Archive November 2009

Star Times’ take on Copenhagen Peter Griffin Nov 29


sst copenhagen

Climategate brought out the worst in us Peter Griffin Nov 28


What a horrible week. I haven’t known anything like it in the time the Science Media Centre has been operating and I’ve been immersed in all things scientific.

In the week since the emails from the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit appeared on the internet we’ve seen bloggers, newspaper columnists, letter to the editor writers all retreat to their ideological corners and lob uninformed criticism at scientists, politicians and at each other. The comment sections of some blogs have become particularly grubby places to congregate.

Suddenly balance and informed debate don’t seem to matter. Climategate may have been about truth and the manipulation of it and the emails, as the Dominion Post’s editorial today points out, do raise some very legitimate questions about the conduct of a few scientists. But what little truth has been spoken this week in the analysis of those emails has been drowned out by a cacophony of ideological blather.

One thing I’ve learnt since founding the SMC, is that ideology is dangerous when it comes to discussion of science-related issues, whether they be about immunisation, the use of 1080, putting folate in bread or climate change.

What climategate has done is embolden people to say what they really feel however irrational it makes them sound. Take the Herald columnist Jim Hopkins for instance, who yesterday wrote:

Here’s a toast to the hackers who exposed this scam. And another to the “scientists” who perpetrated it. Their dodgy “science” has proved one thing – global warming ain’t our fault. They made it up. Now, would somebody tell Nick Smith?

We’ve seen local attempts to discredit some of our top scientists by the Climate Science Coalition allied with climate change deniers in the blogosphere and in the ACT Party. It’s ironic that climategate, a story about integrity and credibility has really served to bring into question the integrity and credibility of many of those who have been publicly discussing it.

It also happened to be a week in which emissions trading legislation passed that is popular with virtually no one, least of all scientists.

Perhaps the Herald’s other columnist, John Roughan, is right when he states in the Weekend Herald today that fundamentally, we don’t care about climate change:

The public senses, I think, that either the problem is wildly over-stated or the solutions ridiculously inadequate. Either way, it is hard to take the climate change seriously.

If that’s what the public in general really “senses” well I fear we will achieve little in Copenhagen next month, little with the ETS, little to mitigate the impact of climate change in the coming years.

But frankly, I think Roughan is wrong about the public. He forgets that the leaders of the ruling party changed their position on climate change from one of outright denial of it to one of begrudging acceptance of the need to do something about it because they realised the public wouldn’t accept their previous position and grant them power. As the Swiss ambassador to New Zealand and former Kyoto Protocol negotiator for Switzerland, Dr Beat Nobs explained this week in a presentation in Wellington, our political system isn’t designed to cope with longterm solutions. Politicians don’t think 30 years out, they have no incentive to.

Climategate is a setback for those trying to explain the science of climate change because it has spread a good deal of FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) about the science both here and abroad. Climate scientists will get over this, but as Mike Hulme, a climate scientist at the University of East Anglia, writes in a letter to New York Times columnist Andrew Revkin, their attitude and approach to their work may have to change markedly:

This will blow its course soon in the conventional media without making too much difference to Copenhagen – after all, COP15 is about raw politics, not about the politics of science. But in the Internet worlds of deliberation and in the ‘mood’ of public debate about the trustworthiness of climate science, the reverberations of this episode will live on long beyond COP15. Climate scientists will have to work harder to earn the warranted trust of the public – and maybe that is no bad thing.

But this episode might signify something more in the unfolding story of climate change. This event might signal a crack that allows for processes of re-structuring scientific knowledge about climate change. It is possible that some areas of climate science has become sclerotic. It is possible that climate science has become too partisan, too centralized. The tribalism that some of the leaked emails display is something more usually associated with social organization within primitive cultures; it is not attractive when we find it at work inside science.

It is also possible that the institutional innovation that has been the I.P.C.C. has run its course. Yes, there will be an AR5 but for what purpose? The I.P.C.C. itself, through its structural tendency to politicize climate change science, has perhaps helped to foster a more authoritarian and exclusive form of knowledge production – just at a time when a globalizing and wired cosmopolitan culture is demanding of science something much more open and inclusive.

