Way Down South

The past few months have been fairly hectic and it’s been a while since we took a trip so my wife and I decided to spend a few days at the bottom of the South Island.  We hadn’t been down that way since 2003 and were hoping to find it as uncrowded and unspoiled as we remembered.  And it was!  Not only did we see some interesting things, we also met a lot of very interesting people.

We were at the very bottom of the South Island and the only thing further south is Antarctica.

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Here is our route:

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We flew into Dunedin, about 2 hours from Auckland, and picked up a rental car.  Our first stop was the Orokonui Ecosanctuary just outside of Dunedin.  It was a little cloudy but the views were great on the drive up.???????????????????????????????Orokonui is dedicated to saving seriously endangered native wildlife.  Before humans came to New Zealand, there were no mammals except for a small bat.  As a result, birds didn’t have to worry about predators and over time they lost the ability to fly.  Many NZ native birds are flightless and even if they can fly, they often spend a lot of their time on the ground and build their nests on the ground.

When humans arrived with rats, cats, dogs, weasels and stoats, a lot of native birds’ days were numbered and today many of them are either extinct or seriously endangered.  In addition to predators, other introduced pests such as rabbits and possums destroy the habitat of many birds by eating vegetation.

The Department of Conservation has established several island bird sanctuaries, however over the past decade thanks to the initiative of several community groups around the country, a few mainland bird sanctuaries have been established too.

The Orokonui Sanctuary is 307 hecatares (about 750 acres) in size and in order to protect native wildlife in the sanctuary, a nine kilometre (about five and a half mile) predator proof fence has been built completely around the park.  You start off in the very interesting visitor’s centre.???????????????????????????????Once you register, you are given an access code for the gate to the fence.  It’s a little bit like entering a maximum security prison.  The fence is 2 metres high and mesh covered to prevent even baby mice from sneaking in.  It has a metal skirt at the bottom to prevent animals from burrowing underneath and vegetation is cleared in a 4 metre wide path along the fence so that animals can’t climb neighbouring trees and jump over.  There is also a sensor wire to set off an alarm if any animal tries to climb over the top.  As I say, maximum security.???????????????????????????????

???????????????????????????????There are huge debates as to whether fences like this are economically justifiable.  But it seems worthwhile when you get inside and see some of the birds that are wandering around.  This is a takahe—a large adult can weigh ten pounds.6After spending a leisurely few hours at Orokonui we headed to Cromwell in Central Otago to visit our friends Heather and Paul.  They used to live in Auckland but moved last year.  As you drive north you leave the temperate rain forest and move into prairies and desert.???????????????????????????????

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???????????????????????????????Cromwell has a population of about 4,000 and has the distinction of being the town in New Zealand that is farthest from the ocean—119 kilometres (about 70 miles).  It is a lovely and interesting place.  ???????????????????????????????

???????????????????????????????It was a boom town in the 1800s when gold was mined extensively in the area.  And when you walk around you can see some of the old settlements.  There are also warning signs to watch out for abandoned mine shafts.???????????????????????????????

???????????????????????????????Of course, this being New Zealand, the only thing that hadn’t abandoned the area were sheep!???????????????????????????????The Clutha River flows through Cromwell and in the 1990s a dam was built just south of the town to provide hydroelectric power.???????????????????????????????As a result, a good part of the old town is now underneath Lake Dunstan, which was formed by the dam.  Over the past few years the old town has been reconstructed along the lake.???????????????????????????????

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???????????????????????????????Before leaving Cromwell we visited New Zealand’s only bug reserve.  The Chafer beetle lives only in New Zealand and is considered critically endangered.  Like native birds, the beetles don’t fly and therefore are sitting ducks for introduced predators.  In 1983 a 200 acre field was set aside to protect the beetles and at the time was the only reserve in the world created for an invertebrate. 

To be honest, you don’t see a lot when you visit the reserve because the beetles live underground.  And you can imagine that there are a lot of property developers wondering why some really prime real estate has been fenced off just for some bugs you can’t even see.  I figure we can afford to give up 200 acres for bugs rather than a BMX track.???????????????????????????????

???????????????????????????????When people think of New Zealand, they usually think of two islands—North and South.  However there is a third island and years ago, it was called the South Island and what is now the South Island was called the Middle Island.  Today the original South Island is called Stewart Island or Rakiura.  Stewart Island is much smaller than the other islands and has only about 400 inhabitants, most of whom are involved with either fishing or tourism.

Because of its isolation, there has never been significant human settlement or development on the island and many native New Zealand plants and animals which are threatened are able to survive.  Tourism on the island focuses on nature walks and hikes and there are a number of walking tracks both on Stewart Island and its surrounding smaller islands.

You can reach the island by either a boat or plane from Invercargill which is the southernmost city in NZ.  We had heard that the boat ride could be hair-raising because of rough seas and in fact was often cancelled.  So we decided to take the plane.  It did occur to me that flying through conditions that could prevent ships from getting through might make the flight a bit of an adventure.

