Thursday, December 11, 2014

Faking maturity on Facebook: underage accounts

What I've always wanted to know but been afraid to ask. So I'll risk general offense in the hope of getting some answers.

Why the fake account for your kid who is legally too young to be on Facebook? I know you know it's there, because s/he's in your friend list.

Why I haven't and I wish you wouldn't

  1. It's fraudulent. Here's lesson 1 on "it's OK to fake your age to get in where you shouldn't;" what could possibly go wrong...?
  2. It exposes your child randomly to inappropriate material, messages and ads. Facebook's only parental control setting is requiring your child to be 13 - why blow that?
  3. It allows your child to send private messages to other Facebook users.
  4. If I'm your friend on Facebook, your underage child will see our interactions and could potentially participate. Which could mean all THEIR underage friends might see it. Sorry, but ewww. My young adult nieces and my parents are in my network, and that cramps my style enough.
If you wouldn't invite your children to your pub crawl, why invite them illegally onto a worldwide social network?

Is 13 just forever to wait, when all of their friends already have one? 

Is it never too early to start putting yourself out there, counting how many friends and likes you get, with the added bonus of cyberbullying?

Are they growing up too slowly?

I'm only seeing the downside here - please supply some balance!


Sunday, November 23, 2014

Fun with Feminist Hacker Barbie!

If you haven't yet heard about Kathleen Tuite, Feminist Hacker Barbie and her awesome backlash against Mattel's book “Barbie: I Can be a Computer Engineer,” this Wired article is a great place to start.

Then visit the site, view the original pages, and rewrite the book for all our sakes.

(And btw, her mom and my mom are friends, so I'm pretty sure that makes me cool too.)

Here's my bit of fun....

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Pin the sexist shirt on the comet's tail

The amazing news of the European Space Agency's Rosetta mission landing on the comet has burst onto the scene. Even more colourfully, so has the shirt of Mike Taylor, the talented Rosetta scientist who appeared in the media.

(Will we now have the "Rosetta Shirt" to go along with the famed "Rosetta Stone?")

What's the big deal?

I studied tech and worked in tech industries for more than 10 years. Then, as now, the techier it got, the more men worked there, and the more casual the dress code. Not suit and tie, but T-shirts and cycling gear. New Zealand is pretty relaxed. They were not the most politically careful people around.

But not one of those men would have worn a shirt like that to work. If they had actually made such a bad call, they wouldn't have made it down the hall before somebody responsible would have gently but firmly reminded them how inappropriate it was.

If I interviewed for a company where I saw someone wearing such a shirt unchallenged, I would have known there were problems.

So scientist dude Mike Taylor put on a shirt covered in fantasy cartoon body babes, went to work, and made it onscreen without anybody around him noticing a problem. This is a workplace with an ingrained sexism problem. This is a classic real life illustration of this gender-divide study in technical fields. In a way, Mike Taylor has done us a favour by showing how invisible sexism is to him and his field. And I salute him for apologising for his mistake.

Mike Taylor's response is more enlightened than the people who have blamed the feminists for the problem. Apparently the shirt was not the distraction from the major scientific accomplishment - it was those who complained about it.

On the world stage

Like it or not, ready or not, Mike Taylor just appeared on the world stage. In a recent show I was in, the director asked one of the supporting actors to remove a hat supplied by wardrobe. Obviously wardrobe loved the hat, and the actor also loved the hat, and it looked dramatic, so what was the problem?

Well, the hat was so big that you couldn't stop looking at it and pay full attention to the scene. It was like, there were three on stage: the main actor and the supporting actor and her hat, and the scene only called for two. When a piece of clothing, like that hat or that shirt, has its own personality, handle with care.

We should only have been hearing the awesome space message. Some director just had an epic fail.

Copyright Looney Tunes
Reframing the stereotype

What if the white guy's shirt had jolly drawings of black people in rags pickin' cotton? Would objectors have been labelled bullies, as the feminists have been? Would that have been "not actual racism"? Would anyone say, "If black people let something like this put them off, they shouldn't work in the STEM fields."

News flash. Black people are also largely underrepresented in STEM fields. Perhaps secretly white men prefer them in the cotton fields. It's no secret that too many still prefer barely dressed fantasy women to real women challenging them in the real world. Is this an offensive stereotype? Yes. No fun, is it?

Basically, what that says is, "If you can't handle that STEM fields are sexist/racist, you shouldn't work there. Don't complain!"

Even Star Trek changed their motto to "boldly go where no one has gone before." Little by little, oppression could become invisible because it doesn't exist anymore. But it won't happen if we ignore it.  

Friday, October 17, 2014

Why this vegan won't go to Hell

...that's Hell Pizza, in New Zealand, of course.

What the Hell?