Climate change: The science explained in simple terms Peter Griffin Nov 25


I’ve been looking for a good, easy to read document outlining the latest climate science research and putting it in context for Copenhagen and I think I’ve found it.

copenhagen diagnosisToday in Sydney, the Climate Change Research Centre, a unit of the University of New South Wales, released The Copenhagen Diagnosis. It’s free to download or view online in a nice rich text format so credit to the centre for making it accessible in multiple attractive formats. But most praise has to be reserved for the 26 contributing authors who have laid out the science to make it easy to understand for a layman like myself. Chapters cover aspects of climate science including “the atmosphere”, “permafrost and hydrates” and “global sea level”.

Throughout are scattered common questions about climate change and answers designed to clear up confusion. An example: “Are we just in a natural warming phase, recovering from the ‘little ice age?‘.

The document, once pictures and the reference section is including is a slim 50 pages. If you want something to get yourself up to speed on the science ahead of Copenhagen this could well be the document to download. Its even better if you have a colleague willing to run across the road and get it bound for you as I have!

The executive summary of the Copenhagen Diagnosis, which I’ve excerpted below gives the basics you need to know if even 50 pages is too much to handle as we head into the highly-stressful (for everyone other than academics) end of year period.

The diplomats and politicians soon to board flights to Denmark could do worse than slip a copy of The Copenhagen Diagnosis into their cabin luggage.

Executive summary:

The most significant recent climate change findings are:

Surging greenhouse gas emissions: Global carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels in 2008 were nearly 40% higher than those in 1990. Even if global emission rates are stabilized at present-day levels, just 20 more years of emissions would give a 25% probability that warming exceeds 2°C, even with zero emissions after 2030. Every year of delayed action increases the chances of exceeding 2°C warming.

Recent global temperatures demonstrate human-induced warming: Over the past 25 years temperatures have increased at a rate of 0.19°C per decade, in very good agreement with predictions based on greenhouse gas increases. Even over the past ten years, despite a decrease in solar forcing, the trend continues to be one of warming. Natural, short-term fluctuations are occurring as usual, but there have been no significant changes in the underlying warming trend.

Acceleration of melting of ice-sheets, glaciers and ice-caps: A wide array of satellite and ice measurements now demonstrate beyond doubt that both the Greenland and Antarctic ice-sheets are losing mass at an increasing rate. Melting of glaciers and ice-caps in other parts of the world has also accelerated since 1990. Rapid Arctic sea-ice decline: Summer-time melting of Arctic sea-ice has accelerated far beyond the expectations of climate models. The area of sea-ice melt during 2007-2009 was about 40% greater than the average prediction from IPCC AR4 climate models.

Current sea-level rise underestimated: Satellites show recent global average sea-level rise (3.4 mm/yr over the past 15 years) to be ~80% above past IPCC predictions. This acceleration in sea-level rise is consistent with a doubling in contribution from melting of glaciers, ice caps, and the Greenland and West-Antarctic ice-sheets.

Sea-level predictions revised: By 2100, global sea-level is likely to rise at least twice as much as projected by Working Group 1 of the IPCC AR4; for unmitigated emissions it may well exceed 1 meter. The upper limit has been estimated as ~ 2 meters sea level rise by 2100. Sea level will continue to rise for centuries after global temperatures have been stabilized, and several meters of sea level rise must be expected over the next few centuries.

Delay in action risks irreversible damage: Several vulnerable elements in the climate system (e.g. continental ice-sheets, Amazon rainforest, West African monsoon and others) could be pushed towards abrupt or irreversible change if warming continues in a business-as-usual way throughout this century. The risk of transgressing critical thresholds (’tipping points’) increases strongly with ongoing climate change. Thus waiting for higher levels of scientific certainty could mean that some
tipping points will be crossed before they are recognized.

The turning point must come soon: If global warming is to be limited to a maximum of 2 °C above pre-industrial values, global emissions need to peak between 2015 and 2020 and then decline rapidly. To stabilize climate, a decarbonized global society — with near-zero emissions of CO2 and other long-lived greenhouse gases — needs to be reached well within this century. More specifically, the average annual per-capita emissions will have to shrink to well under 1 metric ton CO2 by 2050. This is 80-95% below the per-capita emissions in developed nations in 2000.

The pros and cons of direct to consumer genomics Peter Griffin Nov 24

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I was only able to briefly duck into the roundtable on genomics that took place in Wellington today, but the fragments of discussion I listened in on were fascinating to say the least.