And that concern was heightened when I saw the plane.???????????????????????????????This is how it looked from the inside:

???????????????????????????????And here is a picture from the last row where we were sitting.  There were an odd number of passengers so the extra person got to sit in the co-pilot’s seat.  The pilot is telling him to keep his hands to himself and not touch anything.  And I think the guy behind him is covering his eyes!

???????????????????????????????Actually the flight was very smooth and the only thing breathtaking was the scenery.

???????????????????????????????There was no airport, just an airstrip and a van from the town was waiting for us.  Incidentally, the van is also the control tower. The pilot and van driver communicated on the radio about landing conditions.

The van dropped us at the depot in Oban, the only town on Stewart Island and home to over 80% of the people who live on the island.???????????????????????????????We were met by Andy, who with Jo, his wife runs Jo and Andy’s B&B which is where we would be staying.  Andy, Jo and the B&B were all very interesting and we spent many hours in interesting conversations.

We spent a lot of time exploring Stewart Island, but the high point of our visit was a day trip to Ulva Island which is a ten minute boat ride from Oban.

???????????????????????????????The forest at Ulva Island was never logged for timber so unlike many other sanctuaries where the forest is only about 100– 200 years old,  the trees here were several hundred years old. It was amazing and energizing walk.???????????????????????????????

???????????????????????????????The Department of Conservation has laid out a series of beautifully constructed and well maintained walking tracks and you can explore the island on your own or get a guide.

Ulva Island is pest free and home to a huge variety of native NZ birds and we saw a lot of them.

Because no one bothers the birds, other than tourists taking pictures, they are very friendly.  The South Island robin, which doesn’t have a red breast, is very plentiful.  In the hope that you will kick up some juicy bugs as you walk along, they follow you as you walk.???????????????????????????????

We also saw the NZ kaka, which is another indigenous and endangered parrot.  They are big and noisy.???????????????????????????????Another bird that is threatened outside of conservation parks is the saddleback.  It is black with a brown patch on its back and red cheeks and has a lovely bird call.???????????????????????????????And we were surprised when a kiwi ran across our path, but he was too quick to get a photo.  Unlike the North Island kiwi, the South Island kiwi is not nocturnal. In the North Island there used to be a giant raptor (now extinct) that would feast on ground birds, so the kiwi up north evolved over time to be nocturnal.  With no such predator in the South, the kiwi here are diurnal.

After three nice days on Stewart Island we took the early morning flight back to Invercargill.  The plan for the rest of the trip was to do a leisurely drive along the southern coast back to Dunedin with a stop in Pounawea in the Catlins.

The Catlins Coast is the area of NZ between Invercargill and Balclutha.  The population of the entire area is only about 1,200.  The last time we were there, we were told to take in any food we wanted to the camp ground because there was only one grocery store and one restaurant—a fish and chips shop.  After ten years, it hasn’t changed much although there are now more accommodation options, a bigger grocery store and five restaurants.  But by and large it is a wonderfully wild and deserted area with lots of temperate rain forests and interesting birds and animals including seals and penguins.

Although the weather was fine while we were there, storms from the Southern Ocean can create havoc and there are two lighthouses along the way.  The area has also been the site of many shipwrecks, including NZs worst maritime disaster.

Our first stop was Waipapa Point where in 1881 the SS Tararua sank in a storm with the loss of 131 lives.  As a result, a lighthouse was built at the point in 1884.  It is built of wood and still operates.???????????????????????????????The area is surrounded by a rocky beach and there were sea lions wandering around as well.???????????????????????????????

???????????????????????????????The sea lions look like a lot of fun but there are signs everywhere to stay at least 20 feet away from them because they may not like you as much as you like them.  There was also this scary sign:

???????????????????????????????Certainly one of the highlights of the trip was a visit to Niagara Falls (NZ).???????????????????????????????Another sign a little further along warns you not to get your expectations too high.

???????????????????????????????And here’s the reality.  Even I would go over these falls in a barrel!!

???????????????????????????????A short drive away are the Matai Falls which are a bit more impressive:

???????????????????????????????Late in the afternoon we arrived at Pounawea which is located where the Catlin River flows into the ocean.  There is no town to speak of, just a few houses and the camp ground where we stayed.  When we arrived the office was closed and this sign had been taped to the door:

???????????????????????????????We were staying in a cabin and because we’d stayed at the camp before, we chose cabin ‘B4′ and got settled in.  Here I am having the obligatory cup of tea.

???????????????????????????????And checking out the beach at low tide.

???????????????????????????????In addition to being right on the ocean, the camp is also in the middle of a nature reserve filled with centuries-old trees.

???????????????????????????????We spent three days at the camp and explored the surrounding area.  Somewhere along the way we had picked up a flyer for a place called “Earthlore Insect Theme Park.”  It sounded interesting but debated whether we should go.  It was Saturday and it was raining and we thought there might be a huge crowd of kids.  We took our chances and when we arrived, we were the only people there!

