Monday, December 31, 2012

2013 new years resolutions

Okay - this year I'm going to list these in January so I can't cheat...

Good progress at work, balanced personal life with lots of time with H & S, general good health, happiness etc goes without saying.

Top 5:

1.      Go to Australia to see Alan, Maggie and the boys, and Sally, Keith and the boys

2.      Beat my 2011 marathon time of 4:16:49 by finishing Auckland Marathon 2013 in under four hours

3.      (Write/) Finish & send a completed novel to >1 agent

4.      Scan in my grandfather’s WWII letters (again)

5.      Achieve something else major that I didn’t expect/plan

Other resolutions:

6.      Achieve Associate Emergency Manager certification through the International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM)

7.      Do a post-graduate level paper/course

8.      Complete the November 2013 ‘Nanowrimo’

9.      Get another tattoo (been an annual resolution but really have to figure out what the hell I'd want)

10.  Take 100 quality photos in a 24 hour period

11.  Cook my way through one cookbook

12.  Write >10 quality blog entries (aim for monthly)

13.  Measure my baseline track mile time in January and improve this by 1 minute by end of December

14.  Paint the bathroom, washhouse, dining room and beams in lounge & master bedroom

15.  Take a sea kayaking course and go out in the kayak >5 times

16.  Do the Auckland Ironman 70.3 half-IM in January 2014 (yeah 2014 I know.. but it’s still a 2013 resolution)

17.  Build a shed

18.  Write and send a paper to a professional journal

19.  Learn to juggle 4 balls

20.  Join >2 clubs (doesn’t matter what the club is)

2012 new years resolutions – Judgement Day

I didn't post this at the start of 2012, but here's me facing up to the 2012 new year resolutions I set in January:

1.      Beat my 2011 marathon time of 4:16:49 by finishing Auckland Marathon 2012 in under four hours.
 100% – bad sprain/tear in my ankle put me out of action for this, but I’m calling it a pass because of the amazing experience running with Shelley for her first ever ½ marathon, and trusting my fitness & state of my ankle for the run.
2.      Finish my novel ‘Sideswipe’ and send to >1 agent.
50%, I finished my first novel this year – in first draft so yet to send to an agent.
3.      Get at least one credible job offer from an international organisation.
N/A - went fishing half-heartedly for options at start of the year but did not follow through once we decided to stay in NZ.
4.      Buy $1,000 in shares.
5.      Achieve Associate Emergency Manager certification through the International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM).
6.      Do 100 press-ups in a row.
0% - Hate to think how many I can do in a row but lets just say it's no improvement from January!
7.      Go to Malaysia for my brother’s wedding in April.
100% - Had an amazing time!
8.      Sell our house.
100% - And bought an amazing house!
9.      Complete the November 2012 ‘Nanowrimo’
100% - And 100% harder than 2011 but got through it!
10.  Get another tattoo
0% - still can’t decide what I’d get
11.  Run 20 new routes
100% - loving the Blockhouse bay road/trail/beach running!
12.  Take 100 quality photos in 24 hours
0% - fail
13.  Cook my way through one cookbook
30% - was right on track with this and having fun, but stopped for no particular reason
14.  Change my ‘look’ five times
80% - changed things up, even grew a beard for a while.  Not a total change but had fun.
15.  Write 10 quality blog entries and post (& Twitter) them.
100% - Bottom dropped out of this by mid-year but had fun with some posts at start of year.
16.  Read 26 books
50% - halfway there?
17.  Learn jujitsu
0% - fail.  Where did that resolution come from?!  I think I was drunk
18.  Scan in my grandfather’s WWII letters (again)
0% - did not get around to this.
19.  Learn A-Z in sign language
0% - fail
20.  Improve my mile time by 1 minute (tested myself on the track on 3rd January 2012 at 7 mins 19 secs)
N/A – ankle injury

So… 45% for this year for a very random list of resolutions, but out of the actually important resolutions (1, 7, 8, 9 and 18), I got 80%!

Also... wrote my first ever full (first draft) novel, got my first ever short story published - from a competition too, and managed to balance work and family life - spending lots of time with Shelley and Hayley..

Go me.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Philosophy blows

I usually hate philosophy, but have downloaded some Nietzshe as audiobooks, partly to look for quotes for a book I am writing, and partly because I have always been meaning to get around to reading some of his work.

Of course with Nietzsche you know you're in for a rough ride.  Take the quote below.  It's a long quote but it hit me in the gut.