Recently, my network feed from my local vegan friends and vegan boards have been dripping with pizza selfies. What's the news? Hell Pizza with the brand new addition of Angel Food's delicious vegan mozzarella cheese. I have eaten Hell Pizza before, but they are expensive and gourmet, and I'm a frugal gal, so although they are just up the road we don't often meet anyway.

But we won't be meeting anytime soon, in spite of the vegan cheese. I'm in a minority compared to the Hell-ravers, and I don't enjoy feeling in conflict with a business coup for a well-loved vegan business, but here we go.

Hell of an advertisement

Hell Pizza's name and image is based on exploitation of Christian ideas. Because only a minority in New Zealand take religion seriously, Hell is able to appeal to the majority by using those familiar ideas lightly with that hint of sacrilege to spice up their commercial presence and grab attention.

That's just how they roll. So no surprises really when they advertise rabbit pizza with a billboard of actual rabbit skins and lamb shanks with a cartoon "lambputee". This little lamb came out right before the vegan cheese deal and pushed me over my personal limit. I will get my pizza elsewhere.
Thanks SuicideFood!

Who the Hell cares?

At the end of the day, none of this matters much. But this sort of advertising represents the sort of over-the-top satire about animal rights often summed up as "MMMMM...bacon".

Some vegans believe that rabbit skin and legless lamb ads encourage us to connect the dots with animal production and use. Unlikely. Hell pays to design ads to increase sales, not make their loyal customers question their food. It's far more likely that the advertising focus groups showed that this level of satire encourages meat-eaters in their recognised defense mechanism.

Few people walk around draped in furs, and everybody knows that the lambs don't haunt the paddocks with prosthetic legs. The absurdity is a shared joke that avoids consideration of the reality.

But...vegan pizza!

I know, I know. Hell has always offered an unusual range of gourmet vegan pizzas, and now they're offering vegan cheese too!

But Hell's ads show me that they are confident in offending the minority of animal rights supporters, just like  Christians (and amputees, and who's next?), and still sell lots of pizza to those who overlook or even enjoy such jokes at other's expense. Controversy stimulates sales, so offending a minority is a win-win situation.


Hell offering vegan cheese may be a shining example of how far veganism has come. Another sign of how far we've come is how other pizza places (Domino's or Pizza Hut) don't even blink when you order a pizza with no cheese - and then perhaps add your own Angel Food mozzarella at home.

And if you're a vegan who still wants to support Hell, please consider, between mouthfuls of pizza, sending a message to them about the message their advertising sends to us.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Dirty Politics: the expose IS the issue

Anyone following the impact of Dirty Politics (The Herald, Stuff, and the Standard have all the background and breaking news) has already been treated to several rounds of Protection Protest:

  • This is a smear and it didn't happen.
  • I didn't do it and it's not my responsibility.
  • Maybe someone else did it, but it was a long time ago and it's already been handled.
  • If it happened, it's OK because everyone does it.
  • It may look like I did it, but that is misrepresentation.
  • If I did it, I can't remember - I can't remember everything!
  • It's under enquiry, so I can't comment.
  • This is a smear; we need to talk about real issues.

I have news for John Key and his band of dirty politician and supporters - this issue is as real as it gets.

Dirty Politics shows how these influential people operate. How they treat their friends, their colleagues, their supporters and their competition. How they treat the truth. How the best defense is the next lie.

This forms the real context for any other issues such people might care to discuss with the public they claim to serve.


If you have not read Hagar's book, you can easily have a scan of the source emails on WhaleDump. One series of emails between Slater and Bhatnagar sets a scene of vicious and fawning scheming, including areas already well-known:  favoured OIA requests to the SIS, threatened blackmail of Rodney Hide, and  downloading of the Labour members' database and gloating over the damage potential, the political advantages to Allan Peachey's dying.

It is regularly punctuated by obscene ad hominem attacks on many people:

why is Blair Mulholland supporting this cock
Because Blair IS a cock
never had a job cock

darren hughes is dead meat
he tried to get his leg over with a 18yo bloke who isn't gay
and tryiong to pull a Labour indian slut
you are right, he is fucked.

if he didn't get it last time based on all the referees i orgnaised then he never will...the national parrty really are cunts to their own

i have txts as recent as three weeks ago between him and his latest root
Yep i know that, Mallard is a cunt but don't get distracted let me deal with that shit
The exchange is also oddly peppered with slices of reality where both men discuss personal issues, political aspirations and outings together. This would be touching, if there were any hint of empathy elsewhere for their targets. One might excuse the whole as just a couple of not-yet-grownup boys seeking power together, no matter the cost.

But wait! Much of the same vicious ground is covered from another angle between Slater and Lusk, including Slater commenting about his mate Bhatnagar:
"cactus says Bhatty [ Bhatnagar] needs to groe the fuck up and realise that fat indians with a BA in Russian are no good in politics and the only reason he has any chance is because daddy's rich and nearly dead. What a loser, he couldn't even win WITH daddy's money, you think Zac Goldsmith wouldhave ever stood ina seat he couldn't win. Rich people don't lose selections unless they are fucking hopeless or fucking stupid. he lost to a maori and that is even funnier."
Folks, this isn't just dirty. It's ugly, from start to finish. The files must be experienced to be believed (and they are believable, in a tedious and sickening way).