We’ve all heard of 23 and Me, the San Francisco-based company that allows you to set up your own genetic test via the internet, a process that involves you couriering a sample of your saliva to the US for analysis to determine whether you are genetically predisposed to certain conditions.

Well, companies like that are at the public face of genetic testing technology and to a large extent have molded the public’s perception of how genetic testing technology has advanced.

Martin Kennedy, a geneticist at the Carney Centre for Pharmacogenomics at the University of Otago, said the immediacy of such services raised all sorts of issues for individuals and families using them, but had done a lot to boost the profile of this type of research.

“For all their ills, these companies are having a huge impact on public awareness,” he said.

Kennedy also talked about the 1000 Genome Project, an international effort to sequence the genomes of 1000 people worldwide to expand the map of human genetics, something that is hoped will help speed up the doscovery of the genetic roots of many diseases.

Attorney General Chris Finlayson gave a short speech on opensource genetic material, IP rights to genetic subject matter, gathering DNA samples and patenting genetic discoveries.

Listen to the podcast on the Science Media Centre website. Credit to the people behind the Human Genome Research Project for putting on yet another thought-provoking event.

Wellingtonians lap up 9/11 conspiracy theory rubbish Peter Griffin Nov 22


After Kim Hill’s convincing and justified dismantling of 9/11 conspiracy theorist Richard Gage on her show yesterday, I was expecting a large turn-out for Gage’s 2pm lecture at Te Papa that followed his appearance on the show.

But not quite that large.

Te Papa’s Soundings theatre was completely full, so I watched the lecture via telelink along with 300 other people in the museum’s conference venue on level 3. I’m sure Te Papa breached their fire regulations – there was barely room to sit on the floor. Altogether, 620 people gathered to hear Gage talk. A poll taken by Gage at the start of the lecture revealed the majority of those gathered believed the collapse of the World Trace Center towers and 7 World Trade Center was an inside job, the result of controlled explosions. By the end of the 3 hour presentation, by which stage a number of people had walked out, Gage repeated the poll and found the number of believers in the conspiracy theory had increased.

“95 per cent of people who come to our presentations end up agreeing with us,” he had earlier told Kim Hill.

Gage’s presentation was indeed interesting, reasonably well-structured and featured selectively gathered facts to present what, on the face of it, was a very compelling argument pointing to a massive conspiracy to cover up the real cause of the 9/11 tragedy. But I came away from it still unconvinced both by the arguments Gage put together and by the need for an entirely new investigation into the whole incident. Gage wouldn’t be surprised by that. As he told Kim Hill, he believes that those who accept the “official” version of what happened that day can’t handle the truth:

Gage: There are psychological barriers to reexamining what we thought was true.

Hill: It’s a psychological barrier against complete irrationality.

Hill,  in my view, hit the nail on the head.

Does this look controlled to you?

Does this look controlled to you?

Gage’s presentation lurches from dense scientific analysis of nano-thermite through to snatches of eyewitness accounts to wild speculation on the reasons for the US Government wanting to intentionally bring down those buildings. If he stuck to the science and engineering, he would have a much more convincing argument but would have seen half his yawning audience gone before the one hour mark.

Instead, Gage realises he has to sell the conspiracy, potential motives and all, to keep people lapping up his Dan Brown-like story. And that’s where it all unravels. Hill points out the more farcical elements of his theory – the claim that BBC and CNN presenters reported that 7 Word Trade Centre had collapsed before it actually had, because they’d been fed information from the people behind the conspiracy.

There’s the footage of the eyewitness on the street who seems calm and has a convincing explanation for the collapse just minutes afterwards that aligns with the official version. Gage suggests he may have been planted by those responsible. But the most ludicrous claim is that hundreds of people were involved in an operation to plant explosives throughout the three buildings and to arrange the planes to fly into the twin towers, to detonate the explosions and bring the towers down in a demolition exercise akin to those used to bring down aging Las Vegas casinos.

As the Americans say, give me a break.

Sure, there are unusual things  about what happened that day – 7 World Trade Centre was the first collapse of a skyscraper attributed to uncontrolled fires. There’s the sulfuric compounds in the debris of the towers fuelling the suggestion thermite may have been used as an explosive to bring the towers down. And the towers did seem to come down in a fairly uniform way, rather than toppling over and taking out swathes of lower Manhattan.

