the idea that to be really good at anything – playing the violin, performing brain surgery, programming computers, you really need to put in 10,000 hours of practice – literally a decade of work practicing a few hours every day. Gladwell outlines numerous examples of where this proves true. Except for the gifted few, there are no short cuts – being successful at anything is for most people,  hard work.

twooThe World Without Us – Alan Weisman

Intrigued earlier in the year by the latest film adaptation of Richard Matheson’s novel I Am Legend, I picked up this book at the airport on the way to Turkey and could barely put it down during the ensuing trip. It was eerie to be sitting in an Istanbul hotel room reading about how the shoddy post-war building techniques employed in Istanbul would likely reduce the city to rubble in a decent sized earthquake, leaving the place uninhabitable for decades.

From the New Yorker: “Teasing out the consequences of a simple thought experiment–what would happen if the human species were suddenly extinguished–Weisman has written a sort of pop-science ghost story, in which the whole earth is the haunted house. Among the highlights: with pumps not working, the New York City subways would fill with water within days, while weeds and then trees would retake the buckled streets and wild predators would ravage the domesticated dogs. Texas’s unattended petrochemical complexes might ignite, scattering hydrogen cyanide to the winds–a “mini chemical nuclear winter.” After thousands of years, the Chunnel, rubber tires, and more than a billion tons of plastic might remain, but eventually a polymer-eating microbe could evolve, and, with the spectacular return of fish and bird populations, the earth might revert to Eden.”

free-andersonFree – the future of a radical price – Chris Anderson

Wired magazine’s editor in chief got into a spot of bother with this book when it emerged he had plagiarized passages from Wikipedia, something he later admitted was “sloppy and inexcusable” and apologised for. Still, the book is though-provoking and attempts to tackle the apparent contradictions of the freemium model currently dominating the internet and provoking a backlash from the likes of Rupert Murdoch. From Publisher’s Weekly:  “In the digital marketplace, the most effective price is no price at all, argues Anderson (The Long Tail). He illustrates how savvy businesses are raking it in with indirect routes from product to revenue with such models as cross-subsidies (giving away a DVR to sell cable service) and freemiums (offering Flickr for free while selling the superior FlickrPro to serious users). New media models have allowed successes like Obama’s campaign billboards on Xbox Live, Webkinz dolls and Radiohead’s name-your-own-price experiment with its latest album. A generational and global shift is at play–those below 30 won’t pay for information, knowing it will be available somewhere for free, and in China, piracy accounts for about 95% of music consumption–to the delight of artists and labels, who profit off free publicity through concerts and merchandising.”

accidentalbillionairesThe Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius and Betrayal – Ben Mezrich

To call this non-fiction is a bit of a stretch – it’s basically a dramatised retelling of the founding of Facebook and doesn’t have a patch on Mezrich’s mastrepiece, Bringing Down the House, the story of how some MIT whiz kid card counters were able to take millions from Vegas casinos (the Kevin Spacey movie adaptation butchered the book). I’ve read lots of books about the founding of various Silicon Valley companies and some of the tales are indeed highly dramatic. The story of Facebook, which was started by Mark Zuckerberg in a Harvard dorm room in 2004 (just five years ago!) has less to it, but that doesn’t stop Mezrich from amping up the action. The book is largely told from the point of view of Eduardo Saverin, an early financial backer of Facebook and partner of Zuckerberg’s who, according to the book, was edged out of Facebook and deprived of the fame and forture that Zuckerberg went on to experience. The really interesting aspects of the book deal with how Zuckerberg built Facebook, which started out as Facemash – a controversial Harvard website that allowed pictures of female students to be compared and rated online. That one went down like a lead balloon with Harvard’s administration, but launched an idea that went on to make billions for Zuckerberg.

poles apartPoles Apart – Gareth Morgan and John McCrystal

As good a book on the big picture science of climate change as you’ll find. Morgan, a climate change sceptic, set out to examine the evidence of man-made climate change as well as the arguments of climate change sceptics who believe humanity does not have a significant impact on the climate. The result is a fairly matter of fact summary of the science with a conclusion that sees Morgan come down on the side of the climate change “alarmists” as he refers to them. It’s a book noteable as one of the few published in recent years in New Zealand that includes a large amount of science and a high-profile New Zealand writer. Its subject matter meant it was always only going to have niche appeal, but the book tour on the back of its release say Morgan and McCrystal present to crowded town hall meetings the length of the country.