The objective man, who no longer curses and scolds like the pessimist, the IDEAL man of learning in whom the scientific instinct blossoms forth fully after a thousand complete and partial failures, is assuredly one of the most costly instruments that exist, but his place is in the hand of one who is more powerful He is only an instrument, we may say, he is a MIRROR—he is no "purpose in himself"
The objective man is in truth a mirror accustomed to prostration before everything that wants to be known, with such desires only as knowing or "reflecting" implies—he waits until something comes, and then expands himself sensitively, so that even the light footsteps and gliding-past of spiritual beings may not be lost on his surface and film Whatever "personality" he still possesses seems to him accidental, arbitrary, or still oftener, disturbing, so much has he come to regard himself as the passage and reflection of outside forms and events
He calls up the recollection of "himself" with an effort, and not infrequently wrongly, he readily confounds himself with other persons, he makes mistakes with regard to his own needs, and here only is he unrefined and negligent Perhaps he is troubled about the health, or the pettiness and confined atmosphere of wife and friend, or the lack of companions and society—indeed, he sets himself to reflect on his suffering, but in vain! His thoughts already rove away to the MORE GENERAL case, and tomorrow he knows as little as he knew yesterday how to help himself He does not now take himself seriously and devote time to himself he is serene, NOT from lack of trouble, but from lack of capacity for grasping and dealing with HIS trouble
The habitual complaisance with respect to all objects and experiences, the radiant and impartial hospitality with which he receives everything that comes his way, his habit of inconsiderate good-nature, of dangerous indifference as to Yea and Nay: alas! there are enough of cases in which he has to atone for these virtues of his!—and as man generally, he becomes far too easily the CAPUT MORTUUM of such virtues. Should one wish love or hatred from him—I mean love and hatred as God, woman, and animal understand them—he will do what he can, and furnish what he can. But one must not be surprised if it should not be much—if he should show himself just at this point to be false, fragile, questionable, and deteriorated.
His love is constrained, his hatred is artificial, and rather UN TOUR DE FORCE, a slight ostentation and exaggeration. He is only genuine so far as he can be objective; only in his serene totality is he still "nature" and "natural." His mirroring and eternally self-polishing soul no longer knows how to affirm, no longer how to deny; he does not command; neither does he destroy. "JE NE MEPRISE PRESQUE RIEN" [“I despise almost nothing”]—he says, with Leibniz: let us not overlook nor undervalue the PRESQUE!
Neither is he a model man; he does not go in advance of any one, nor after, either; he places himself generally too far off to have any reason for espousing the cause of either good or evil. If he has been so long confounded with the PHILOSOPHER, with the Caesarian trainer and dictator of civilization, he has had far too much honour, and what is more essential in him has been overlooked—he is an instrument, something of a slave, though certainly the sublimest sort of slave, but nothing in himself—PRESQUE RIEN!
The objective man is an instrument, a costly, easily injured, easily tarnished measuring instrument and mirroring apparatus, which is to be taken care of and respected; but he is no goal, not outgoing nor upgoing, no complementary man in whom the REST of existence justifies itself, no termination—and still less a commencement, an engendering, or primary cause, nothing hardy, powerful, self-centred, that wants to be master; but rather only a soft, inflated, delicate, movable potter's-form, that must wait for some kind of content and frame to "shape" itself thereto—for the most part a man without frame and content, a "selfless" man.  
- BEYOND GOOD AND EVIL: by Friedrich Nietzsche - Translated by Helen Zimmern

Monday, July 30, 2012

Why elephants don't believe in god

This is taken from a series of emails I exchanged with my brother over 10 years ago.  He asked for explanation of why I didn't think animals don't/couldn't have a belief in life after death, e.g. in relation to dogs mourning their masters, elephant graveyards etc.


Lets look at the requirements for something or someone to have a spiritual thought:

You will need a constant idea of self.  To think about what happens to 'yourself' after death, you will need a firm mental image of a self that will continue on.  As I have said before, this mental picture is a construct that is brought about at the simplest level by the identification of "what is me" compared to "what is not me".  This gives a starting point.  A baby learns it can influence things in it's environment through effort (crying for it's mother, picking up a rattle) and builds a concept of the environment around it and it's own place in the system.  Animals have this kind of self-image, and some animals have a very clear picture of the self and it's place.  This is obvious in mammels like monkeys and apes, who have a very advanced mental image of the social structure of it's pack and it's own place in it.