But answer me this Mr Gage: why would the conspirators behind 9/11 risk discovery to save surrounding buildings when they were already committing to killing thousands of people and destroying the largest, most iconic buildings in New York city anyway? It just doesn’t add up.

What happened on 9/11 was almost unbelievable, but not totally so. We’ve never seen anything like it before, which makes what happened so hard to understand and even scientific explanations of it so difficult to fully accept. But this was the first time we’ve seen jetliners flown into buildings with the intent of taking them down.  An unusual set of circumstances created an unusual set of outcomes.

Anyone giving Gage the time of day should also look at the other explanations experts have given for what happened. This Popular Mechanics cover story from 2005 for instance debunks some of the major aspects of the 9/11 conspiracy story. Gage told Hill that people allied with the Bush administration and the people behind the NIST report into the 9/11 tragedy got to the Popular Mechanics people in the editing stage of the piece, pressuring them into towing the official line. Also check out the list of 300 experts Popular Mechanic assembled to check the facts for the piece. Are they all in on the conspiracy as well?

7 World Trade Center – an intriguing plot line

It’s no mistake that Gage begins the technical part of his presentation by looking at the collapse of 7 World Trade Centre. Of all the things that happened that day, the collapse of this building is the most puzzling, given that the official explanation for its collapse – damage from debris falling from the WTC north tower and fires throughout the building weakening the structure, isn’t really supported by evidence from previous skyscraper fires.

If you wanted to humour Gage for a moment, you could dream up a semi-credible conspiracy theory for the collapse of this building alone. Given that the building housed tenants including the CIA, the SEC and other US Government agencies, its tempting to think there may have been something held in 7 World Trade Centre that someone didn’t want getting into the wrong hands. 7 WTC collapsed hours after the twin towers and was totally evacuated before it did. That would be enough time for a small crack team to get into it and wire it for demolition extracting or destroying from whichever offices, the sensitive whatever it was – files, data, gadget, photos – who knows.

In the days following 9/11 lower Manhattan was blocked off from Canal St south. The building my girlfriend worked in (she’d moved to Boston by the time the attacks happened), the Deutsche Bank tower opposite the World Trade Centre, was nevertheless looted by opportunist thieves who took all sorts of things – shoes, coats, even picture frames left on desks. Maybe the Government knew it would be impossible to secure the disaster zone around WTC 7 and decided to literally bury whatever was in there it wanted to keep secret…

Back to reality

Even that scenario sounds like a plot line from 24 or Prison Break. Gage on the other hand, loses the plot entirely by trying to bring together disparate strands suggesting the media, the military, government departments, elevator maintenance companies, private security firms and insurance giants were all acting in unison in the hope of profiting from the resulting wars that the US waged. Its for this reason that the successful architect turned conspiracy theorist will for the rest of his career be considered a crank. And this is why Kim Hill treated him with thinly-veiled contempt on her show yesterday.

As for the hundreds in the Wellington audience who buy into Gage’s claims, what can I say? The capital has always had its fair share of nut jobs conspiracy theorists…

Saturday science coverage – two thumbs up for the Herald and the Listener Peter Griffin Nov 21

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Between the Weekend Herald and the latest issue of the New Zealand Listener which just arrived in my mailbox, there’s enough coverage to suggest there’s a dedicated group of journalists operating in the New Zealand media committed to decent reporting on the big science-related issues facing society.

First, take Chris Barton’s piece on the issue of mobile phones and their possible connection with brain cancer. Barton set himself a difficult task writing a feature on the issue when the long-awaited Interphone study is just about to go public but he lays out the existing scientific evidence very well and gets good input from local scientists and a visiting expert on the issue who held a briefing in conjunction with the Australian Science Media Centre this week.

Also in the Herald, Catherine Masters has an excellent feature on Professor Peter Hunter, who claimed the Rutherford Medal on wednesday night along with the much-deserved $100,000 in prize money.

Moving over to the Listener, the cover story carries the ominous title: Last chance to save humanity.

Inside is a lengthy series of pieces by Sarah Barnett looking forward to Copenhagen and covering all the angles – scientific and political included. It’s a decent piece of work and based in part on a Science Media Centre briefing we held in Wellington a couple of weeks ago.