???????????????????????????????We were met by Gordon, who along with his wife Jeannine owns and runs Earthlore.  On this trip we met many interesting people, but  Gordon was certainly one of the most interesting.  We ended up spending over three hours at Earthlore and left with a lot of good information and gifts of fresh fruit from his organic orchard.

Gordon and Jeannine are amazing artists who display their work around the Catlins.  They gave up careers in Dunedin and bought the property with the original idea of having a unique bed and breakfast in which the accommodation would be gypsy caravans individually built by Gordon.  Here is his first effort:

???????????????????????????????Unfortunately, the local council wouldn’t let them operate as a business because the caravans weren’t wheelchair accessible.

Plan B was Earthlore which in an amazing place where people, but especially kids can learn about insects and their importance to just about everything on earth.  The main attraction is something called “Bug City” in which the kids have to solve mysteries by learning bug facts under the guidance of “Inspector Insector.”  I like the antennae on the hat.

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???????????????????????????????While there we met another interesting person, William Bisset, who is making a television documentary on the interesting people and the history of Southland.  He is travelling through the Catlins with nothing but his clothing and cameras and he knocks on peoples’ doors and asks them if he can stay with them.  He works to earn his keep.  He is currently staying at Earthlore and helping Gordon with various maintenance jobs.  And he is staying in the gypsy caravan!

???????????????????????????????You can check out a two minute video about his project here or have a look at his web site here.

In addition to interesting people, there was no shortage of fantastic scenery.  This is the lighthouse at Nugget Point.

???????????????????????????????It’s a long walk to the top but worth it.   You don’t have to be a geologist to wonder about how those rocks got the way they are.

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???????????????????????????????And we had the beach to ourselves at Surat Point, the site of another shipwreck.

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???????????????????????????????And walked through a spooky abandoned railway tunnel:

???????????????????????????????After a visit to the ominously named Cannibal Bay, we headed toward Dunedin where we were going to spend the night at a place near the airport for our early morning flight.  Some locals told us to avoid the main road and take the coast road.  They claimed, and they were right, that the views would more than make up for the fact that the road isn’t paved.

For about 50 kilometres we didn’t see another car but nonstop amazing scenery.

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???????????????????????????????We are hoping that the next time we come back the road will still be unpaved! On the drive home after landing in Auckland I realised I was encountering traffic lights for the first time in ten days.  Sort of makes you ready to go back!

All I Don’t Want For Christmas

A few days ago, Solid Gold Creativity had a very moving post about The Big Issue.  I hadn’t heard of the magazine before, but it is published by a not for profit organisation that supports the homeless and marginalised.  It is sold by homeless and disabled people who earn income from the sales.

A recent issue in Australia included Christmas wishes to readers from some of the people who are selling the magazine on the streets.  The messages are simple and beautiful—full of thanks and good will and completely devoid of selfishness.

Hearing these kinds of sentiments from some of the poorest people in society was both inspiring and disturbing.  What made it disturbing was that I had just returned from the US where the twelve days of Christmas seem to last about twelve weeks.  Any altruistic sentiments were totally lost in the retail extravaganza of Black Friday and the non-stop playing of tacky Christmas carols on radio, TV and in any public venue.

On the plane on the way home, in a suitably festive mood as you can imagine, I started to flip through the complimentary magazines and found out some of the exciting things on offer in the gift and technology department this year.  I usually never look at those magazines because I get nervous when I think that the kind of people they seem to be intended for might actually exist.

This time was no exception.  The gifts and technology wow factors on offer were truly scary.  It was a little confusing because interspersed among real things you can buy are effusive descriptions of new technologies that are on offer to make our lives better.  The question is not whether you would want some of these things.  The question is why anyone would want them.

I kept the magazine to show people when I got home and had another look at it after reading the post about The Big Issue.  Talk about a sobering thought.  The gap between the world of the people selling The Big Issue and the intended market for the products in the magazine is, for lack of a better word, obscene.

1. Backyard Television.

For those who consider a television in every room too pedestrian, you can now have an entertainment system installed in your back yard.  The centrepiece is a 201 inch (that’s almost 17 feet!) screen that “stores itself underground.”  Also included is a library of over 300 movies and concerts.

The price tag for the system is from $1.5 to $2.6 million, presumably depending on how hard it is to hide the TV when it’s in the ground.  I guess if you can afford to lay out that kind of money on a TV in the back yard, you can also afford to live in a place where the neighbours aren’t going to be bothered by a 17 foot TV screen in the back yard.  But then again, if you have that kind of money, wouldn’t you and your friends have better things to do than sit in the back yard and watch TV?

2. Pillow speakers.

Yes.  A pillow with built-in speakers.  As the blurb says, “It’s perfect for you if you hate tangled wires in bed.”  Think about that.  Non-stop sensory stimulation has become so normalised that someone has come up with a solution to tangled wires in bed.  The blurb also says, “If you’re [sic] teen loves to hear music, it’s a fine gift this Christmas.”  Better parenting through technology—always a winner

3.  Carriage Bed

A company called Posh Tots offers a bed that looks like a Cinderella carriage.  For a mere $47,000.  The blurb says it all:  “Treat the little princess in your life like just that [sic].  This carriage-inspired bed is the perfect sleep and play station for making dreams come true.”

