Sunday 28 February 2010

“Crying Wolf" in the Nanny State.

Time: 4 AM every Saturday morning.
Place: Newfarm Brisbane (or you-name-it).
Scene: Several police cars, sometimes an ambulance or two, several hundred kids, many boys shirtless, often shoeless, falling about among the broken bottles and wall to wall food wrappers, girls shoeless or tottering on high heels, throwing up, not necessarily in gutters. Many are lying unconscious or sitting against walls, too out of it to stand as coppers move amongst them, checking they are OK and carrying the worst of them to ambulances or cars while preventing serious injuries or death by breaking up brawls.

Time: Anytime.
Place: Between Roadwork signs, 80, 60, 40 KPH areas.
Scene: Cars, buses, trucks all ignoring roadwork speed limits.

Time: 9 AM today, 28th February 2010
Place: Sunshine Beach, Queensland
Scene: Hundreds of people on the beach to see the tsunami.

What do all these events have in common?
OK, let’s take today. This is me. Up at 3, on the road with IXL on the way to Noosa Markets. We turn on the radio and hear the 4 AM news.

‘Warning. An earthquake measuring 8.8 on the Richter scale has hit Chile, devastating Conception and destroyed buildings in Santiago. Many killed and hundreds missing.
A tsunami generated by the earthquake has battered coastal Chile killing many more and is travelling across the Pacific at nearly 1,000 KPH.
‘It will hit the Southern Qld coast between 8 and 9AM. Although coastal inundation is not expected, stay off beaches. All beaches are closed. Boat owners should make port and secure their craft, then leave the waterfront. Craft at sea should stay in deep water until further notice. Some coastal flooding is expected.’

So, what to do? Tiziana is uninsured at the moment due to bad timing, insurance company wanting an out-of-the-water survey before renewal, a month after being lifted for antifouling! Two lifts-out in one year are just not affordable, so she remains seaworthy but unsurveyed and uninsured. Not good with a tsunami on the way!

I can imagine what twenty six tons of steel boat could do to ranks of plastic racing craft if she got away and went for a caper through the harbour. I would be sued for everything I own outside my wrinkly skin!

So, I hurry to set IXL up at the market then high tail it back to Tiz. Arrived at 7.45, still fifteen minutes before the fist wave is due, to find the tide so high I almost needed a ladder to climb aboard.
“If this is the tide before the tsunami hits”, says the old brain. “Her tethers will come off the piles and she will be away,” dramatically illustrated by images of a pointy heavy battering ram bisecting many millions of dollars worth of wealthy folk’s playthings.

What to do? Clear the decks for action, set up instruments, warm up motor ready for the big one that is due to come up the harbour any minute.
After an hour of nothing but anxiety, tide drops, so off goes the motor. I relax a little and check for mail.

Two from QwkDrw, with good wishes for my survival (thank you) and several more from rellies who also heard the news. Answered them all, checked tide again, made tea and sat watching on deck while monitoring marine radio, expecting a ‘mayday’ any minute. But nothing happened. At 12.30 EST, went to collect IXL, then arrived back to find tide so low Tiz sitting in on the bottom, still tethered, upright and OK.

Now, I don’t really blame the BOM (Bureau of Met) for overstating the case this time. Tsunamis travel so fast and once at sea, their destructive force is difficult to estimate. But when a driver enters a roadwork zone and reduces speed, only to finds there are no workers, the road is no worse than patches just negotiated where there were no speed signs, one is either slightly angry or very angry depending on personality and time available to be wasted. Next time, unlikely to fully comply.

The crowds on Sunshine Beach were not washed out to sea like the thousands of poor wretches on Boxing Day in Indonesia and must have been disappointed that nothing happened. They were lucky this time. But, why did they stand in the path of a 1,000 KPH wave that had the potential to batter and drown them all, despite being warned to stay away? Easy.

We all know that Nanny State will look after us. She continually passes laws to protect people who are negligent, put themselves in danger intentionally, don’t take care not to drink/drop/inject too much, drive too fast for the conditions, jump into flooded creeks, swim outside patrolled areas and if someone gets hurt, pursue the authority that ‘allowed’ it to happen! Caveat Emptor is dead!