Who cares?

Why should anyone care about the nastiness of Slater and his mates? Because these files provide the documentary evidence needed to back up all the circumstantial evidence in 2011 that the National government probably used Slater's blog as a favoured channel for sensitive information about National's competition. In other words, official goverment information channels have been coopted for political purposes, and an official enquiry is now underway.

This is but one documented issue that needs addressing. Key's repeated defense of Judith Collins is inexplicable unless you wonder how many other messes are being covered up on the denial system.

Is it OK to use stolen emails?

It may seem hypocritical to accuse someone based upon stolen emails. However, the information that Slater and National are alleged to have misused were for their own advancement, and if they did it, that information is in the public interest. These emails are evidence that contradict Key's wobbly 2011 statements about the SIS OIA process. They indicate that perhaps the watchdogs of the day might have done well to investigate this fracas with more energy, including legally asking for Slater's communications as evidence instead of accepting implausible reassurances.

For those who still feel a bit squeamish, remember that anonymous sources have an accepted and protected role. Justice is sometimes even served via criminals who turn in evidence of crimes they may themselves have been involved in.

Slater is a tool

It's dodgy for the National Party even to associate with Slater and his blog. It's inexcusable how they have been using Slater as the medium for public messages that cannot conscionably or legally be said by any public servant.

Slater is clearly a man who is desperately angling to be powerful since he cannot be liked. The files indicate that not only did he get an illegal inside track on the Goff briefing, he was discussing with National the release of the illegally downloaded Labour membership files. 

National has used Slater for this dirty work precisely so that Key can say "He's not my guy" and "nothing to do with National" when the charges start flying. After all, Cameron has been convicted of illegal information handling before. Not only does Key keep a clean image for his voters, he keeps a clean police record. That's a win-win.

Everybody does it?

No. There may be certain things that "everybody does" in the network of political success. But everybody doesn't have emails containing discussions of blackmail or conspiracy to release regular people's private information. Everybody doesn't have years of email records which routinely abuse colleagues and competitors. And everybody certainly doesn't fiddle with the protected information from the SIS.

So does John Key really believe that everyone is this dirty, or does he simply hope that you will?

That would certainly keep you out of the voting booth.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Hybrids: driving with new energy

So after 14 years, two children and a frugal lifestyle, it was finally time to upgrade the car, which was showing signs of needing expensive repairs and still not being OK anymore.
We have considered the one-car family option, but since I would expect it to be me who had the one car for daily runabouts, I can't push this one hard.
Our upgrade wish list included a fancy to invest in advanced motoring technology that uses less petrol.

New Zealand has not yet integrated public charging stations for fully electric vehicles, but some clever online shopping by the DH resulted in quite a special deal from far away from the big smoke: a tidy 10-year-old Toyota Prius with less than 40,000 ks and a certified service history.

The ups

Of course a newer car is always a pleasure to drive, and the whole family is helping to keep it in its original tidy condition instead of its natural state of the "family car".

And it is really really quiet !  We call it the sneaky car, because you often can't hear when it arrives in the garage. Unless the tires squeak.

While I drive it, I get instant feedback on how much petrol I am using vs how much battery power. It's very motivational - it's like a driving game where I see how long I can run just on battery power before running out, or getting to the next hill so I can recharge. If nobody is following me I will often drive much more slowly than I used to, just to keep it on battery only. It's only a few hundres metres to the next corner anyway, so what's the rush? "I'm using no petrol!"

OK, mine shows kms and litres, but you get the idea...
And it is educational to see how just THIS much more pressure on the pedal spends your petrol THAT much faster. I think every car needs this even if it's not a hybrid.

The downs

While I love the extra storage the hatchback provides compared to our previous sedan, I absolutely hate the reduced visibility in every corner and behind the car.

Squashed window and a spoiler - I can't see! DH has kindly installed a high-tech tennis ball feature in the garage so I know when I am finished parking.

And there is always a risk that the hybrid battery could fail, which could be $thousands to replace, or somewhat more reasonably amounts to repair...

The results

I'm sure that like me, when you read about hybrid or electric technology and see the theoretical efficiency, you still wonder how that really translates to real life, especially when hybrids are more expensive to buy than their regular counterparts.

So I'm very happy to report that I am regularly, easily, getting twice the distance from a tank of petrol in the Prius as I did for the old Nissan Sunny. Really: 400km when running the Sunny to the fumes at the bottom of the tank, and 800+ no problem on the Prius.