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I don’t know where to start so I’ll just mention the use of the words “sleep and play station.”  Something for the kid to enjoy until they grow up and spend time at their work station?

4. Zero Gravity Wedding

For $18,000 you can go up in a plane that dives and simulates weightlessness and get married at the same time.

5.  Hover Bike

Now this one is pretty good, but impractical.  It is a James Bond type helicopter/bicycle.  You can’t buy one because they are still testing the prototype but you can put your name on the list to buy one for $46,000.   It has several good, practical applications but because it can fly at 170 miles per hour a few feet above the ground they are probably not going to be widely available to the average commuter.

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6.  Last, but not least, the iPad Baby Seat.

Called the “Apptivity Seat,” this infant rocker includes an iPad holder.  And don’t forget the ‘iPotty’ which is a toilet training seat with an iPad holder.  The idea is get the kid to sit there long enough.  How has the human race survived?

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I don’t know about you, but I think that before we run out and book a zero gravity wedding we should think about the lady in Australia who thanked the people who tipped her when she sold them a magazine because “I get my hair done and buy new clothes.”

It’s Official—I’m a Visionary

Regular readers will find the above assertion no surprise, but it’s always nice to bask in the reflection that one is able to discern trends and stuff ahead of the curve.  This was brought home recently when I saw a report that the Global Language Monitor (GLM) had compiled a list of the most overused business words of 2013.

Five out of the fifteen words, a whopping 33%, had been identified by me in previous posts, some as old as 2010, as overused and/or irritating.  Which is basically the same thing.

The problem with the GLM list was that it only listed the words without explaining their meaning.  For the most part, this isn’t a problem because, let’s face it, the fundamental meaning of overused words isn’t that important.  But I think it’s important to know what we’re talking about so I’m including the GLM list below with my commentary.

Content.  Historically, this word had two meanings.  As an adjective it means happy or satisfied.  As a noun, usually with an ‘s’ on the end, it means the stuff inside.  So the contents of a gallon of milk are the milk.  The contents of your closet are your clothes.  Which you may or may not be content with.  But ‘content’ in the current sense is a marketing term that refers to information about a product that might make you want to buy it.

The best example I can think of is car commercials.  To me they are fairly content free because they usually don’t tell you much about the car.  But from the marketing perspective they are content rich because they inform you that if you buy the car you will look prosperous, your family (including the dog) will be happy and you will be an object of admiration.

Social Media.  Facebook and Twitter.  Overused?  Yes.

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Sustainability.  I called this word overused in September 2010.  The word is appearing to be more sustainable than some of the things that were being described as sustainable back then.

Transparency.  The word may be overused, but true examples of business or government transparency remain highly elusive.

Literally.  In March 2011 I suggested that this word be “given a rest.”  You literally can’t have a conversation without someone literally overusing this word.  Literally!

Guru.  I was surprised to see this on the list because as far as I’m concerned, it was overused in the 80s and 90s when personal computers were becoming mainstream.  Before we called them IT geeks, people who knew how to format disks and things like that were called ‘computer gurus.’

Utilize. Not sure why this word made the list.  It is a nice, utilitarian word that I utilize when it has utility.

Robust.  You heard it here first in March 2011!  But its persistence has proven amazingly robust.

Ping.  This used to mainly mean fancy golf clubs.  Then after The Hunt for Red October, we got used to calling radar beeps pings.  Then network geeks started using it to describe test signals and things like that. But now, among the cognoscenti, (a fancy word for the people who make words be overused), this means any kind of communication, presumably because most of their communications are electronic.  So if a friend asks you if you want to have dinner you might say, “I’ll check my schedule and ping you.”

Big Data.  I mentioned this one in January 2013.  One wonders why we haven’t started talking about “Huge Data,” because by now that big data can only have gotten a lot bigger.

Seamless.  This is a word whose primary purpose is to make you feel stupid.  Like when your phone company changes its system “to serve you better,” and tells you that there will be a seamless transition.  When it doesn’t work, they make you think it’s your fault.

Moving Forward.  Nothing wrong with it—we should be moving forward, but this phrase sure is used a lot.  In the news headlines today I saw it used describe everything from a starlet who just got divorced, a person who lost out on The X Factor, a company in bankruptcy, South Africa post Nelson Mandela and the Philippine typhoon survivors.

The Cloud.  This one is going to be hanging over our heads for a long, long time.

Offline.  The eighties called and they want their buzzword back!  So overused, it’s gotten where bar room brawlers are asked to “Hey, take it offline.”

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I would be remiss if I didn’t provide a couple of buzzwords to watch for 2014.  Here are a couple that seem to be sustainable.  They’ve gotten on my radar screen and I think we will be hearing more of them moving forward.  I promise to ping you next year for an update.