Wyong Council in Central Coast NSW was sued successfully by a man who dived off rocks into shallow water and broke his neck. The court ruled that there should have been a sign, right there where it happened, far removed from any patrolled beach, to warn against diving into shallow water!

No wonder, when kids get absolutely legless every Friday night under conditions that are not safe with people they do not know, they assume their safety is ultimately the responsibility of the Queensland Police Service!

I bet you have similar stories, or maybe you think individuals should be protected from themselves in even more ways. Then again, maybe you think it’s time to bring back the ‘wallopers’! I tend to go for number three. How about you?

Tuesday 23 February 2010

Year of the Tiger (Woods).

We are all familiar with the term ‘having a tiger by the tail’ and notwithstanding that those words may enjoy other meanings when presented in another order and context, I take the risk and talk about sex addiction.

Now that Tiger has gone public, admitting his addiction and begging forgiveness, one hopes he is also receiving treatment for his addiction. The fact that he has (for now) promised to stop straying from whatever path he promised to take, leaves him with his addiction (presumably) intact and a danger to his mental health. In that state, his and the security and happiness of those close to him are still endangered.

Sex addiction, as I understand it, means that the sufferer has a very flawed concept of the acceptability of his/her own sexuality and seeks constant approval and frequent expression of that acceptability. That does not mean that the sex addict is a danger to anyone else in the physical sense. On the contrary, it is my understanding that sex addiction develops in a childhood where sexual expression is forbidden and then continues to be suppressed into adult life except when permission is given Most sex addicts are ‘beggars in the bedroom’.

Significant adults, in many cases unable to speak frankly about sexual matters themselves, find it easier to suppress children’s curiosity and frighten them into silence by angry responses that have everything to do with their own problems. They angrily state that such talk and feelings are dirty, even ‘sinful’ in the eyes of their god in an attempt to frighten children into apparent compliance!

Such denial of the need for children to be assured their sexual feelings are natural and then to deny them strategies to manage their sexuality, leaves them as open to exploitation by other co-dependants, as they are likely to be the one who exploits, in their adult sexual lives. Co-dependants recognise the aching need in their opposite number to have his/her sexuality recognised as normal. That aching need for acceptance is the Achilles heel of the needy side of the co-dependency. When that need is recognised and welcomed, the temptation to experience that acceptance can be so strong that the addict finds it extremely difficult to refuse.

The addictive personality is prepared to run terrible risks to satisfy his/her need. Tiger ran the risk with well publicised results. Unfortunately, no matter how many times or how often assurances are offered, the addict needs more. So, I now I hope he can be convinced he is loved in every way, so he can get on with leading a balanced human life and again delight us all with his sporting prowess instead of just a few of his ‘fans’ with his reported prowess in other places! Can of worms? Get out the can opener!

Friday 19 February 2010

Letting your kids drive the bus.

A generation ago Little Sis persuaded Mum, recently widowed, to guarantee a loan to her husband’s employer so he could buy a set of tyres for the semi the husband drove. Otherwise he was out of a job.
All seemed well until the bank sent Mum a letter of demand for something like half the value of her house for which Dad had slaved most of his life to provide. The boss had made no repayments and apparently never intended to!

On legal advice, she sold the house super quick, gave the money to her daughters, then declared herself bankrupt. That left Mum without a house, so from then on she ‘shared herself’ around her children. Mum was never a burden and helped out in any way she could so we were all eager to have her stay.

So life went on for the next thirty years until she was suddenly incapacitated after a severe stroke. There followed over a year when Jen and I nursed her in Jen’s house. Eventually we became so exhausted that a nursing home was the only solution. We visited almost every day, but she died after a further year of relative misery.

That scenario is played out over and over as surviving parents are persuaded to finance (usually) the less successful offspring’s great ‘business opportunity’ and go broke doing it. In most cases other sources of finance have been exhausted, so Mum or Dad become the lender of last resort. It feels mean to refuse so they write the check.

Several years ago, my youngest asked me to invest the last of my laughably diminished ‘wealth’ in a business her husband was keen to initiate. It looked good on paper, but it was outside my area of expertise so I refused.