Modify that gain slightly because the Prius runs on slightly more expensive petrol. But even so, we are doing about 1 fill per month instead of 2 - say about $80/month or $960 per year - this should eventually provide our ROI plus the satisfaction that we are using that much less petrol to get around.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The politicians in person - for NZ Gifted Awareness Week

Yes, another political post for Gifted Awareness Week!

I hope that the following impressions of the speakers at the Auckland Political Panel last night will help those of you who could not attend. I am biased but I welcome discussion from others with different biases.

Kudos to all the parties who sent representatives to talk with us in a face-to-face! You can also read the official party gifted policy document for more information.

The evening was introduced by Deb Clarke, CEO of NZCGE and Rose Blackett, President of NZAGC and moderated by Lynda Garrett of the University of Auckland. All gave fantastic introductions to the barriers and frustrations those of us in the gifted community experienced, and they posed questions for the panelists. After the panelists' formal speeches, questions were taken from the audience, which was comprised of many experienced gifted educators and advocates.


Maggie Barry had this portfolio given to her recently; while she had done some admirable last-minute swotting, like most last minute swotters she showed that she didn't understand the big picture, even her own party's decisions about funding. She reiterated that National had chosen to fund the underachieving educational area instead of extending gifted children and, although properly sympathetic and outraged at our plight, made no indication that there are any plans to change.

Regarding the school culture problem and bullying of gifted children, she felt that bolstering the self-esteem of the bullied was crucial, as in her experience with her own child being bullied, the bullies were "waste of space individuals."

She promised to report our messages back to the government.


Chris Hipkins, showing more clue than Maggie, pointed out that 5 out of 5 children succeeding did not mean they were all equal. He described the progress in gifted education that occurred during Labour's government, to many nodding heads. He promised there would be more funding specifically in our area, but was not able answer directly as to what area that money would be taken from as their budget announcement is not yet public. He contributed to the 2013 BlogTour.


Catherine Delahunty showed clear personal investment and history aligned with our interests (she has been blogging for the BlogTour since 2012). Her speech included genuine passion and detail about the barriers we face, which resonated with the audience, many of whom she already knew. Rumour has it that her car was shunted on the motorway on the way here, and she came to speak anyway. Although she supports separate targeted programmes for the gifted, she believes that these should be supported by the government. She said that she would remove the funding from the charter school area in order to fund gifted education.

NZ First

Tracey Martin said some great things, but lost some points for announcing she had decided not to change her speech and then clearly reading her speech. NZ First highlights the need for a national summit on the success of our current education direction. She had personal experience with her own special needs children in the school system, and the failure of the system to address these needs led her eventually to get involved in politics. She said that gifted funding would come from rearranging the current allocation away from the top level bureaucracy in education.


David Seymour declared that ACT knew nothing about gifted education and that the Ministry of Education was also not qualified in this area, but that charter schools would fix everything because everyone could most effectively "vote with their feet" to another school if one school did not suit. While he mentioned knowing that having to move schools was a terrible thing for child and parent, he said that having the choice of a wide variety of special character schools was the practical solution to providing for individual student needs. While David did not blog for the BlogTour, John Banks contributed in 2012.

Maori and Internet Mana

No show.


All these politicians have a dream of making a difference, but their priorities, goals, and chosen directions are very different. Use your vote when it counts.

This post has been written for the 2014 Gifted Awareness Week Blog tour. See all the blogs as they are voted on...

Jessica Parsons is the current president of Auckland Explorers, branch of the NZ Association for Gifted Children. She has two gifted children with her gifted husband.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Is it smart to vote?

You may not make it to the Wellington or Auckland Gifted Political Panels this Gifted Awareness Week, but everyone has the chance to vote on Election Day (20 September, 2014).

The word these days seems to be "don't vote, it only encourages them" or "if voting made a difference, they would make it illegal."

Taking off any rose-coloured glasses about democracy, voting and the system, let's examine a few things.

Low voter turnout

In 2011, NZ's voter turnout was the lowest since the 1880s. And for 2011 and 2008, the low voter turnout returned a National (conservative) win.

Low turnout favouring the right is a democracy truism researched worldwide. Conservatives like to vote. They vote for their people. They don't argue endlessly about who are their people or if they're always right or whether the system is broken.They know that they want their people in the driving seat of whatever system controls the power and the money.

If you stay away from the polls on principle, you are voting to continue with a government whose minister would make the Maui dolphin go the way of the moa for money. (And who, in case you haven't heard, cut gifted funding in 2009.)


"The two main parties are both the same anyway!" I hear you groan. There's some truth in that. But in NZ, we have MMP.

Is MMP perfect? No. But there are millions of people in the world, especially in the USA, who would get to the voting booth on their knees, kissing the ground in front of the door, for the chance to vote for a minor party and have that party actually get into government and pass bills and stuff.

We certainly have some strong and interesting choices on the table for the power balance after this election.