The image of self is a mental image.  It is a picture of what it means to be an individual relating to the outside world.  This mental image won't usually directly correspond with others' idea of the person/animal.  As the mental personality which has been constructed is an idea, the animal/person will build the personality through analysis of effects of it's own behaviour, consequences of actions and past experiences (e.g. a monkey who challenges the pack leader and loses with change his self-identity to view itself as weaker (at that time), which will influence it's behaviour to the others, and it's pick of the females).  The personality will also be used to guess at the most likely course of action and to help better judgement in the future (bird gets attacked by a red snake it thinks is a big worm, it will then avoid big red things, etc.), although the personality is just a construct.  Someone who is convinced he is tough and has a confident personality but has never been in a fight, etc... if that person is in a fight the personality image may guide his actions but the actions depend on how strong the self-image is in comparison to basic fight/flight drives.  Animals probably have that level of self identity, but less structured and less reasoned than the self-image of humans... e.g. a small dog running in circles and barking at intruders is a classic example of the dog's confusion as it's self-image (protector of the house, aggressive animal etc.) clashes with it's instinctual drives (get the f... out of here, I'd lose the fight). 

The self image also enables the individual to choose the right action in response to familiar stimuli... therefore kittens, lions, children etc playfighting will know that the threat is imaginary and will know their actions are only mock aggression.  They will also put themselves in very vulnerable positions because they have identified the "enemy" as actually a friend (e.g. a lion exposing it's stomach or neck to the 'victor').  This activity is mock aggression but the idea is to go as far as possible to real aggression because the goal is to establish the social hierarchy and an individual's place in that hierarchy ("stop that rough playing or someone is going to get hurt").

Humans to a very high degree, and animals to a much lesser one, show selective recollection of past events.  The difference is because humans have much better memories (and a much higher level of reasoning behind these memories) than animals.  Therefore the person who thinks he's tough but backed down from a fight will imagine he acted braver, that there was more at stake, you know what I mean.  A dog that pisses on the carpet will act embarrassed and scared of the wrath of the owner, but if the owner treats the dog well, it's behavior will resort back to being comfortable and confident around the owner.

Also, the self image is influenced by genetic commands, therefore a female lion will protect it's cubs at the expense of herself, but the male may eat them, pairs of puffins will take turns sitting on eggs and many birds will form a lifelong bond while some species will not.  Up to this point it's clear that the drives and the self-image are shared by humans and at least the higher animals - the difference is only in the complexity of actions and thought processes.  That brings us to:

The relation of the individual to others is influenced very much by the behavior of others to it's actions - the whole nature/nurture argument.  Self image in a social animal is based on one's place in the social group.  From birth an individual is taught to behave in a certain way by selective reward/punishment from it's peers and elders - it learns certain behaviors are good or bad.  This is where the use of language and the transfer of information becomes important.  Some mammals (and some animals) have complex languages - because of their simpler behaviour (in relation to human's), these languages are concerned with giving directions and the transfer of geographical information (the bee wiggle dance, whales singing(probably)), the hunting and gathering of food (apes using sticks to fish for termites and teaching the young, the calls and codes of packs of dogs/jackals etc when hunting), the signal for sex (crickets, birdsong etc.) and the identification of danger (warning signals in group animals).

The human brain is (in my strong opinion) to look for patterns.  This is evident in not only babies' inborn sense of rhythm and perception of visual patterns, but their ability to pick up social rules and the subtleties of language.  From an early age though, cultural influences come into the equation.  I read a few days ago that tests have shown all babies have perfect pitch, that is they can identify the pitch of a singular note without help.  Nearly all adults have relative pitch, which is we can only identify notes in relation to others.  The loss of perfect pitch is an important one because otherwise, you wouldn't be able to recognise that "happy birthday" sung by a woman and then a deep-voiced man are the same song, or be able to recognise different uses, pronunciations and octaves of spoken language.

Babies are more confident when there are patterns, and human culture enforces this by encouraging predictable, pattern-based behaviour and thinking.  This gives rise to a child's curiosity.  The child begins to be hungry for the pattern and wants to see the structure that seems so obvious to adults.  This is the little kid "but why" stage.  "Why do I have to eat my greens", "otherwise you'll be sick", "why will I be sick", "because greens are good for you", "why are they good for me?", "because they have vitamins", "why do vitamins taste so bad?" etc etc.  Most of these conversations end with the adult saying "because I said so ok", or "just because".  This is the adult communicating that the conversation has ended and signals that the adult forms the "end of the equation", or that the adult holds knowledge but will not impart it on the child.  This "but why" stage therefore reinforces an authoritarian view and the cultural structure because all questions inevitably lead to the adult's choice that "that's just the way it is".  Also, because most cultures are founded on religious ideas, many but why's will lead to religious foundations - "because God can do anything", "because Jesus loves us", "Because that is the fifth commandment", "because if you do that you will go to heaven" etc.