What do scientists think of the Copenhagen Accord? Peter Griffin Dec 19

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Scientists have today expressed everything from disgust to cautious optimism at the agreement cobbled together late in the night in Copenhagen.

We wrapped up comment from a large number of scientists on the Science Media Centre website – here are a few samples:

Dr Peter Barrett, Professor of Geology, affiliated with the Antarctic Research Centre and the New Zealand Climate Change Research Institute at Victoria University of Wellington:

’As a scientist I feel despair that the ’slow catastrophe’ of climate change is yet to be addressed with the seriousness and urgency required by the scientific evidence made widely available over the last two years. But as a human I am still hopeful.

’Although the Copenhagen Accord states..’climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time’, it appears to be a $100 billion problem to be addressed in a measured way, in contrast to last year’s financial crisis, which was an $8 trillion dollar problem that needed addressing urgently.

’Nor has the excess atmospheric carbon emitted over the last century from the use of cheap fossil energy by the developed world and the consequences of climate changed already being felt by the developing world been adequately acknowledged in the proposed solution.

’The huge efforts of all those that worked for an agreement in Copenhagen have to be admired, but after this year of intense negotiations there is still no credible plan for emissions reduction to keep global average temperature below a 2 deg C increase (though even a 1.5 deg C increase will be dangerous for some).

’We now have to ask what more we can do to convince political and business leaders that the future threat from fossil energy is real, imminent and that our legacy does matter. And of course we must take the necessary action. Our failure to do this will make us the first human society to compromise the earth for all future generations.

’The earth itself of course will be fine.’

Dr John Church is Principle Research Scientist in CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research and Leader of the Sea Level Rise Program at the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystem Cooperative Research Centre:

’Continued failure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions commits the World to metres of sea-level rise, with severe consequences for many millions of people and the natural environment.’

Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg is Director of the Centre for Marine Studies at the University of Queensland and has been in Copenhagen this week:

’A brave face on total failure. This is a triumph for the fossil fuel lobby.’

More New Zealand feedback:

Visiting Professor, Suzi Kerr, Stanford University, Department of Economics, Senior Fellow, Motu Economic and Public Policy Research comments:

’The agreement on a transparent monitoring mechanism is a relief and a major step forward with respect to some key developing countries. Elinor Ostrom (Winner of the 2009 Nobel prize in economics) has found that to build trust and cooperation without external enforcement, a key prerequisite is that they have credible information about each others’ actions so they can reward and penalize each other. Transparent monitoring is by no means sufficient to successfully address climate change on a global scale but is a critical necessary step.

’The fact that the agreement is not legally binding may not be that critical given that international agreements are essentially unenforceable in any case. It may however weaken the pressure to comply.

’We will need to see the details of the final agreement to understand how this will affect countries’ abilities to make part of their contribution to the climate effort through paying other countries to go beyond their agreed targets. We may need a separate legally binding agreement between countries that will be linked in a common emissions trading system. Trading is critical because it allows us to contribute beyond the opportunities for emissions reductions within New Zealand. As a rich country we should be prepared to be generous in our contribution to the global effort.

’However we don’t want to waste our resources with unnecessarily high cost domestic actions. We won’t be able to achieve the awesome task before us unless we can do it in the smartest most efficient ways possible and that requires that we pay for actions in developing countries. Emissions trading (cap and trade) is the best currently available instrument for achieving the enormous transfers required. The Clean Development Mechanism is not effective because ‘reductions’ are measured relative to an unobservable counterfactual and a large percentage of the apparent reductions are not real. This problem can be avoided if we are trading with countries with verifiable national targets.

’It is too soon to judge the success of the agreement but we need to remember that climate change is the ultimate free rider problem, it is costly and it involves profound distributional issues. Any agreement that involves meaningful verifiable reduction targets from most of the major emitters, builds on the flexibility of the previous agreement and creates a stronger framework for moving forward will be a major achievement. We should not only look at the achievements as a glass half full but remember that without the enormous effort of many people, including many New Zealanders, that glass would still be close to empty.’

