Showing posts from December, 2011

"Consumer" Recommendations Confounding

I have always relied on Consumer's advice when buying major household items, however I have sometimes found their recommended buys don't live up to their status. The fridge we bought some years ago was a recommended model and yet we have been plagued by fluctuating temperatures and during Summer the fridge often turns into a freezer.

When I pulled out our first cucumber of the season to use in a sandwich and found it was frozen solid, it was the last straw, especially after the strawberries I had picked the day before were in a similar state when I tried to put them on my breakfast cereal. Over the last few years we have had a succession of appliance specialists come in to try and fix the fridge and this time I decided that another costly repair (the fridge is well out of warranty) wasn't worth it, the fridge would have to go!

I did look at the Consumer website, but rather than just going for their recommendations I also read the reviews that owners of the various models h…

The Big Southern Dry

Invercargill reached at least 25 degrees celcius today, according to the Metservice, and this was higher than Nelson, Gisborne and Auckland. We have had a month of almost continuous fine weather, except for the 14th and 15th when a total of 15mm fell (just a light shower compared to the 510 mm that fell in Takaka over the same time). The average rainfall for Invercargill in December is 105 mm and with five days left in the month we are 90 mm short. Environment Southland are monitoring the dropping river levels and those who have water consents are being advised of the possibility of having to cease taking water.

Our "quarter acre pavlova paradise" (for those of you who are old enough to remember Austin Mitchell) sits on an ancient sand dune and the continuous rays that are burning through the ozone hole fry the roots of my lawn and quickly change the lush green blades to a crunchy brown. Our new solar water heating system is steadily earning its worth, however.

My vegetable …

Government Attacks New Zealand's Highest Performing Sector

Over the last three years New Zealand has had to deal with a number of crises and disasters, some man made and others caused by forces of nature. Investment companies collapsed, a mine exploded, Christchurch shook and a ship was grounded and leaked oil into a pristine marine environment. Extreme weather has struck a number of New Zealand regions with drought, tornados and heavy rain wrecking havoc with peoples' homes and livelihoods. A number of reports have also highlighted the shocking statistics around the health and safety of our children, with at least a quarter living in poverty. To top it all we discovered that around 80% of our lowland rivers are seriously polluted and we aren't quite as pure as we thought.

While all this was happening and despite working with a fraction of the funding of other OECD countries our education system soldiered on, consistently ranking amongst the top five in the world. Our curriculum and remedial reading programmes have been widely admire…

School Principal Appointments Becoming Political?

I have grave concerns regarding the Ministry taking over the appointment of school principals from boards of Trustees, especially when we have a government that has the potential to impose political and ideological criteria on suitability for positions. However, I also have concerns about the current system of appointing principals as the career pathway for leadership positions is flawed.

Prior to tomorrow's schools applicants for leadership positions needed to have a number of years experience and also have gone through a professional assessment (Grading) before applying and while the system wasn't perfect only those with some experience of staff management and proven professional knowledge would be considered. No one would be appointed to a position as principal of a large school unless they had proven experience in a smaller one. I am aware of many principals who have been appointed in the role for nonprofessional attributes such as just being male or because they had attr…

Stewart Island, Paradise Lost?

During the week on Stewart Island with my family it was easy to believe that the rest of the world didn't exist.  The Island never appears to change, the familiar landmarks are practically as they were when I first visited in the early 70s. The continuous calls of Kaka, Bellbird and Grey Warbler provide a melodious background that, like the music of the spheres, appear to be part of a continuous cycle of song that reaches back to the beginnings of time. When my days were determined by the weather or how captured I was by the book I was reading, politics and current events became surreal intrusions. Rather than being constantly aware of our environmental, economic and social decline I was surrounded by lush and thriving bush and clear water full of very visible darting fish.

Despite the ease of falling into the Stewart Island time warp and thinking all is well with the world I did become aware that some things weren't as they seemed. Our family spent two days walking the Rakiu…

Labour's Leadership Change Process Flawed.

The Green Party's leadership selection process makes so much sense. Surely a party's leaders should have a proven track record within the party and have the respect of both caucus and wider membership. For Labour to quickly dump a leader then replace them through a publicly managed popularity contest is hardly the best mandate for such positions. The fact that the Greens have only had four leaders since 1995 and two of them are current is proof of the robust process we use. Surely sound decision making leads to robust outcomes and stability over time and any mainstream party should be able to demonstrate these to have any credibility for forming a government.

Leaders often grow into their roles I find it hugely concerning when Helen Clark did so poorly in early opinion polls then eventually proved her capabilities over time while Phil Goff was never given that opportunity. Whatever caused the party to go with Goff over Cunliffe originally can't have changed substantially …

Charter Schools in NZ

It has now been announced that "Charter Schools" are going to be introduced into New Zealand through a coalition agreement with the ACT party. It appears that this idea had never occurred to the National Party and is just a minor adjustment to their education plans to accommodate John Banks. The evidence is otherwise, however. National had already secretly embarked on bringing in this system (for which they have no public mandate) and I can't imagine John Banks coming up with the Charter School idea in the first place.

It is no coincidence that the new CEO appointed to the Ministry of Education, Lesley Longstone, is an advocate for Free Schools (the UK equivalent of the Charter Schools in the US). Making John Banks an associate education minister to potentially roll out a contentious programme makes political sense. It will need a stubborn, thick skinned but expendable politician like John to do this (much like using Anne Tolley to bring in National Standards).


Going Solar in the South

It has been quite a journey of regulation and compliance but our solar water heating system has finally been installed and is up and running. Of the hundred or so who originally indicated an interest in Venture Southland's pilot, there are only nine determined households who have stuck it through to the end and I think ours was the last to be installed.

It is too early to judge the success of the system and it probably won't be until we have a few power bills that we will really get an idea. I used the Homestar self rating system to see how successful we have been in upgrading our 1932 bungalow to make it more energy efficient. We only managed to get a rating of 2 helped by the following:
Under floor insulationCeiling insulationHRV ventilation systemA large heatpumpA wood burnerWater solar heatingA north facing houseComposting and recycling systemsWhat let us down was: Drafty single gazed windowsNo wall insulationNo bathroom extractor fan Older ceiling insulation that doesn'…