Check out all the features mentioned above – they are well worth a read

TIVO reviewed – part 2 Peter Griffin Nov 19


UPDATE: I’ve heard from Georgie at TIVO about using a TIVO box if you’re NOT a Telecom broadband subscriber – it IS possible – see section “True video on demand” for details.

While TIVO’s arrival on the New Zealand market should be wholeheartedly welcomed, MySky’s entrenched presence in the market has really stolen the thunder of the iconic US brand that made time-shifting and add-skipping standard TV watching behaviour.

Nevertheless, despite the lead Sky has with tens of thousands of paid up Sky subscribers shelling out extra each month to rent the MySky HDi box, TIVO has a few features that are very much new to New Zealand and could help secure TIVO a lucrative niche.

TIVO suggesttivo thumbs 2ions

TiVo has some seriously intelligent software built into the box which is designed to help you come across TV programming you are likely to enjoy watching. Every time you record a show on the TIVO box, the software tracks the type of show you are watching and offers up similar types of programmes based a series of criteria – genre, age demographic and the actors starring in the show included.

You can really hone the selections by rating the shows you are watching and the suggestions served up by TIVO by pressing the “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” buttons on the TIVO remote. The more shows are rated, the better TIVO is at making suggestions. Ratings can be applied to any programme whether it is currently playing, is recorded or is simply listed in the electronic programming guide.

A couple of weeks into using TIVO the suggestions are already getting closer to my real TV viewing tastes, reminding me in part of the Pandora “music genome” service which served up music based on the listeners ratings to deliver an internet radio station tailored to the listener. Sadly, Pandora is no longer available to listeners in New Zealand, though there are several similar services available, most famously,

True video on demand

The real promise of TIVO is the efficient way it utilises your broadband connection to download movies and TV programmes. It should be pointed out that you will need a Telecom broadband connection to purchase and operate a TIVO box. That’s right, TVNZ, the local licence-holder for TIVO stitched up an exclusive deal to provide TIVO to Telecom customers only. So if you are on an Orcon or Vodafone broadband plan, you’re out of luck if you want to use TIVO. That’s something to keep in mind if you’re mulling over moving away from Telecom for broadband but like the look of TIVO.


UPDATE: TIVO got in touch to pull me up here. Georgie Hills writes:  “A non-Telecom Broadband customer (say, if you’re with Orcon or Vodafone) can use the TiVo media device and enjoy all features of the TiVo media device except the broadband content and services, which we call CASPA On-Demand.

“You will still need a wireless modem or a multi-port router with an ethernet port located near your TV. If you are with another internet provider your basic TiVo download activity (including the nightly update to the On-Screen TV Guide) should generally use up no more than 25—30MB of your monthly data allowance.”

So you don’t have to be a Telecom customer to buy a TIVO box. If you really do want one, you can buy one from a Telecom store and use the DVR functions of it. It will still use your broadband network of choice to update the electronic programming guide.

However, not being able to use the CASPA video on demand service would make a TIVO purchase for the average TV viewer a marginal proposition. The whole point of TIVO is the potential it has to open up content choices significantly.Still given the current price differential between the regular Freeview DVR and TIVO – only about $200, some non-Telecom subscribers may be tempted.


I was fearing that I’d have to string an ethernet cable across the lounge to connect the box to my router, but TIVO has supplied an 802.11g wireless adaptor, which allows the TIVO to use your internet connection without the hassle of cables. I had my reservations around this knowing, the occasional flakiness of wi-fi, but so far I’m very impressed at the robustness of the wireless connection. The wireless adapter is inconspicuous and plug and play, connecting to the TIVO box via USB.

I simply had to plug in the wireless network security code on the TIVO remote to open communication between TIVO and my wireless router. While the broadband connection is used to update TIVO with customer service messages, its real use is to connect you to the CASPA video on demand service where you can pay to download full-length TV shows and movies. Using CASPA involves opening an acocunt with a credit card via an internet form – there doesn’t appear to be an option to charge downloads to your Telecom bill.

With CASPA you top up a digital wallet to use to buy content – full-length movies cost $6.95, TV episodes, $2.95. There are limitations on how long the content will stay on the TIVO box, ranging form 3 days to permanent downloads that will never be erased. You need to make sure you read the licence terms before hitting the “download” button.