Target persona.  This is one of the terms made possible by Big Data.  It used to be that companies pitched products at target markets, 18-25 year olds for example.  This was called marketing to a demographic.  But now instead of demographics we have the wonderful concept of psychographics, which is how people in a particular demographic think and act.  So a product might no longer be pitched at all 18-25 year olds, but rather to 18-25 year old geeks, or jocks, or whatever.  And those people are the target persona.  Scary, isn’t it?

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Authenticity.  The idea behind this word is that we have become suspicious of terms such as “New,” “Improved,” and “To Serve You Better.”  So if you see “Authentic,” appended to any claim, you may assume that it is totally true and not hype.  At least that’s the idea.

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Community Culture.  No, not your neighbourhood.  Believe it or not, this term refers to how and by whom a product is discussed on social media sites.  If you want to be really scared, go to the Coke, Starbucks or Apple Facebook pages.   These are communities of people who are united around their adulation of the brand.  The Apple FB page for example has over 10 million likes.  Who says corporations aren’t people? Which reminds me, don’t get me started on Hashtags.

Keep an eye out and prepare to cringe when you see these words next year!

Lifeboat Earth?

I’ve been working on a new novel, which is one of the reasons I’ve been so quiet lately.  When people ask me what the book is about, I tell them that one of the things I’m trying to do is reconcile the conflict between my wanting to view people and humanity as fundamentally good and deserving the best, and the reality of how people and humanity generally behave.

It’s the old question of if little kids are so sweet and innocent, why are sandboxes often the site of bullying, fights and generally feral behaviour.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading on the topic and totally by accident came across a book that helps put things in perspective.  The book, by Australians Eleanor Learmonth and Jenny Tabakoff, is ominously entitled No Mercy:  True Stories of Disaster, Survival and Brutality (Text Publishing, 2013).

I had no intention of reading that book.  It sounded too much like the lurid stuff I used to read in junior high school, but it hooked me from the first page.  The book is a compilation of disasters, primarily shipwrecks, and the authors analyze the behaviour of the survivors to see if there are patterns of human behaviour and group dynamics that emerge in times of stress.

Most of the cases are shipwrecks from the days of sailing ships because back then it was easy for survivors to be marooned in isolated parts of the world for long periods of time.  It turns out that these situations are perfect laboratories for observing how groups behave and for spotting behaviour patterns.

One of the things that makes the book so readable is that is it not simply a litany of disasters with each chapter being a gruesome account of a different disaster.  Rather, the chapters are organized around the types of things that become issues in these situations–for example, leadership, personal relationships, care of the sick and wounded, and dealing with things like hunger, thirst, conflicts in the group and adverse environmental conditions.  Different groups’ handling of these things are compared and contrasted.

The bad news is that in a survey of 23 disasters spanning from 134 BC to 2010, in only one case did the group of survivors manage not to end up spiralling out of control into acts of inhumanity.  You can imagine what I mean by “acts of inhumanity.”

Yes, it’s grim reading but one of the things that makes it all worthwhile is the stirring story of the Grafton, which was wrecked in the Southern Ocean in January 1864.  The crew was stranded for 20 months in impossible conditions but actually managed to survive and save themselves with no loss of life.  It is an amazing story of human ingenuity and endurance.  Interestingly, 4 months after the Grafton was lost, another ship, the Invercauld, ran aground only 15 kilometres away.  The two groups were unaware of each other and the Invercauld crew suffered from appallingly bad leadership and group friction.  Eighty-four per cent of the crew died before they were rescued even though they were stranded for a shorter time.

You might wonder what centuries-old shipwrecks have to do with us today.  In the last chapter, the authors summarize their findings and conclude that there are nine factors related to the social decay that lead to failed survivor groups.  Although each case is different, as groups fall apart they fail at each of these steps and move to increasing levels of violence and savagery.  And what invariably starts a group down the track of inhumanity is a failure of leadership.

If you think of Planet Earth as a lifeboat or desert island and the human race as survivors, it might be interesting to map our performance against that of failed groups.  How many of these nine characteristics of social decay do you think we are experiencing in our lifeboat today:

1.  Neglect of the sick and weak.

2.  A rapid descent into bickering over resources and labor.

3.  The corrosive, emotional effect of hunger, paranoia and fear.

4.  The collapse of leadership.

5.  Fragmentation into hostile factions.

6.  The emergence of personal hatred.

7.  An absolute loss of compassion and altruism.

8.  Casual acceptance of death.

9.  Violent fights that escalate into murder and, finally, the emergence of killing for entertainment.

The authors demonstrate that each of the failed groups progressed through these stages as a result of breakdowns in leadership and problems with the interactions between the leader and the group.

Some of the stories are funny, even though they led to tragedy.  In a shipwreck, the captain, if he survives, is generally by default in charge once the survivors are on land.  A surprisingly large number of captains choose not to go down with the ship but rather delegate that duty to other crew or passengers.  This doesn’t get things off on a good footing.