It may be possible that animals have this "but why" stage.  It's probably common because curiosity is very important.  A cub will play with scorpions until it gets stung or it's mother cuffs it round the head, it will attack its dad's ear until it gets another cuff or a bite.  But animals don't have the complexity of language that we do.  The amount of information they can impart is the equivalent of "food", "sex", "danger" etc.  Pack animals have more subtle means of communication and can transfer more complex information, but not much info. is transferred from one generation to the next so there is not much chance of the information and language itself to evolve and get more complex.  Put simply, there are less steps to take when the baby is building a world-perception before it leads to the adult "because I said so" (cuff around the head) stage.  The difference from the human behaviour is the complexity of explanations.  Religious thought (and spiritualism to a lesser degree) is the result of cultural influences and an evolution of ideas, myths and stories being transferred over generations to build a cultural explanation of the "but why"'s that aren't immediately obvious to the culture at the time ("but why does it rain", "but why are the gods angry?", "but why does the sun rise?", "but why is there life on earth?").  As you have said, religion is impossible without the need for information transfer over long periods of time, that's why there'll be no elephants doing ritual sacrifices.

Cultural ideas are very biased toward the view that the 'self' is something definite, a soul or actual thing that reacts to stimuli.  But this is not backed up by evidence.  A person's self is structured by experiences and although a person may think they project an idea of how they "really" are, this may not be backed up by observers.  Also, a person's idea of what type of person they are and predictions of their behaviour in certain situations will often be very different to their thought patterns and behaviour when they are actually faced with the situation, instead of the fantasy.  But still, the cultural idea is that the "self" is a pilot in charge of the body, something that reacts to the environment and may be shaped by it, but not bounded by it ("that's not really me talking", "I'm trying to just be myself") - to an extreme you can see this in the Nazi argument of someone "just following orders".

This cultural idea of the self is backed up by ritual (diaries, self-expression/art etc.) that identify the self as a pristine thing, to myths and stories of a soul/pilot of the body, a separation of the self from the other, where the body also becomes the 'other', the environment that the "real self" is reacting to.  By natural habits of selective perception/recollection, the self-image is strengthened ("I could've kicked his ass, he sucker punched me", "I only freaked out cause I hadn't read the recommended text").  Does this manifest in animals?  maybe in the very intelligent, domesticated ones (ones that therefore have an unnatural level of stimulation and cultural reinforcement.  E.g. a dog who pisses on the carpet then puts it's tail between it's legs and hides knows it did a bad thing and it "shouldn't have done that", so has a perception of right and wrong and knowledge of it's own actions.  However, I can't at the moment think of examples in the wild where animals show this level of perception and it could be argued that they don't (but it is clear they have the potential to show a primitive form)).  Because the cultural norm is very much the idea of a 'real' self, it is a small step to consider that the self is a separate entity entirely from the environment/body, and that the "real" self (that is the mental image of the self that may not be supported either by behaviour obvious to others, personal actions or personal, subjective thought processes in the real world (by real world I mean (e.g.) the environment (e.g. future) where the individual has fantasized the action will manifest) will survive after physical death.  I will get to the difference between that, human, thought and animal thought soon.

The influence of these cultural answers to the individual's self-perception will cause the individual to form a certain picture of the world and of it's own place in the scheme of things.  But this perception will be very much controlled by the cultural information imparted.  We have the same brains as we had 40,000 years ago.  Stone age man had basic (maybe earth-based, shamanistic) spirituality but nothing like today's organised religion, which has needed to be built up over thousands of years.  The fact that there is the potential for certain thought doesn't mean that this thought will be present.  An animal may have a brain structure capable of learning complex behaviour, but this behaviour will only come into effect as a result of what information the animal is able to process from the environment and other animals (police/guide dogs, show ponies, apes learning basic sign language - these are all domesticated animals who have learned complex behaviour by benefiting from learning the evolved social and cultural patterns of humans).

I have said that our human cognition is a result of our ability to transmit very large amounts of information from one individual/generation to the next.  Because each individuals experiences (therefore perceptions, ideas and personality) will differ, the transfer of information will result in questions of the way things "really" are (again, the "but why"'s).  As humans, we are in a unique position because we have evolved complex methods of communications (the reasons I have given before (an intelligence arms race since because our greatest threat has been from other groups of humans with generally the same traits, the greatest weapon has been a greater intelligence, therefore a greater group bond, weapon/tactics ability etc)) that we can transmit to others (because of our social nature language has developed, as it has with other animals, but our language is complex enough to transmit highly structured ideas (self-images).  We also live far longer than most comparable (i.e. intelligent, pack) animals, so our individual personalities and our ideas of self and our place in the world will understandably be much more complex. 