Does your vote matter?
5% = percentage of people generally accepted as gifted in any area

5% = percentage of the party vote needed to get representatives in Parliament

If this coincidence isn't enough to get you out to start the Gifted Party of New Zealand, I hope it illustrates how even a small number of people voting strategically to promote their own special interest can make a difference.

So is it smart to vote? 

Only you can decide that. But there will be plenty of people voting who believe that the gifted already have enough advantages, so on Election Day I will be there, ticking my voting paper for some left-leaning, status-quo stirring, 1% bashing, people and planet power party.

I hope to see you there.

This post has been written for the 2014 Gifted Awareness Week Blog tour. See all the blogs as they are voted on...

Jessica Parsons is the current president of Auckland Explorers, branch of the NZ Association for Gifted Children. She has two gifted children with her gifted husband.

Monday, June 9, 2014

The gift of wizardry

In JK Rowling's world, some people are wizards.

Where do wizard children come from?

You are very likely to be a wizard if you have a wizard parent or especially two. If so, your siblings are probably wizards too. If they aren't, this can cause family friction.

Sometimes young wizard children are born to nonwizard parents, which is sometimes welcome and sometimes awkward when this is discovered. You have to recognise when a child is a wizard, or everything will get pretty confused.

Raising a wizard

Wizards may have a variety of unusual skills - some will be really helpful in everyday life and some will be a real burden or even a danger until the skill is really well understood by the wizard child, usually with the help of family or another great teacher. Wizards can be expensive to educate, with special equipment, methods, and expertly trained teachers. Some families will not be able to afford as much special attention as their wizard child needs.

But each wizard individual has different strengths and weaknesses, and sometimes the weaknesses are more obvious than the strengths. No wizard is good at everything, although some may drive themselves crazy trying.

Wizard life

Wizards usually have to hide what they can do from nonwizards, because their capabilities can be confusing or frightening. It can be easier for wizards to spend most of their time with other wizards, so they can be comfortable and talk freely without being rejected or judged as weird.

But wizards, even with their flashy tricks and magic words, know that they are not superior to nonwizards - who also have their own strengths that most wizards struggle to master. The wizards who do believe they are superior can be very hard to like and live with.

Some wizards never get the hang of their powers and their role in the world, and they die before their time.

And now for the magic trick

Now go replace every instance of "wizard" above with "gifted."

There are a lot of parallels with this exciting fantasy fiction, which lets anyone imagine a special role. Unfortunately for the gifted, it gets even more complicated after that. In real life, we don't have an easily-identified evil enemy to band together and fight, so we're just as likely to fight with each other when we get stressed.

Our goals aren't well-defined, and there's no fanfare or explosion when we succeed or fail. There is no Ministry for the Gifted, with rules and regulations to guide our behaviour.

And it is generally recommended that the gifted try their best to integrate most of the time, so saddest of all, there is no Hogwarts for the gifted. At least not in my neighbourhood - if there's one in yours, please tell me in the comments. And where to catch the train. Because I'm not ready to give up on the magic just yet.

This post has been written for the 2014 Gifted Awareness Week Blog tour. See all the blogs as they magically appear...

Jessica Parsons is the current president of Auckland Explorers, branch of the NZ Association for Gifted Children. She has two gifted children with her gifted husband.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Bestiality vs animal husbandry: a roleplaying game

Alex Macmillan - Northland beef farmer and
artificial insemination technician. Source
Apparently New Zealand farmers would like cows to get pregnant earlier and more easily.
(Warning: this post is not graphic but discusses sensitive topics. In case the title wasn't enough of a clue.)
DairyNZ senior scientist and project leader Dr Chris Burke says “More cows in-calf means more milk in the vat before Christmas, fewer replacements required, more flexibility when making culling decisions to improve herds and better returns overall for dairy farmers.”

But can we ask how rewarding it will be for the cows in this study? Nationwide outrage was generated against animal testing for party pills; sadly animal testing to increase productivity barely raises an eyebrow.

(For extra credit and fun, also ask a New Zealand farmer to say "killing" and "culling" and see if you hear any difference.)

Bestiality vs animal husbandry

If I were an animal, what is the difference?

BestialityAnimal Husbandry
I did not consentI did not consent

Abuse Risk
BestialityAnimal Husbandry
High - I might be hurt or killed for fun or by accidentHigh - I might be hurt or culled (oops, killed) for fun, by accident, or if I am not economically beneficial.

Pregnancy Risk
BestialityAnimal Husbandry
I won't get pregnant. High. I am meant to get pregnant (if I can't, I may be killed...erm...culled)
The stress of pregnancy and lactation is business as usual for my body, with my babies taken away to be more industrial product. I will be sicker and die earlier.

BestialityAnimal Husbandry
I'm used for pleasure. I'm used for profit.

BestialityAnimal Husbandry
It is illegal to do this to me.It is legal to do this to me, and encouraged and rewarded.