Also, once on land, a captain can create problems by not being sensitive to changed conditions. A group stranded near the North Pole started to disintegrate when the captain insisted that the crew continue to do his laundry, as had been their duty on shipboard.  Inflexibility, stupidity, inability to listen, arrogance and inability to cope with change were all characteristics of leaders who ended up leading their groups to disaster. And the people who let themselves be led into disaster are complicit.

It might be a bit of a reach to compare global society to a lifeboat, but I think it’s important to reflect on these nine characteristics of social decay as metaphors for what might be happening in our world.  Many workplaces and communities are marked by neglect of the sick and weak, bickering over resources, paranoia and fear and breakdown into hostile factions.  We can see many examples of loss of compassion and altruism both by governments and corporations.  And the news has given us a casual acceptance of death (as long as it’s far away).

The authors indicate that no matter how far down the track of inhumanity groups have progressed, when they are rescued, they quickly re-adapt to normal societal conventions.  The question is, who is going to rescue us?

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A Kiwi Encounter

I have lived in New Zealand for a little over ten years and last Sunday I was privileged to participate in a ceremony that few people experience.  Our neighbours at CUE Haven released endangered native kiwi birds onto their property.  This is the first time in 50 years there are kiwi on private land in the Kaipara Harbour area and the kiwis released on Sunday are now the closest wild kiwi to Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city.

Most New Zealanders would agree that the kiwi bird is our national symbol.  We call ourselves ‘kiwis” and the image of the kiwi bird appears on everything from our money, our soldiers’ uniforms, postage stamps and, in various caricatures, as a symbol of everything from rental cars to quality builders.

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Unfortunately, the kiwi is seriously endangered.  Before humans came to New Zealand, there was only one indigenous mammal, a small bat, and no snakes or carnivorous reptiles.  As a result, many indigenous New Zealand birds, including the kiwi, have no wings.  Even birds that fly often spend a lot of time on the ground and nest on the ground.

When humans introduced dogs, cats, rats and weasels, the indigenous bird population was in serious trouble.  Today all species of kiwi are endangered.  Of the small percentage of wild kiwi eggs that hatch, only 5% of the chicks survive to adulthood.  Almost 95% of those killed are killed by dogs.

As a result, most New Zealanders have never seen a kiwi or heard their amazing calls in the wild.  There are a number of kiwi refuges on predator free islands or in reserves where predators are controlled, but a kiwi population cannot be sustained without protection from predators.

Our friends and neighbours, Gill and Kevin Adshead have set aside 400 ha (990 acres) of native bush and salt marsh on their 1300 ha (3200 acres) farm, Mataia, http://www.mataia.co.nz/  on the Kaipara Harbour as a native New Zealand forest reserve. They have long dreamt of bringing kiwi back to the Kaipara and that dream became a reality on Sunday 25 May, 2013.

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Kiwi are national treasures and highly protected.  The Maori, New Zealand’s indigenous people, consider kiwi to be taonga, which means “treasure,” and under the Treaty of Waitangi between the British Crown and the Maori tribes, Maori have kaitiakitanga (guardianship) of their taonga.  Also, the Department of Conservation which manages kiwi reserves will only release kiwi in environments that they are satisfied to be suitable and safe.

Since 2006, Gill and Kevin have undertaken an intensive pest and predator control program to eradicate possums, stoats, ferrets, weasels, cats and rats on the Mataia property.  They also fenced their entire property and covered it with shade cloth that will keep the kiwi in and defeat most predators including dogs. Only working farm dogs that have undergone kiwi aversion training are now allowed on to the property.  Once all safeguards were in place, it was decided to release fourteen kiwi onto the property.

A specially trained team from the Department of Conservation and Auckland Zoo and two family members spent Friday night on Maturangi Island, a kiwi reserve, to trap fourteen Northland Brown kiwis.  Kiwi are nocturnal and only come out at night. It was a full moon so unfortunately not many kiwi came out of their burrows and so despite the team walking around the island several times from 8 pm to past 5 am they were only able to catch five kiwis. These were brought to Mataia on Saturday morning.  The team will go back in a few days to catch the remaining nine kiwi.

Because the kiwis were being transferred from one Maori tribal area to another, it was necessary for the gifting iwi (tribe) to introduce the kiwis to their new home and for the iwi that would be receiving the kiwis to formally accept them.  On Saturday morning Maori representatives from the iwis were at Mataia to do the Pôwhiri (formal welcoming ceremonies) and the event was attended by almost 500 guests.

It was a fascinating morning.  Three schools in the area and the local community had helped support the kiwi release project and several students, teachers and parents along with neighbours, friends and local government representatives came for the day. There was also a lot of media coverage as it was over 50 years ago that the last kiwi was seen in the Auckland region.