Within a year, the marriage exploded in a flurry of tragic mistakes and stupidity, leaving the ex-loving couple bogged down in a war of attrition! All combatants suffered wounds as did children and bystanders. Now, years later, recriminations continue as each blames the other for the bankruptcies that followed foreclosure when liabilities exceeded assets.

But life goes on and she remarried, has two more children to a good money manager who does quite well without my support and I’m still in everyone’s good books. If I had lent the money, it would have gone to help poor Westpac survive its bad debts, they would feel forever guilty and I would be forever furious. Sometimes I get it right!

Tuesday 16 February 2010

One more for KwkDrw!

Renewable energy is lurking in the background but doesn’t seem to be leaping forward as I once thought it would. Maybe that’s because it’s an idea with too many possible expressions of itself, like a river that has become a delta.

No clear single alternative has as yet emerged for transport. We can go partly electric with a hybrid, fully electric, needing to plug in every couple of hours or exchang battery packs. We could generate as we go with fuel cells using Hydrogen, but no support for these latter options exist so we still buy petrol or diesel vehicles.

Using existing delivery systems, we could go bio-diesel using vegetable oils (not sustainable), diesel fuel from algae but that’s still a long way off, or we could use 100% ethanol if we could brew enough of it.

Hydrogen generated by electrolysis on site at wind or solar farms (or geothermal or wave, or tidal or, or, or…) is another exciting concept that is hampered by lack of a delivery system. In other words, Hydrogen could replace oil, but with so few vehicles, there is little demand for Hydrogen and with no delivery system, miniscule demand for vehicles.

Honda has taken the plunge and released its hydrogen powered fuel cell car and
Gm has just passed a million miles of testing with its version, not yet released for sale and other carmakers are hurrying to get theirs ready.

But it’s still a chicken and egg conundrum. Before there is a widespread roll out of support infrastructure there exists the belief there must be a huge investment similar to national railway, a postal system or a high speed broadband system. However, unlike those clear cut needs, energy is a now a nightmare of competing technologies with so much room for expensive redundancies.

That may be the crux of the problem. Large scale commitment and investment is fraught with danger of error so perhaps we need a new paradigm.

Maybe the day of centralised power production and fuel delivery is passing and we will generate most electricity locally, fill our car with hydrogen from the house supply (Honda has one that generates house power and Hydrogen for the car running on natural gas) and if we have an electric commuter car, plug it in at home and top it up at the parking station, itself producing much of its needs from roof top panels.

What an exciting time for urban planners as solar passive accommodation uses geo cooling and heating, stores rainwater and reuses grey water for flushing WC’s from where it goes on to be processed into fertilizer. Solar arrays, partnered by unlimited charge/discharge batteries can supply buildings and hook up with existing grids to transmit low loss DC power between communities. Some dream while local government seems to be driven by developers and their high energy McMansions breed like bacteria on agar!

And aeroplanes? Well, Hydrogen powered planes may not be able to leap across oceans in a single bound and horrors, we may need to break our journey for refuelling in some Polynesian paradise that generates Hydrogen as an industry. While we wait, we could maybe take a dip in an ocean that has begun to give up its stored CO2. What an achievement that would be!

Wednesday 10 February 2010

'Pascal's Wager'.

QwkDrw has prompted me to expand on the renewable energy theme.

There must be a time when we realise the planet cannot continue to support human life in the manner to which some of it has become accustomed. It seems acid seas, polluted air and land, multiplying populations, loss of species and habitat, climate change and mountains of non-degradable rubbish etc are not enough to frighten us into taking decisive action now.

My beef, for over thirty years, has been that the longer we wait, the more difficult and expensive the fix will become. We will never be more equipped to change the way we generate power and manage resources than we are now. We have the technology and we have the wealth. It has been said that if the Rudd Government had spent the stimulus package on renewable energy, this country would have come close to carbon neutrality within a decade. Maybe so, and it didn't happen so what now?

For anyone who doubts the science of climate change, or doesn’t want to look in case it might requries a change in lifestyle, consider this ‘Pascal’s Wager’.

1. Greenhouse gases are causing climate change and we fix it, we’re OK.
2. Greenhouse gases are not causing the problem and we ‘fix it’, we’re still OK and we enjoy other benefits, like saving the oceans from disastrous acidification.
3. Greenhouse gases are causing the problem and we don’t fix it, we’re buggered.