Climate change, swine flu dominated science coverage in 09 Peter Griffin Dec 18

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The swine flu pandemic and climate change were the two biggest science-related issues covered in the New Zealand media in 2009, according to the Science Media Centre’s Media Tracker report published today.

The top 10 list of science-related stories picked up in the New Zealand media covers everything from October’s devastating tsunamis in Samoa to the debut of Chief Science Advisor Professor Sir Peter Gluckman to debate over aerial drops of 1080 poison.

Using data from Meltwater News and its own media logs, the SMC was able to take a snapshot of science coverage in the media in 2009. The SMC has also rated the quality of media coverage on these issues, with results ranging from poor to excellent.

“The media did a pretty good job covering the science angles during the swine flu pandemic and on news events like the tsunamis in Samoa and Auckland’s toxic beach issue,” says SMC manager Peter Griffin.

“But when it comes to climate change, the media really needs to up its game. Often the good work of environment reporters in the news section is undone by columnists working for the same publication, who at best gloss over the science and at worst misinform their readers,” he adds.

The SMC noted that in controversial science-related stories during the year, such as the plan to fortify bread with folic acid, scientists were often marginalised in favour of activists and lobby groups.

“Scientists need to get better at stepping forward when issues they are expert on are under the media spotlight. Too often the talking heads chosen by the media have an agenda to push and are willing to twist the science for their own ends.”

The SMC worked with hundreds of scientists during the year, quoting them in round-ups of expert comment and in briefings for the media. In October it also established Sciblogs.co.nz – the largest science blogging network in Australasia, featuring scientists writing on their areas of expertise.

Top 10 NZ science-related stories of 2009

1. Swine flu media frenzy

2. Poles apart on climate change

3. Folic acid debate

4. Pseudoephedrine ban

5. Low immunisation rates

6. Auckland’s toxic beaches

7. Chief Science Advisor’s debut

8. Devastating tsunamis

9. GM breaches

10. Anti-1080 campaign

Click here to download the report.

You can also download the Science Media Centre Annual Review for 2009 here.

That’s a big “no” for carbon capture Peter Griffin Dec 17

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The idea of tapping off emissions from coal-fired power stations and pumping them into massive underground caverns has been getting a lot of attention as one potential option for reducing carbon emissions.

ccsBut carbon sequestration has just been knocked back by the United Nations and won’t be included in the UN-backed Clean Development Mechanism at this stage.

That’s because too many concerns have been raised about the prospect of stored gases seeping out of their underground vaults at some stage in the future. The UN decided more work would have to be done on where liability would lie if there was seepage of gases.

The knockback for carbon capture and storage will be disappointing to energy companies exploring CCS options and investing in trials, but the decision largely mirrors the views of local scientists approached by the Science Media Centre a few month back. Here’s what they had to say on the technology:

Drs Shannon Page, Ian Mason and Arthur Williamson, Advanced Energy and Material Systems Laboratory, University of Canterbury comment:

’This paper provides a good review of the current situation regarding CCS.

’It reiterates that carbon capture offers few technical challenges but there are still serious doubts about sequestration. Nonetheless, there still has not been a demonstration of full carbon capture from an electricity generating plant.

’[In this area] the paper offers nothing new and we are concerned that the huge task of applying CCS to all existing power plants is not adequately addressed.

’Papers of this kind tend to imply that there is no alternative option. However, estimates by the US DOE indicate that renewables could supply up to four times current US electricity consumption within a shorter timeframe than envisaged for CCS. Our own work shows that New Zealand could easily have a 100% renewable electricity supply.

’The huge amount of money allocated to developing CCS would in our opinion be more fruitfully employed were it diverted to the implementation of already proven renewable technologies.’

Dr Martin Manning, NZ Climate Change Research Institute, VUW comments:

’Carbon capture and storage (CCS) from coal or gas fired power plants is now widely seen as essential if the world is to be able to keep global warming to 2°C while continuing its economic and social development.

’But the relevance of this emerging technology varies considerably by country.
The detailed summary by Stuart Haszeldine covers the status of the technology and shows that it can be a very significant development for climate change. It also points to initial projects in countries such as Australia that are showing positive results.