It was first necessary for there to be a formal welcome of manuhiri (visitors) to the Mataia property by the local iwi, Ngati Whatua o Kaipara, and Gill & Kevin’s families.   My wife and I were honoured to be considered part of Gill and Kevin’s family.2The manuhiri assembled at the entrance to the Mataia Homestead and were welcomed by the Kuia (female elder) from the local iwi with a karanga (call) and invited to take seats across from where tangata whenua (local people) sat.???????????????????????????????The local iwi kaumatua (elder) then welcomed everyone and gave a speech explaining whakapapa (the genealogy) of the local tribe and the local area. The speech was in Maori followed by an English translation.4The Department of Conservation representative then gave a speech in response on behalf of the kiwi sanctuary. This speech was followed by a speech from the representative of the manuhiri explaining who they were and their background.5The purpose of these speeches was to help establish the identity of the various groups and demonstrate that they are present for a peaceful purpose.

The local Kaumatua then invited the mahuhiri for the hariru (shaking hands) and hongi (touching noses together).  This is a symbol of love and peace because at creation, the breath of life was breathed into the nose.???????????????????????????????The tangata whenua and the manuhiri then got acquainted over morning tea.7

8Now that the people had all been introduced and welcomed, it was time to welcome the kiwis to their new home as honoured guests.

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The local tangata whenua welcomed the kiwi with a speech by the kaumatua and waiata (special welcoming songs) by the local school children.

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???????????????????????????????Gill’s family has owned Mataia since 1870 and her oldest brother also welcomed the kiwi and the visitors and gave a short history of the Gardner family and the Mataia Restoration Project.???????????????????????????????Then the representatives of the gifting iwi and the Department of Conservation gave speeches explaining the background of the kiwi and their lineage and formally presented the kiwi to Mataia.???????????????????????????????

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???????????????????????????????The kiwi were blessed by the local kaumatua and formally named and introduced to the community.16

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18While guests were having lunch the actual release of the kiwis took place deep in the bush and that was handled by the Department of Conservation experts accompanied by a few students and family members.

Previously, Gill and Kevin had put temporary wooden burrows out for the kiwis.  The birds were transferred to those boxes and at night the boxes would be opened for the kiwi to explore their new home.

Each kiwi is fitted with a transmitter so that their movements and health can be monitored.

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We were very happy and honoured to be part of the very special celebrations and ceremonies and welcome the return of kiwi to the Kaipara Harbour.  More kiwi will be released at Mataia in the following week.

CUE Haven is less than a kilometre from Mataia and we are hoping that in the not too distant future, CUE Haven too will be hosts to kiwis.

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The event was covered by the New Zealand media and you can see the news clips here and here.

 

Something to Tweet About?

A few months ago, the New York Times debated the question “Is Classical Music Dying.”  According to all measures, e.g., number of new classical recordings, orchestra attendance, number of classical radio stations, the answer is yes.

Some people think that the only thing classical music is good for is to prevent crowds of teenagers from gathering.  Apparently, shops and malls who don’t want kids hanging around just pipe in some Mozart and they run away like vampires from garlic.

There has been a lot of discussion about how to get the “youth” interested in classical music.  I think that will happen right about the time they all read War and Peace and proclaim it to be awesome.

In my opinion, this isn’t a youth problem, but rather a cultural problem.  The current orchestra model is for people to come home at night, then dress up and go out and sit still for a couple of hours listening to music that they may or may not know much about.  Plus there are a lot of snobby old white people in the audience.

orchestra

That model worked before the days of Facebook and American Idol but today it’s no contest, and if orchestras want to remain viable they do need to do something about their demographics.

One orchestra, the Mobile (Alabama) Symphony, came up with an idea that, I hate to tell you, probably isn’t going to do the job.

On the theory that people today have issues if they are not connected 24/7, they have designated the last row of the auditorium as the “Tweet Seats,” from where concert goers are allowed to use silent mobile devices.  So they can tweet, and text and surf and, probably, play Angry Birds.  They are, however, admonished not to crinkle candy or cough drop wrappers.

Those Neanderthals among you who still have the benighted view that one goes to a concert to listen and concentrate and engage in the music will probably have trouble with this concept.  I know I do.

So I did some research to try to understand what’s going on and the results are not comforting.  Four reasons are put forth as to why this is a Good Thing

1.  It is nice to have access to your mobile device if you are bored.

2.  My Facebook and Twitter followers want to know what I’m doing and expect me to update them regularly.

3.  What I have to say/think is important and I need to capture it.

4.  It is arrogant to think that you shouldn’t let people enjoy something in their own way.

My favorites are 1 and 4.

I read an article by a youthful reporter who experienced a Mobile Symphony concert from the Tweet Seats.  He claims that his experience was improved by being able to access his phone.  The article included some of the breathless tweets he sent out during the concert, so you can see how his experience was enhanced:

            Conductor Scott Speck . . . looks like Lord Voldemort. Wonder what his         patronus is?

            Struggling to find a metaphor to describe the difference between a live orchestra and a recording

I love his metaphysical response to his previous question:

            Listening to a recording of classical music is like seeing your shadow on a cave wall.    It’s you but it lacks vitality.

At least he didn’t say: “it’s nt ovr ’til d f@ ldy sngs.”