Because we have a much more structured culture and information transmission capability than other animals, one result is that we can directly compare ourselves to many others, we can compare minute details of our own thinking and self-image with those of others, and we have not only our direct group companions to choose from, as animals do, but thousands of other people (and therefore wildly diverse cultures and self-images).  This will not only make us consider our own self image much more closely, but it will also reinforce our own perception of what our "I" is.

You have said that other animals have time to contemplate their existence.  I don't believe other animals do for many reasons but I'll talk about this point anyway (because you brought it up).... even if they had the potential for that thought, think about those times they would have the "opportunity" - a solitary animal has to be constantly hunting for food or protecting the stuff it has, or finding safety etc, because it's survival depends on it's every action.  There's no group to support it if it becomes injured or too tired to hunt, it's dependent totally on itself.  Considering there is a constant survival of the fittest, I think the animals that would survive would be those where every waking moment is devoted to survival drives.  Lets look at ones with more time, pack animals where some can be lazy and still survive.  With most pack animals, all possible time is spent either hunting etc, or enforcing the pack hierarchy and structure.  Think about the animals with the most contemplation time - they are the heads of the pack, the bull elephants/seals, the head lion of the pride.  The point of being the head of the pack is to get the best females, so that's why he spends every possible moment shagging.  The lion/elephant/seal... will need to be always on the lookout for a challenge to it's status from younger group-members, so will need to pay attention on establishing it's dominance.  If an adult human (with the benefit of an education and a spiritual background) was given a lion suit and the position of head of the pride, I think even he would have trouble contemplating the meaning of life instead of as much as possible (eugh!), sleeping, eating and fighting, all of these which take up precious energy.

To wonder what happens to the subjective construct of "self" after death, it's obvious you need an understanding of death and an awareness that the body can die.  As I have noted before, spiritual ideas of the soul surviving after death are a very recent construct (probably the last 4,000 or so years) and have required thousands of years of advanced human thought and information transmission to develop to that point.  Before that point, myths and ideas of death and the spiritual realm were bounded by the earth.  Cavemen burial sites and Egyptian pyramids were filled with physical objects (sometimes even slaves, food and weapons) that the dead person would be able to "use" in the next realm.  The inclusion of symbolic relics (a stone army for a Chinese Emperor, trinkets, talismans) is a step up from this but the train of thought was still that the dead person would require the same kinds of things (food, weapons, slaves) in the next life - it was just that those things were supplied in symbolic/incorporeal form because the individual was now seen as the symbolic/incorporeal.

Animals are concerned with the here and now.  They seldom, if never plan ahead for possible future events, unless the events are linked to the here and now (build nest because the birth is coming, trek for water/warm weather because you are thirsty/cold).  The understanding of death is a complex one and one that has required thousands of years of advanced human understanding.  The perception of an animal of an other is linked with the sensual responses it receives from that other, that is why you can make a mother sheep adopt a new lamb by draping the lamb in the skin of the dead one.  An animal's perception of an 'other' is directly linked to the other's actions and whether they are familiar. 

An individual would need to have a perception of death.  An animal has a perception of sickness/weakness and may see others die but their perception of the dead animal is bounded by it's body lying there.  Once another drive (food, heat etc) replaces the drive to stay and care for the perceived sick animal, it will leave.  That doesn't mean it will forget about the dead animal but the perception of it will be bounded in the physical presence and the location of it's smell etc (a mother looking for a lost lamb).

The animal would then need to take the perception of the death of the animal and turn that perception around to itself to be able to understand the possibility that it is able to die.  This would require an understanding that others have the same self-perception as itself.  Now, if you look at Piaget's experiments with children and the stages of development, it says that up to the age of around 4 or 5 (at least) a human child is unable to comprehend the fact that other people have their own subjective reality (e.g. saying to a child "draw that car", then saying "draw the way you think Tommy over on the other side of the car sees the car").  That is why they say in experiments with teaching apes to 'talk' through sign language, that they can only reach the mental sophistication of a small child, in that that mental stage of development is quite a sophisticated one.

It would also require an animal contemplating that if the circumstances were right and it didn't get enough food/was attacked etc, then this would happen to itself.  This requires foresight and vision of using the (above) established and sophisticated perception that others are a separate "self" as well, and then constructing an alternate (imaginary) reality where circumstances would cause the individual to die itself.