B-grade moves galore

Downloads turn up on the TIVO box surprisingly fast – a half hour TV episode may be 500 – 600MB in size and take a few minutes to transfer. Movies take longer, but not a frustratingly long time. The TIVO box lets you get on with watching other programmes and a blue light appears on the front of the box when the download is complete.

There’s a smattering of free content – some music videos and short films, but the bulk of the material is premium content. That would be okay if there was a massive library to browse. Instead, there are only a couple of dozen movies, most of them pretty standard mainstream Hollywood flicks. The same goes for the TV shows. TIVO will really have to improve the content options to make CASPA an attractive element of the service.

Remote scheduling & PC viewing

As with MySky, you can set up recordings remotely using TIVO Genie via a web browser logged into your TIVO account and on an internet-enabled phone. The service doesn’t yet work for Prime, Maori TV or Radio New Zealand, but seems to work pretty smoothly otherwise.

Downloading the TIVO desktop software to your computer will also allow you to transfer recordings on your TIVO DVR to your computer. This is hugely appealing to me. I travel a fair bit so like th eidea of being able to watch the odd TV episode in Windows Media Player on my computer. The transfers take place via your wireless network so won’t contribute to your broadband download cap.

tivo 3

Some of the programmes are rather large, especially those delivered in high definition. Transfers then take some time, but can churn away in the background on your PC and won’t tie up your broadband connection.

You can also transfer TIVO content to mobile devices including the Blackberry Bold, iPhone and Nokia N80. This is hugely attractive for commuters, a great way to catch up on TV episodes on the bus or train. It seems to require a premium upgrade to the TIVO desktop which I am yet to install. However I have a Blackberry Bold and an iPhone so will report back with a progress update.

In part 3: TIVO vs MySKy – a price and feature comparison, buying tips, which box is best?

The science system – how we stack up Peter Griffin Nov 16

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Pattrick Smellie’s feature in local business weekly The Independent last week gives one of the best up-to-date snapshots of the science system and the changes likely to be made as the Government embarks on what could be the biggest overhaul of the science and innovation system since the Crown Research Institutes were created in 1992.

Unfortunately, Smellie’s feature is not online. But a couple of tables from the piece give an indication of what we are focusing on in science and how we compare to other countries when it comes to spending on R&D.

The Ministry of Research, Science and Technology is currently calling for feedbakc on a document it released outlining its priorities for the science sector. Submissions close on the 18th of November (yes, Wednesday) so you’ll need to move fast to have your say on what, if anything, should change.

from The Independent

Source: The Independent

TIVO reviewed – part 1 Peter Griffin Nov 15


In a 3-part series I’ll be reviewing the TIVO digital recorder and video on demand service launched last week by TVNZ and Telecom.

This post deals with the TIVO installation and set-up.

DVR war declared (finally)

So finally, a decade after time-shifting TV, ad-skipping and digital storage of TV programmes came to American homes via the TIVO box, New Zealanders can get their hands on the same service.

tivo boxWhile the TIVO brand is new to New Zealand, the concept of the digital video recorder is not – Sky’s successful MySky recorder was the first official box to employ an electronic programming guide, digital recording and intelligent services like series link, which allows you to set up recording of an ongoing TV show with one press of a button.

Other players such as Panasonic, Philips and Sony have released stand-alone DVRs that allow easy recording of programmes but without the integrated programming guide. DVRs designed to work with the Freeview service are also on offer for around $800.

Given that, is there room in the market for TIVO? Sky has certainly scooped up the early adopters of the technology with its impressive MySky box, but the desire of a sizeable section of the market to avoid lining Rupert Murdoch’s pockets further and stick to free-to-air TV and the clever on-demand and networking features of the TIVO service make it a compelling offer – if the $920 price tag had about $300 shaved off it.

Setting up TIVO

There were a number of elements to my particular TIVO installation, so I was surprised at how quick the set-up process was. To take full advantage of TIVO’s video on demand functions, I had to not only have to plug the box into my existing home theatre set-up, but attach it to an internal UHF aerial and connect the box wirelessly to my home broadband network.

Something could have gone wrong at any step in the process, but amazingly, nothing did. It helps that TIVO supplies a big, simple diagram you can spread out on your living room floor to walk you through the process.