I could be better off as as a victim of bestiality - at least I won't get pregnant and the violator would be stopped and possibly prosecuted.

Legal links and loopholes

Admittedly, bestiality isn't even illegal in a lot of places. You may not want to recognise a link between bestiality and animal husbandry, and New Zealand and Australian law still both sorta take it for granted that farmers and other breeders are just doing their job when the job.

However, bestiality laws being implemented now in many states of the USA (eg Maine) have seen the logical need to exclude animal husbandry's intimate interference with animals' bodies. Similar exemptions are listed for other practices of cruelty to animals.

So it's OK to abuse animals, even sexually, as long as someone is making money out of it, and not just enjoying it.

Because they're just animals. Right?
Go vegan please...

Monday, May 12, 2014

Creative frugal energy at home

We have various commercial heating sources in our home: woodburner, heat pumps, portable heaters, solar hot water. We are lucky to get a lot of sun exposure. But we also have a natural cold spot in our house; unfortunately it is the bedroom.

In winter, we get 2 hours of a slanted afternoon sunbeam across one far corner of the room before the sun disappears behind the neighbour's house.

Many New Zealand houses like ours are poorly insulated. We go suddenly from "all windows wide open" to "treasure every sunbeam." And it is truly satisfying to set up our homemade sun reflector - made at the end of winter last year and now ready to serve us through a whole cold season.

Sun reflector inspiration

While the bedroom is dark all day, the fence opposite gets all day sun. So close! I knew we must be able to capture that somehow. I favour reuse where possible, so I envisaged hanging an old metal shower tray or several computer cases with some bracing to reflect and direct the light.


Examples of solar reflector designs abound on the internet, but many focus on concentrating sunlight to a point for cooking, which was overengineering for us.

The builder (my husband) is pretty handy and felt my shower tray design was underengineered, so after various experiments and research we reached a suitable compromise (see end of post for full details).

He still wants to automate it to follow the sun. I am OK with resetting it every couple of hours during the day when I can. When it moves off the bedroom window, the ensuite window benefits.


The reflector hanging from the fence is not the most beautiful sight. The most beautiful sight is this warm beam of sunshine (bright enough to show how much our mirror needs cleaning)!

I can have this beauty and warmth from just after 8am until about 4pm.

I still believe in my shower tray design, for those of us without a master builder on tap.

But I also hope that more examples of what has been done will inspire more of us to try what works in our own environment.

Reflector Details (from the builder)

Board materials and Assembly

  • Chrome Vinyl wrap (used on cars or signwriting)
  • Coreflute board
  • six 40mm x 18mm x 1.2m plank for framing support for coreflute board
  • surefix screws
  • staples + staplegun

  1. Create a frame to support the coreflute board
  2. Staple the coreflute board to the frame
  3. Cover the coreflute board with the chrome vinyl wrap

Mounting materials and assembly
  • 45 x 90 x 1500 H3 post
  • 2 x "Gate hinge pin and strap"
  • 1 x 150 x 25 x 1500 fence board
  1. Attach the post to a fence with spacing to allow the reflector board to rotate
  2. Install the hinge pins into the post ~1m  apart
  3. Put the hinge strap on the pins
  4. Mark one fence board to attach the gate straps at the correct spacing
  5. Remove straps from pins and attach to fence board

Tilt materials and assembly

  • 2 x 150 x 25 x 1500 fence board
  • 2 x "garden Gate hinges
  • Bolts and screws to suit

  1. Attach a fence board to the fence board of the mounting to make the top of a "T"
  2. Use the 2 x garden gate hinge to attach the third fence board to the top of the "t"
  3. Lift the tilt assembly onto the mounting post gate hinge pins to test fit and remove.
  4. Attach the reflector board to the third board.
  5. Lift the assembly onto the mounting post gate hinge pins to test fit.

Tilt stay materials and assembly

  • length of aluminium flat 15mm x 4mm
  • two 20mm right angle bracket
  • 15mm M3 or M4 bolt and 2xnuts (or 1 x nylock) and washers
  • Stay clamp
  • Captive nut and bolt
  • piece of wood to mount the captive nut
  • washers for spacing the mount from the

  1. Cut flat bar to length
  2. Round one end of the bar and drill 3mm/ 4mm hole for bolt in same end 
  3. Attach right-angle brackets to back of reflector with space between for Stay
  4. Attach stay to the brackets with the bolt and nuts
  5. Drill hole in piece of wood to suit captive nut and bolt 
  6. Insert captive nut
  7. Install piece of wood on edge of upright of the tilt mounting, using screws at each end with washers to provide space for the stay to pass through. Ensure the gap between the washers allows for the stay to rotate, but not so large that the bolt that holds the stay cannot clamp the stay.
A similar stay assembly can be used for the yaw stay

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Superbugs and deadly silence

In the news today - again - scary deadly superbugs. A new WHO report reiterates that antibiotic overuse has led to antibiotic resistance, and there is now "no escape" from the risk. .