’At a climate change meeting in Wyoming in 2007, Fred Palmer, a senior representative of the coal industry, admitted that rapid movement into CCS was now expected to gain a high priority in the USA, China and elsewhere.

’But the importance of this technology for keeping global warming to 2°C, which is rather blandly supported by many countries, is often overlooked. The detailed greenhouse gas emission scenarios for the rest of this century, that are consistent with such a limit, involve rapid deployment of CCS but then a shift to biological fuels and still burying the carbon after burning those.
This leads to a net removal of CO2 from the atmosphere through plants combined with the capture and storage of carbon. While some scientists do suggest other ways of achieving such a net removal in future, this one directly linked to CCS has the greatest confidence so far.

’Haszeldine’s review covers what is widely regarded as a very important part of global technology for keeping to the 2°C warming limit. But in New Zealand we have the benefit of other natural sources for energy generation which can be aligned with the climate target and at lower costs for us.’

Dr Murray McCready, Research Scientist at CRL Energy Ltd.:

’This paper provides a high level review of CCS as a means to reduce carbon emissions with a focus on existing technologies and demonstration projects. The author points out that the ultimate barriers to implementation of CCS technologies are likely to be due to political and commercial factors rather than technical limitations. The technical coverage is general and while it provides a useful introduction some technologies such as oxygen transfer membranes are not mentioned. Of particular interest in the New Zealand context are points made about how CCS equipped thermal generation may respond on an electricity grid with high renewable generation. This indicates an important area for research into CCS in New Zealand.’

Ralph Chapman, Director of Environmental Studies, VUW, comments:

’I doubt if NZ will be making use of CCS unless and until it becomes very well established, and costs fall sharply. It seems likely that CCS’s costs per tonne of CO2 avoided would be way higher than abatement via other means such as renewables (displacing fossil generation), reducing transport emissions, nitrous oxide emission reduction etc.’

Dr Bob Lloyd, Director of Energy Studies Programme, University of Otago:

’The article on Carbon Capture and Storage is sub-titled How Green can Black be? The answer is: not very. The idea of clean coal is an oxymoron. The paper suggests that CCS has been on the planning boards for some time now but ’there is a lamentable lack of financial commitment’. The reason for this lack of commitment is that CCS will increase the cost of electricity generated from coal fired power stations from between 50% and 100%.

’And that increase would be uncompetitive without very large CO2 taxes. The problem is not actually financial, it is an energy problem; CCS is very energy intensive. It is likely that you would need to build close to an extra power station of roughly the same size to store the CO2 from an existing station. This progression is clearly not going to work. The article in Science also claims that if it did ever get working that it has the potential to reduce carbon emissions by 20%. But this percentage is not nearly enough.

’The latest figures suggest we should be reducing the CO2 in the atmosphere to 350 ppm. However, the existing level is around 387 ppm which means we have to virtually remove 100% of all further energy emissions of CO2 very soon. The US climate scientist Jim Hanson has calculated that we will have to eliminate all (100%) of coal fired power stations by 2030 if we are to have a fighting chance of stopping runaway climate change. Even then CO2 levels don’t get back to 350 ppm until the end of this century! Unfortunately the world is holding out for a technical fix that is unlikely to eventuate in time; trying to catch onto anything that will prevent a reduction in energy consumption and a slow up in economic growth.’

Dr Peter Read, Honorary Research Fellow, Centre for Energy Research, MasseyUniversity:

’CCS is a critical technology in mitigating climate change, given that the most effective approach — economic collapse — is unlikely to be implemented intentionally. It can cut about 80 per cent of the emissions that are inevitable from the existing and (in China particularly) growing stock of coal fired power plant.

’Co-firing with 20 per cent biomass fuel results in a zero emissions system. [This article] shows that meeting global warming limitation targets involves a steep learning curve, starting from the 36 demonstration projects in being or planned worldwide, through tens of commercial power plants in operation well before 2020 and hundreds of large plants by 2025.

’Simply pricing carbon in the market is not enough’ he states — lessons from past power plant clean-up programmes (e.g. FGD or flue gas desulphurization) show that voluntary codes do not work either. Co-operation involving world-wide information sharing needs to be enforced, with clearly signposted regulation.’