So there you are.  Animals lack:

·          The opportunity to construct a complicated and definite, culturally sanctioned view of a self that is separate from the body, (they may have a very basic one).
·          Foresight into the consequences of their actions beyond the basic (although they may exhibit hindsight).
·          Sufficient complexity of memory to both construct the self-identity and to reinforce that perception through selective recollection.
·          A social structure where complex concepts (that need to evolve over a generations) may be transmitted to them.  Humans have the advantage because of their social structure, free time, advanced language processing, quick learning, information transmission ability, and long life.
·          The ability to consolidate their self-identity because they lack the access to all the above, plus complex understanding of the possibility of different cultures, and the differing self identities of many others beyond the immediate pack.
·          The possibility to understand complex patterns because of the redundancy of their information transmission/processing ability (although they may hunger for patterns and be curious).
·          A complicated, evolving social structure where ritual and belief could result.  Although they may have the potential for complicated perception they are limited to the knowledge pool of their current peers.
·          The time to contemplate existence that humans have.  Although some animals can relax more than others, group dynamics and the pressure of Darwinist survival means thought must be devoted to primal drives.
·          An awareness of the reality of death itself, because that awareness requires a perception that others are made up of individual self identities and have different perceptions. 
·          The understanding of death of self, which also requires imagination and vision of an alternate possible future where circumstances would cause the death of the self.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Auckland real estate - the value of lists #1, school zones

Now one thing you'll quickly learn in the property market is that everyone you deal with is nice but it's likely you'll be seen as a walking wallet.  The only thing distinguishing most companies from one another is their ability to keep the information from you and ration it out in exchange for either your custom or your cash.

So do it yourself, it's not hard...

First - a quick look at the market will show you a huge amount is based on school zones.  

Real estate agents crow that a particular house is within a certain school zone but why can't you do a search on their site or on any site for houses by school zone?  Because although that would benefit you as a buyer, it doesn't benefit the real estate agent (who wants you to rely on them for "keeping an eye out" in the right zones) and it doesn't really benefit the schools.  Yes you could check for this information but only on a property-by-property basis.  

You could try, the government site that shows online maps of school zones, but the information isn't downloadable and it's hard to print out the images.  And you'll need to manually search for each address.

Or try this site -  Back in 2010 someone made an Official Information Act request to the Ministry of Education and now you can download a handy list of ALL school zones in NZ that you can open in Google Earth and play with.  Yes it's a single alphabetical list and yes school zones vary very slightly over time but hey, it's free.

So... download it (it's free), open in Google Earth and save the .kml in a new folder.

Next, go to this site - - and download the schools directory.  Open in Excel and turn on autofilter, then sort schools by what's important to you (demographics, roll, level, decile, location, gender, etc etc).  Thin it down to a list of schools you like.

Next go to Google Maps and create some folders (e.g. "primary"/"intermediate"/"secondary") then just drop and drag the school .kml's into these folders which you can then turn on & off.

You can now surf and print satellite and street maps of anywhere in NZ, turn on and off different school zones and look at where the overlaps are.

Good thing for us is that many house prices are based on the decile rating of secondary schools, but the most important thing for us at the moment is a good primary school.  Have a think about what's important for you in terms of the school.

Auckland real estate - some tips and tricks I'm learning

Now we have started looking for a house.  There's nothing wrong with our one - it's a great house, a bit small but we'd stay if it was in the right area.  Yep, living practically next door to the official "best pie shop in Auckland" has its benefits, but we are about 50 metres out of zone for the good high schools and the only primary school we are zoned for is a Decile 2.  And yeah, it matters.  Hayley is 2 and a half, and if we've got the choice to send her to a better school we're going to go for it.

Problem is we've got to start dealing with real estate agents again.  I don't like to tar a whole profession but I'd like to know from someone what these agents do for their money.  That is, what justifies the percentage commission they charge for selling your house on top of making you pay for everything from the LIM to the advertising to the freaking board and flag they put up for an open home.

So I'm learning a few things from this experience that I want to pass on to the one or two people who may read this... from a complete non-expert... (take everything I say with a grain of salt and do your own research - I'm learning all this as I go...)

- First, banks are being held a lot more to account when it comes to leaky home sales.  That means they need to cover themselves and by extension you.  They may ask for the address of a home you want to bid for, and in some cases won't give prior approval for a loan if there are weathertightness issues.  This means use it.  Banks have access to information about residential buildings that you and I don't have.  Talk to the bank manager about a house you're looking at - they may come back with info for free that you would otherwise pay tens or hundreds of dollars for from QV or the council.