But even with this documented developing threat, this alert avoids mentioning an inconvenient truth to you. The article shares a few handy hints, implying you (yes you) can use antibiotics responsibly.

But despite all of your personal caution, the global animal industry's very model depends on routine (not prescribed) antibiotics.

I cannot say it better than councillor and veteran consumer advocate Sue Kedgley did in her 2013 article:
"There's little point in a nationwide campaign to reduce the amount of antibiotics we humans use if at the same time we turn a blind eye to the massive use of antibiotics in agriculture."
Clean green New Zealand

If like me, you are lucky enough to live in clean green New Zealand, you might think our system is not as bad as the rest of the world. And you are right - Sir Peter Gluckman says so. If only "not as bad" were good enough. 60 per cent of the total amount of antibiotics used in New Zealand are used on farmed animals, and even if they don't end up in the final product that you eat, they don't disappear.

  • Experts in New Zealand know we use antibiotics in animal agriculture. They talk a lot about "minimisation" - surely a case of locking the barn door after the superbugs have bolted.
  • The full WHO report says it "will also be of interest to the other sectors that are directly involved, including veterinary drug and animal husbandry, agriculture and aquaculture." And was it just in 2011 that we were talking about the last latest WHO report?

These facts need to be part of any antibiotic discussion, anywhere.  And especially in a national news report aimed at you, the consumer, who can vote with your money. You can go vegan. You can boycott any product from animals treated with antibiotics. You can make real change.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Your story and the media - every day is April Fool's Day

Janette Murray-Wakelin, 64, and Alan Murray, 68
You are a committed person with a serious cause that could change the world. You have a strong worldwide group supporting you.

You're in a small minority compared to the mainstream, but you're OK with that, because you have so many great reasons, both emotional and evidential, why you do what you do.

Sharing your story

Then you get approached by the mainstream media, wanting to tell your story in detail. You think it will be a good opportunity to reach a wide audience with the knowledge you have. And then this happens... 
This is exactly the freak treatment I expected to see - because it happened to me on a different topic. (That video is still out there in cyberspace, but I am going to be selfish and use the Raw Vegan video as the illustration instead.)  

Mainstream media is not about balance and reason, but about outraging and then stroking the mainstream to get as much attention as possible - satisfying the advertisers who pay the bills. No genuine critique of current accepted norms will come from this source.

Mainstream treatment of counterculture

In the Raw Vegan video, I see:
  • The subjects explain what they are doing, to an interviewer with some pretense at neutrality. Many of their reasons will seem emotional, disjointed, or just plain insufficient.
  • Mainstream experts present their opposing opinion, sounding far more credible than the subjects.
  • No experts support the subjects' position, leaving the viewers to (falsely) assume that no experts do.
  • No groups support the subjects' position, leaving the viewers to (falsely) assume that the subjects do this in isolation or as a fad.
  • The subjects have at least one shocking statement as a distancing barrier between them and the viewers (e.g., for the vegan couple "missing out on the grandchild" and for the twins "the self-loathing").
  • The viewers are left with the strong feeling that, however interesting the subjects are, they are probably misguided and shouldn't be used as models.
Eerily familiar...

So how does this happen?

Nobody decides to appear publically making themselves and their cause look nutty. You go in thinking at least you will get to tell your story, and that has to be worth the effort.

The interviewers are all friendly, cosy and interested. They talk with you for a long time. You feel heard and acknowledged, because you get to tell them the whole story behind your unusual choices, including all the scientific support and history behind it and the doctors and community groups who recommend it because of the results. 

You feel a sense of accomplishment for how much great information has been recorded. You feel comfortable with them, so you will relax and say personal things and make jokes.

Then for their show, they pick a few short segments which support their bias, especially including any isolated shocking sound bites. Even if the interviewers and camera operators seem totally convinced by you, remember that the story is made by the editing.

They leave out all the boring factual support you told them for why you are choosing a different path. Which simply leaves your face and voice confirming people's biases as they watch the program.

No matter what they say, the mainstream media won't tell your story. They will use you to tell their story.

Forewarned is forearmed

Before I had my experience, I was also warned. But I thought it would be different for me. I hope that others may avoid having the media build them up and let them down.

If you think I'm overly cynical, please check out an even more experienced voice at:

How to do interviews with the mainstream media

While (as for my experience), the converted found some inspiration in seeing their topic on the news, the unconverted found only confirmation of what they already thought.

Remember this when you watch a "freak" show about some other topic you don't know as well.

There are forums to advance your cause. Just don't expect the mainstream media to be one of them.

One Green Planet - Marathon Vegan Couple
Huffington Post - Marathon Vegan Couple 

Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Moneyless Man - Review

You may already have heard of vegan Mark Boyle, the former businessman who vowed publicly to live totally without money for an entire year.