Waiting for irrefutable evidence is like the sky diver who says, (when told he might have forgotten to put on his parachute).
“Don’t worry,” he says. “I’ll check after the jump!”

Thursday 4 February 2010

How cool is solar!

There are more cold stores in Brisbane than I ever imagined. Some are huge, think Big W on ice and multiply that by the three or four that I visited, then think maybe a few hundred others as big as a small house, then thousands as big as a room.

Being a climate change tragic, having designed and built a solar passive house in 1960, wrote letters, harassed politicians for decades, wrote plays (‘20-20 Vision’ in 1990) and even a political suspense novel about climate change (no sign of a publisher so far), basically making a nuisance of myself for half a century, I wondered at the sustainability of such huge cold stores.

So you see where I am coming from. When I was looking at the refrigeration units that ran these stores, their umbilicals as thick as your arm sucking power from the grid I wondered ‘how could we ever hope to generate that much power from renewables’!

Then my thoughts ran to the pattern of demand. Days require more than nights. Doors opening and closing gain heat, adding more daytime need. Hotter days demand more than cooler days and so on. Then I did the maths as far as I was able.

A typical large cool store, say, 50mX50m covers an area of about 2,500 m2. A roof that size would accommodate enough solar panels to generate 250K, or about 1,000 amps at 240V for an average eight hours a day. That adds up to 8,000 amp hours and must go a long way to providing enough power to run the thing. So, except for cloudy days, generation would roughly parallel demand. Fairly neat.

The same applies to solar generation for desalination plants. The sunnier the weather, the greater the demand. Really neat. So why aren’t we going there?

Monday 1 February 2010

Driver Report 3. (last for now)

I used to say: ‘before anyone is allowed to be a pedestrian he or she should be a driver’.
Pedestrians take risks around vehicles that curl the hair. They walk behind reversing pantechnicons, ignoring the beep-beep-beep, seemingly unaware that the driver probably can’t see them. Now I say that every car driver should drive a truck first.

Of course over the two weeks I drove for Sean, I was terrorised by all sorts of motorised stupidity, with cars ignoring turning indicators, pushing past on either side until with the lane running out, I just had to move across the line slowly to reinforce the message that I needed to change lanes.

For years, since I gave up being suicidal, I have driven as if we drivers are all part of a team, moving in ways to maximise the team’s performance, allowing people into queues, using the ‘zipper’ technique in merging traffic and so on with the result I have never injured anyone despite a few prangs over almost sixty years of driving.

That almost changed in Sandgate Road Brisbane at about nine O’clock on Friday. Up ahead, traffic had stopped so I began to change the gears down, braking gently leaving plenty of room to stop.

Suddenly, a small sedan appeared from the kerbside lane travelling at something over the limit, swerved in front of me just before the lane ended with a blockage of parked cars. Then, and not until then, the driver saw that traffic in my lane had stopped. She still had plenty of room ahead, but was spooked and gave the car a panic brake test not three metres in front of me. Luckily my foot was already poised over the pedal, so the brakes bit immediately.

All six wheels locked up, fighting to stop as ten tons of load and truck seemed to accelerate towards the little faces of three uniformed and behatted school kids in the rear seat, alerted to their possible demise by screeching tyres and blue smoke from scorched rubber blown forward around the little car.

Whether she realised I was there, or whether the traffic began to move and she accelerated in response, I will never know. But suddenly the gap widened from the ten centimetres to which it had shrunk to widen rapidly as she fled the scene.

I pulled over for a few minutes to let my heart rate come down, narrowly escaping cardiac arrest. I sat, sweating and breathing deeply for a while, had a drink of water then very gingerly guided the old thing back into the traffic. After going over the incident a few times, replaying the tape in my head, I gave her a pat on the dash and thanked her for having great brakes.

PS. I guess the take-home message is that discs all round with low profile sports tyres are no defence against ten tons of steel climbing up your boot lid!
PPS. Most drivers of both genders are courteous, but truck drivers as a group are clearly the safest people on the road! Comments not welcome. :-)