- "Is there anything else about this property I need to know?" is an important statement.  You'll find a lot of tips of questions to ask real estate agents on the internet.  Important thing to know is the agent has no incentive to tell you the truth (if they can get you to purcha$e before finding the problem what do they care?) but they can't knowingly withhold information.

We saw a house last week, nice old house, about 80yrs old, on top of a hill, but the downstairs had clearly been done illegally.  Also, the home advertisement didn't match the number of rooms that were in the house - shady.  I asked the agent at the open home about this and he gave me a copy of the LIM.  I asked him directly "what's the status of the renovations downstairs?".  He told me he hadn't read through the LIM so he didn't know.

That night I read through the LIM and sent a formal email through to him (if it isn't in writing it didn't happen), asking "what's the status of this bathroom, has the house had a code compliance certificate, council approvals, etc etc.  He emailed back to say "the information you have is the same information that I got from the vendor" and recommended I pay almost $100 to go to the council with the question.


1. Nobody in the industry is employed to be on the side of the buyer.  Do your homework but this doesn't mean you have to fork out the money (which is limitless if you want to run QV and council reports, and builder inspections for every property you really like).

2. If a real estate agent says "I don't know" to a question, you should probably be wary.  "I don't know but I'll find out" is a good answer, but "I don't know I haven't bothered to ask my clients" isn't.

3. Don't be afraid to put the agent on the spot.  I was at an open home today, looking at a reasonably new house with obvious "leaky home" risks.  I asked the agent what the status was of the house weathertightness and he said he wasn't sure for certain but some recent clients had taken a builder round and the builder wasn't happy with the moisture readings on one or two of the rooms.  Thanks dude!  you've just saved us $400 on a building inspection unless we want to get someone new round to have another detailed look through.

4. Not all real estate agents are corrupt, but when you find a good one don't lose them!  We're still massively grateful to the agent who bent over backwards for us with our current house.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Tarawera eruption - phantom canoe? Part 2 of 2

A group of Maori, and two boatloads of European tourists see a mysterious canoe on Lake Tarawera.  Although the tourists think little of it, the local Maori see it as an omen of evil.  Around a week later, Mt Tarawera erupts, devastating the area and destroying the Pink and White Terraces.  Later reports talk in depth about the significance of the "Tarawera phantom canoe."

So what is the harm in a "very pretty and poetical conceit", or the "prodigies of fancy... to have seen this or any other portent that affords .. comfort in the retrospect", as the Otago Witness newspaper reported after the event? 

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Everything in NZ - in centimetres

An incomplete (100 things) list of absolutely everything in NZ.... in descending order by centimetres.