With my interests, this was a book I had to grab from the Librarian Recommended shelf. You can read about his experience in multiple interviews online, but the book really gets into the details.

The motivation

It sounds crazy to voluntarily give up all the comforts that his money can bring and live apart. Just imagine:
  • No grocery stops
  • No cafe trips
  • No car
  • No toilet paper
  • None
Why? Mark had become disillusioned with our money system. The first simple role of money is as tokens in a bartering system. But we've left that far behind, and money games now include international currency trading, derivatives, stockholder profits, and more. The more complicated it gets, the fewer people can possibly understand the game and get a living share. 

Mark cites the impact of money on community, security, competion/cooperation and the climate as vital motivations for his drastic change.

The preparation

Going from a money-based society to surviving totally moneyless takes preparation to work well. Others have managed with less, but probably not by choice. Mark set up rules for his challenge:
  1. No receiving or spending money
  2. "Normality" (eg yes, Mark can eat a meal at a friend's house; no, he can't eat there for 2 weeks straight)
  3. "Pay-it-forward" - help others without worrying about the reward
  4. Respect - for other people (eg use the toilet when visiting others, not a hole in the backyard)
  5. No pre-payment of bills (eg, paying an electricity bill for a year to get through the year)
Mark first discovered the vast difference between living frugally and living moneyless. He had to scrutinise every item he might consume, and he gave himself a small budget to set up his moneyless year.
On the night before his challenge would start, he got a puncture in his bicycle tyre, stranding him far from home and help - I was quite impressed that he solved this in the same DIY way he'd committed to begin the following day.

Shelter  - On Freecycle, Mark was given a decent caravan that was a burden to its owner.
In our world of overconsumption, there is an oversupply of still-useful products that are not in use. Networks like Freecycle help solve this problem.
And he bartered his labour to a farm to get a space to park the caravan.

Sanitation - DIY Composting toilet, solar shower. Drinking water from the farm.

Power - cooking: DIY rocket stove; light: windup torch; heat: DIY woodburner; electricity for laptop and mobile:solar panel (the biggest cash outlay)

Food - foraging, urban foraging (from commercial waste food), growing, and bartering. (Being vegan makes the food requirement that much easier!)

Transport - bicycle and trailer

Communications - mobile phone (incoming calls only) and internet (WiFi on the farm)

Buy Nothing Feast

On top of all of that, Mark successfully organised a free, moneyless feast for about 150 people for his first challenge day, Buy Nothing Day, 2008. (Remember, when things went wrong, he could not just spend his way out of the problem.) The success of the publicity overall meant that Mark spent a lot of his time early that year giving interviews!

Settling into moneyless life

Mark's typical moneyless day has exercise, wild foraging, personal grooming (with no purchased products), meal preparation, and online and farm work. After the day's work and dinner, he might cycle to a meeting and back (36 miles).

The book explains how he handled problems like the oncoming winter, keeping his bike in action, keeping in touch with friends, Christmas, international travel and doing everything the slow way. It also reveals a few facts worth knowing about the wastefulness of the "regular" way of doing things (eg: water usage from a plumbed vs composting toilet).

More challenges

Like any alternative lifestyle, one of the biggest barriers is interacting with the rest of the world. The media interest was fading, and he did his best to keep up with friends, but Mark's romantic relationship did not surive the strain of his challenge.

While Mark's general health was even better than anyone expected, he did have to find a natural remedy for his hay fever. He also had a tiny mouse visitor who became a big problem.

The moneyless community

Mark learned about other people around the world who also lived with little or no money, including Daniel Suelo and Heidemarie Schwermer. Heidemarie started an exchange group (Tauschring) to help people live without money, and Mark started the Freeconomy site.

Summer fun and food

Summer brought more ease to the moneyless life, and Mark describes how much food and fun there is available for free. Developing communities like Freecycle, Couchsurfing, etc, make it all even easier.

Autumn, almost there!

Mark found that the closer he got to the year's end, the less he was worried about ending it. He and some friends had a great wild-food foraging adventure, and Mark himself chose to spend a week in silence - probably a good preparation for the finish line and the renewed media attention.


He celebrated with an even bigger free "feastival" for hundreds of people, and handled media that brought a range of applause, curiosity, and criticism. And he made his decision that he was not going "back" to his regular life.

The book finishes with the lessons Mark wants to pass on from his moneyless year.

Mark chose to live this way for a year, as a statement and personal achievement. Hundreds of thousands of people in the US alone are forced into indefinite homelessness and poverty or zero-income.

Even if you have no urge to live moneyless, this book will open your eyes to the casual overconsumption our society is based upon, alternative choices you could use, and the people and organisations who seek a better way.

Mark's experience would have been quite different without the overabundance of products going to waste each day. However, without all that waste, everyone's lives could be richer.

Live simply so others may simply live. (Source debatable, intention admirable.)