The whole idea behind Tweet Seats, etc. is the idea of audience engagement.  Apparently ‘engagement’ is a really hot topic these days.  Teachers must engage with students.  Businesses must engage with customers.  Writers must engage with readers.  And vice versa.

But does sending out random, impulsive reactions really represent “engagement?”  And in a live performance, isn’t it insulting to the performers that you aren’t at least looking like you are paying attention?  The guy who wrote the article about his experience in the Tweet Seats claimed that “The exercise helped transform me into more of an active listener, a true observer instead of merely an audience member.”  To which I would say, isn’t a mere audience member supposed to be an “active listener” and a “true observer?”

But the real issue is summed up by what he writes about the violin soloist:  “Given the power of her performance I regret somewhat that I spent a few precious seconds of it sending 140-character missives into the swirling void of the Twittersphere.”

I guess there are limits to multitasking.

A final point of confusion about the way Tweet Seats work.  The guy who wrote the article was at the concert by himself.  I’m not sure that the typical person who would go to a concert alone would be inclined to tweet much about it.  Which then raises the specter of couples or groups sitting in the tweet seats together.  And tweeting their “real” friends about it.

And what does that say about your “engagement” with the people around you?

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How Have We Survived Without This Stuff?

As you know I am always on the lookout for interesting applications of technology to improve my quality of life, so my pulse quickened the other day when I saw the headline “Ten Essential Travel Gadgets.”

Unfortunately, for the most part, the article proved to be a big disappointment.  Mostly it was newer, imperceptibly different iThings: a solar powered device charger and stuff like that.

But there was one thing that caught my eye.  It embodied the concepts of “must have” and “essential.” (Incidentally, in the tech world, “must have” and “essential” do not mean the same thing).

It’s a jacket called the “Fleece 7.0.”  (You know it’s high-tech because it has a version number).  In fact, the advertising material says that the jacket, five years in the making, is so innovative that they skipped version 6.0 and went right to 7!  Do they really think people believe that kind of hype?

Anyway, this jacket has 23 pockets of varying size to accommodate all your technology toys and the largest, unsurprisingly, can accommodate an iPad.  They have patented the pocket design as the “PadPocket™.”

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But wait, there’s more.

There is also something called the “Quick Draw Pocket,” patent pending.  It allows you to “access your Smartphone through the Clear Touch fabric (i.e., plastic) so you don’t even need to take your hand out of your pocket to use your phone.”  They believe “this will fundamentally change the way you interact with your mobile devices.”

Times were that a person doing something frenetic with their hand in their pocket in public would be arrested.

But now they are just connected.  To everyone other than the people they are with, that is.

Who would have thought that the day would come when our clothing would be billed as “Compatible with iPad.”

But before you run out and upgrade to a Fleece Version 7, you should be aware that it is already obsolete.

Yes.  Something on the what’s hot list has already been rendered irrelevant by something new and improved.

I give you Google Glass.

In case you’ve been away from Planet Earth and haven’t heard of GG, it is a device which for $1500 will enable you to look like The Collector in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome and will give you a totally hands-free, heads up digital life.  Who needs a jacket with pockets for all your technology when you can wear it on your face?

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Basically it’s a pair of glasses with only one lens, which is your heads up display.  It also has a camera and a microphone.  You can take a picture or video of anything you see and send it to your friends.  It’s got a GPS so you can see where you are and where you are going.  And it’s got lots of web surfing capability.  The promotional video shows a person in a in a Chinese market who wants to bargain.  They “ask” GG how to say the price they want to offer in Chinese!

And when I say “ask,” I really mean it.  Because it’s heads up and hands free, you talk to it!  How cool is that?

GG is being heralded as an important step in our journey to what is called “ubiquitous computing” which means constant connectivity and, I fear, in the hands of Google, ubiquitous advertising.

But it’s the camera that makes GG even cooler and scarier. The promotional video shows a guy sky diving and filming the experience and sending his friends a real time video so they can have as much fun as him and be suitably impressed.

GG isn’t yet widely available but it is already generating two big debates.  The first is about privacy issues and the second is about whether Google will partner with a fashion designer to develop cooler designs for the eyewear because some people think you look geeky when you wear it.

Guess which issue is getting the most attention.

But it’s the privacy and copyright issues that are the most interesting.  Think about it.  Kids will want to wear them in class because they won’t have to take notes.  But teachers might not that idea because school administrators could then observe them.  So could the government.

People will want to wear them to concerts so they can record the whole thing.  And movies too.

And what about when your boss gives you your annual performance review?  Will one or both of you be wearing Google Glasses to record the moment for posterity?

But even beyond privacy, what about common sense.  If texting while driving is an issue, what will happen when people start GGing while driving?

I can’t think of a single use of GG that might not violate peoples’ privacy, result in a law suit or become evidence in a potential lawsuit (e.g., because you are updating your FB status, you forget to pull the ripcord on your parachute).

But that’s not going to stop GG from becoming a necessity of life if that fashion designer can make them look cool enough.