NZ coastline
Distance travelled (straight line) by Dr Ropata from La Aurora International Airport (Guatamala) to Auckland International Airport
Distance of Chatham Islands from South Island
Coast to Coast race
Furthest distance from the sea at any point in NZ
Running - 2:08:59.00 (Rod Dixon, 23 October 1983)
Halfway down Dominion Road (before extension) – intersection of Peary and Dominion Road
Mt Cook (highest mountain in NZ)
Buildings & infrastructure within 3km of new vent in Auckland Volcanic field destroyed by initial surge of hot gas, steam and rocks
Mt Ruapehu (highest mountain in North Is)
North Island snow field – permanent snowfield
Martin Jetpack – estimated hover above ground limit
Estimated distance into Pike River mine of 29 miners' bodies from November 2010 explosion
South Island snow field – lower range of permanent snowfield
Running – 3:49.08 (John Walker, 7 July 1982) (mile)
Martin Jetpack – 29 May 2011 – unmanned test flight
Distance the Manukau bar moved from where it was recorded on the nautical map used by the captain of HMS Orpheus (wrecked 7 Feb. 1863)
<1km - crater that could be caused by explosive Auckland Volcanic Field eruption
Mt Erebus crash site (above sea level)
Height from sea floor of White Island
North Island snow field – low point
Sky Tower
Running – 4:53 (Thomas Dold – Germany), fastest time up Sky Tower – 1,267 steps (2009)
South Island snow field – low point
Height of Chunuk Bair, Gallipoli
Mt Eden
One Tree Hill
Vero Centre (Auckland) NZ tallest skyscraper from 2000
Metropolis (Auckland) NZ tallest skyscraper 1999 to 2000
Eyewitness accounts of distance of first powered flight by Richard Pearse’s bamboo monoplane … in a barely controlled straight line, before crashing into a gorse bush (31 March 1903, 9 months before Wright brothers)
ANZ Centre (Auckland) NZ tallest skyscraper 1991 to 1999
Crowne Plaza (Auckland) NZ tallest skyscraper 1990 to 1991
BNZ Tower (Auckland) NZ tallest skyscraper 1982 to 1990
Running – 10.11secs (Augustine Nketia, 22 Aug. 1994)
AMP Tower (Quay Tower)(Auckland) NZ tallest skyscraper 1980 to 1982
Copthorne Plimmer Tower (Wellington) NZ tallest skyscraper 1975 to 1980
HSBC Building (Auckland) NZ tallest skyscraper 1973 to 1975
NZ Parliament House (The Beehive)
Civic Building (Auckland) NZ tallest skyscraper 1966 to 1973
Spire of Christchurch Cathedral - till 2011
geological evidence of maximum height of run-ups from tsunamis that have affected NZ coastline over last 6000 years
Tane Mahuta (NZ largest living Kauri) – Total Height
Auckland Harbour bridge
Obelisk on top of One Tree Hill
Cave Creek viewing platform
Rubber domes covering ‘Echelon’ satellite interception dishes in Waihopai - deflated by sickle attack in 2008
Tane Mahuta (NZ largest living Kauri) – Trunk Height
Amount Mt Cook shrunk after 1991 avalanche
Height of lahar that destroyed Tangiwai bridge (1953 rail disaster)
amount of uplift (below surface) caused by magnitude 8+ 1855 Wairarapa earthquake
Distance New Zealander Jonathan Macfarlane threw Andrew Rainford to beat Guinness World Record for throwing a person (2009)
Yards of space between Maori chiefs and British platform at Waitangi during Treaty negotiations (5 Feb 1840), to allow orators to stand and move during their presentations
Maximum height of tsunami run-up affecting NZ in 1960 from magnitude 9.5 earthquake near Chile
Kawerau Bridge Bungy
Largest moa (Dinornis novaezelandiae) (neck outstretched)
Horizontal distance per 100cm rise of Baldwin Street, Dunedin (world's steepest street)
highest amount of land slip (below surface) as a result of Christchurch Earthquake 2011 - near Avon-Heathcote estuary.
NZ average rainfall – max
height of tsunami in Wellington Harbour from 1855 Wairarapa earthquake
Average male New Zealander
Average female New Zealander
Britten V1000 motorcycle - wheelbase
Width of yellow 1978 Morris Mini 1000 in Goodbye Pork Pie
Ketland & Company flintlock musket captured during British storming of Ruapekapeka (during Northern War), 11 January 1846
Americas Cup (Auld Mug) – as at 2010
Americas Cup (Auld Mug) – original size (1848)
Monadnock PR 24 baton used by riot police during NZ Springbok Tour 1981
NZ average rainfall – min
Width of standard NZ coffin at the shoulder (increased from 51cm in 2000s as a result of growing obesity issues & wider average shoulder width)
Height difference between Elijah Wood (168cm tall) and Frodo Baggins (approx. 114cm tall)
Male Great Spotted Kiwi
Christchurch Earthquake 2011 - rise in ground level around western side of Avon-Heathcote estuary
Rugby World Cup – Webb Ellis Cup
Reach difference between David Tua (178cm) and Lennox Lewis (213cm) in 2005 WBC, IBF & IBO Heavyweight title fight
Oscar statuette (Academy award)
Annual rainfall in Central Otago
Minimum size of bloodstained sock prints found in Bain household (compared with David Bain's foot length of 30cm)
Approx. diameter of largest of >40 'One Ring''s used during filming of Fellowship of the Ring - steel (gold plated), used for prologue
Buzzy bee – wing-span
Height of 'V' 250ml slimline can
Minimum legal size for amateur harvest of blackfoot paua (Haliotis iris)
estimated amount of ash fall over most of Auckland area during volcanic field eruption
Standard diameter of beer can
Distance NZ and Australia move together per year
Coin - 50 cent coin – 1967 to 2006
Coin - Twenty cent coin – 1967 to 2006
Coin - Two dollar coin - from 1991
Con - 50 cent coin - from 2006
Coin - Ten cent coin – 1967 to 2006
Coin - Dollar coin - from 1991
Coin - Twenty cent coin - from 2006
Coin - Two cent coin - 1967 to 1990
Coin - Ten cent coin – from 2006
Coin - Five cent coin - 1967 to 2006
Coin - One cent coin - 1967 to 1990
Amount of microfoam on a good flat white coffee
Draught of Container Ship Rena (fully laden)
Depth of Rainbow Warrior under ocean surface - Cavalli Islands
Depth under water of lower tier of Pink & White Terraces