Professor Gerry Carrington, University of Otago:

’Haszeldine reviews underground CO2 sequestration technology as an advocate for the technology. He clarifies the risks surrounding the technology and highlights the uncertainty about its costs and
effectiveness. However, he does not discuss the ethical problems we will face if we ever attempt large scale application, when there will be vast opportunities for commercial gain from bad behaviour. In my view underground CO2 sequestration is only one of many possibilities for
managing the growing risk of climate change. I do not think it is so special that it should receive preference for public support.’

Are the days of torrenting numbered? Peter Griffin Dec 16

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The Government has just released a cabinet paper outlining proposed amendments to the Copyright Act to battle widespread illegal downloading of copyrighted material.

Many will remember the backlash earlier in the year when the infamous section 92a proposal was nearly passed into law. It would have allowed internet providers to disconnect those suspected of illegally downloading copyright material after three warnings.

The problem is the proposed legislation was a dog’s breakfast – unfair to consumers who didn’t have a proper mechanism to defend themselves and putting too much power in the hands of rights holders.

The paper released today looks a lot more sensible.Kiwiblog’s David Farrar has been following the issue closely and summarises the pros and cons well.

Effectively, there’s more formality in the process of disconnecting a wayward downloader and the final decision, which would result in disconnection for six months, will now be made by the courts. The Copyright Tribunal will get involved if after three notices, the ISP account holder continues to infringe copyright law. Then the right holder can pursue the downloader for up to $15,000 in damages.

However, the account holder can also counterclaim to the tribunal anonymously via their ISP. This could become important as downloading over shared internet connections and computers sees the person paying the bill wrongly fingered for illegal downloads.

Overall, it’s about as watered-down as we could expect, given the ACTA negotiations and the legislation passing all around the world to tighten up copyright legislation to take on illegal downloaders.

According to NZFACT, there are approximately 200,000 file shares per month in New Zealand. That’s a fair amount of content walking out the door for the entertainment industry and software makers, so you can understand their desperation to have the law changed.

How effective the measures are if passed into law will depend on a number of factors – cheif among them, as Farrar points out, is the fee rights holders will have to pay ISPs to issue a complaint notice against an ISP’s customer. If the fee is too low, they will bombard ISPs with requests to notify customers. If the fee is high, the rightsholders will likely only go after the biggest downloaders.

Either way, in the next year or so legislation is likely to pass that will stem the flow of free content to broadband connections all over the country. Technology will provide workarounds for the most determined downloaders, but the average user is likely to throw in the towel after receiving two or three notices. For those who have grown up with Bittorrent, the end of the party will be particularly bitter.

We aren’t out on a limb with this one – in a bid to protect their creative industries most western nations are moving this way and cosying up together under the banner of ACTA. At a time when the web is facilitating open access to content like never before, the question is whether this blitz of legislation will slow the magnificent innovation and diversity the net is known for.


Science – where the money goes Peter Griffin Dec 15

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You’ve got to love Bob Brockie’s blunt assessment of the science system outlined in Monday’s science column in the Dominion Post.

Sadly it isn’t online, but this cartoon penned by Brockie accompanied the article and pretty much sums it up…

Credit: Bob Brockie

Credit: Bob Brockie

XT network falls over Peter Griffin Dec 14

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Thousands of Telecom customers are without mobile service today due to a major outage on the new XT network affecting service from Taupo south.

UPDATE: Chris Keall at the NBR has an update and some interesting info on cause of the outage, which has now stretched in length to over six hours.

My Blackberry, strangely enough, is still receiving emails, but there’s a “SOS” message where the coverage bars should be and there’s no XT cellsite available when I try to manually connect. Emergency calls are apparently still going through okay.

There’s plenty of discussion on the subject in the Geekzone forums.

As outages go, this is a major – we are now five or six hours without service, which is the longest mobile outage I can remember.

It is disappointing, but the first problem I’ve had with the XT network – which in general delivers fast mobile broadband and good quality calling for me. Telecom will need to get back online soon or it will be facing legitimate claims of lost income from small businesses who rely on mobile services to do business…

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