Out of the box

The TIVO device is fairly simple in design, black with a silver trim. There’s no digital display on the box, just a series of coloured lights to indicate power, whether TIVO is recording and when a download is ready to view. It’s a fair bit larger than MySky and nowhere near as sleek or stylish. But it has an understated simple profile and blends in well with home theatre components.

The TIVO remote control is easy to get the hang of and better designed than the chunky MySky remote.

Terrestrial HD

TIVO relies on the Freeview broadcast service launched a couple of years back to support the broadcast of free-to-air channels in high-definition format. As such you will need a UHF aerial capable of picking up the service – check coverage in your area here. For best results, you’ll need a roof-top aerial, however I’ve been using an internal UHF aerial I bought from Dick Smith for around $80. It works very well, though occasionally there is some screen distortion as several tall buildings sit between my apartment in Wellington’s CBD and Mt Kaukau, where the Freeview transmitter is.Note that you cannot connect TIVO to the Freeview satellite service that is also used to deliver free-to-air TV digitally.

Wired for video

TIVO offers good options to connect to your TV – composite video, component and HDMI among them – you will want to connect via one of the last two options to receive the 720p high-definition picture the broadcast service supports.

Bundled with the TIVO package is a wireless networking adapter which plugs via USB into the back of the TIVO box and talks to a wireless router to shift information to your computer and to utilise your broadband router for movie downloads. The adapter is fully plug and play – set-up was a breeze.

With everything connected, it was time to turn on the TIVO box and scan for the digital free-to-air channels. TIVO took a couple of minutes to programme in the channels after which I was able to view them all by clicking on the “live TV” button on the TIVO remote.

But first, setting up TIVO involves you going online to register the box with the TIVO network. This was a straightforward process, within minutes I had a TIVO account set-up and had registered for the CASPA movie-on-demand service, which takes about a day to activate. I was then taken to a menu to set up the wireless adapter, which involves entering your wireless network security code via the TIVO handset.

With a connection established with your wireless router you are then set up for unmetered downloading of TV shows and movies over a Telecom broadband connection.

Short learning curve

TIVO's suggestions feature

TIVO's suggestions feature

Learning the ins and outs of TIVO’s menu system, features and remote control took less time than learning the ropes with MySky did. Everything is designed for easy navigation. Helpful videos are pre-loaded to walk you through the process. The Now Playing screen will become central to organising your TIVO viewing – it displays all the recorded programmes and downloads you have gathered on the 320GB hard drive. Other options on the menu take you instantly to CASPA, the on-demand download screen which displays the premium and free content available to download.

Another menu option will become important to your ongoing viewing – a “TIVO suggestions” screen where TIVO suggests programmes you may want to watch based on your recording habits. TIVO learns from what you watch and record, so one afternoon into the TIVO experience, the box won’t have much to base its suggestions on. But it is surprisingly astute. Assembled programmes choices are served up which you can reject with the touch of the green “thumbs up” button or reject by pressing the red “thumbs down” buttom. More about the suggestions features in part 2.

With TIVO receiving the broadcasts and accessing the wireless gateway I was fully installed in less than 45 minutes, impressive given the complexity of the technology involved.

In part 2: Getting to grips with TIVO suggestions, remote recording, downloading movies and shifting content to a computer.

Gluckman: stop the science infighting Peter Griffin Nov 13

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The New Zealand Association of Scientists dished out their annual awards last night at a ceremony at Turnbull House attended by a surprisingly high number of science bigwigs.

Professor Ian Shaw picked up the Science Communicator Award, which was judged by the Science Media Centre. Ian well deserved the award – he is one of the country’s best science communicators. We need to see more of him and now that he has stepped down as Pro Vice-Chancellor (science) at Canterbury to return to research in the chemistry department at the university, hopefully we will.

A podcast of Ian’s entertaining speech is on the SMC website.

The evening was rounded out with some words from Peter Gluckman who told a perturbing story – one of an international science opportunity for New Zealand that threatens to be derailed by in-fighting between the three institutions pitching for the business.

A collective groan seemed to go through the room as Sir Peter outlined this story and urged science to take on more of an “NZ Inc.” approach to science and actually work together more to win international work.

A podcast of his comments is also on the SMC site for your listening pleasure.

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