Friday, December 23, 2011

Self-esteem at Christmas time. - Dark matter ring in galaxy cluster Cl 0024+17
An interesting article appears here from Alister McGrath, Professor of Theology at Kings College of London. It's part of the ABC's "Religion and Ethics" series, and appears on the ABC's website just before Christmas.

He talks about meaning, science and dark matter (like that pictured left). In particular McGrath talks about finding meaning in life through Christianity. Let me discuss how I disagree with him.

Before I get to general business regarding meaning, there are some irritating clarifications to get out of the way.

I thought the general quality of the responses to his article on the ABC website was a lot better than you see on some of these sorts of posts. First up I would say there are many good points in this article, and I agree with some of them wholeheartedly. I recommend reading it. But his conclusion is wrong.

Firstly I take issue with his generalisations about atheists. I don't label myself as one, because some I have had contact with who would describe themselves that way are those who once were religious, but have been betrayed by religion and are now filled with venom and spleen as a result. I understand their anger, but cannot personally relate to it and find it difficult to be around. Other self-described atheists have at times adopted positions which I don't think are defensible. So generally I reject that label for practical reasons. But I feel the need to defend atheists against claims like some of the ones McGrath makes.

Regarding the labels "atheist" or "agnostic" I find these terms unhelpful and misleading. For myself I don't see why we need a special word to say that I do not accept supernatural accounts of anything - not meaning, and not things in the world. My position is that if someone wants me to accept a supernatural explanation, then they need to provide supporting evidence. Evidence is some observation that cannot be better explained by simpler, non-supernatural means.

If they cannot provide such evidence then I am likely to say that its an intriguing conjecture - get back to me when you have some thing more. I'm not going to demand proof, and I am not going to say that they are definitely wrong. I'm just not going to spend any energy entertaining the claim at all, until there is something to support it.

If not only can they not provide any supporting evidence, but the claim is such that nothing could ever count as evidence then I say it is empty of meaning in that case.

Religion has not really harmed me much, and most Christians I know are excellent people so I am lukewarm on the matter of atheism. As I've said I don't like the word. But I feel I must stand up when these sorts of claims are made because there is disingenuous reasoning here on McGrath's part, or an intent to mislead - and that must be spoken against.

"Some atheist scientists ridicule Christians for believing in a God whose existence cannot be proved."

I'm not sure that any published atheist scientists say that. I would like to see him produce a reference for this.

It's very different to say that a claim cannot be tested, than to say it can't be proven.

For example, the dark matter he mentions if it exists might have certain effects in the universe, on visible stars for example. If the theory about dark matter predicts those effects, but they are not observed to be the case, then your theory is wrong and either dark matter does not exist or it does not exist as described in the theory.

However observing those effects is consistent with dark matter, and makes the dark matter theory more compelling. It gives it more explanatory power. But it does not prove it. This is the perfectly valid point that the author makes and here I agree with him 100%. "Where the naive demand proof the wise realise that this is limited to logic and mathematics". Well, limited to analytic closed systems - but yes, spot on.

And I think most scientists would agree with him here.

Which is why I find troubling that he has not named any of these "atheist scientists" whom he says are requiring proof from Christians in this way.

He actually has many many good points in his article, but as I mentioned I disagree with his conclusions.

His argument is essentially the same as Stephen Jay Gould's non-overlapping magisteria, or NOMA argument. Science explains and religion gives meaning, he says.

However the phrases "what is the meaning of my life" and "what is the meaning of this sentence" are not using meaning in the same way.

Science, or at least reason and empiricism does give the second kind of meaning by asking "What would count as this claim being true?". What is a test for it? If you make a claim about the real world and there is no way to make a test for it then it is meaningless.

That is a very important kind of meaning, and one that we all need to ask for constantly. If we allow our faith to blind us to that requirement we will be duped and sapped by every impostor, colour therapy merchant and fraudster that enters our orbit. This is the vital life skill of being questioning, of critical thinking, and its essential that we all do that as often as possible.

So science, or at least its essential fellows reason and empiricism, does provide that kind of meaning, and not just explanation.

Where the non-overlapping magisteria argument really falls down is that various religions do indeed make claims about matters of fact. Religious catechisms and preachers of Christian faith for example do not stop at saying "here is a fictional homily about Jesus miraculously healing someone which illustrates a point about how we should behave".

They actually claim that God exists, gave Jesus miraculous powers, and that the supernatural healing event described actually happened. Claims about supernatural things actually happening in the real world are firmly about explanations of phenomena, and thus are in the magisteria awarded to science by this NOMA argument.

In fact if you do not make enough supernatural claims as a church apparently you lose your tax-exempt status (see 11.14 & 11.23). So in so far as meaning in the first usage where it relates to empiricism, religion crosses over into sciences side of this artificial distinction McGrath makes all the time.

Now if it does not, and its all accepted as being a fictional homily - then I have no problem with it. But that - as far as I know it - is not the case at all. And the link I posted above was just from a brief Google search - these stories are claimed to be historical facts. McGrath's article states at the foot that God entered our history - this is a claim about facts in the world. So we are no longer talking about some abstract type of meaning, and are firmly on the turf of the empirical.

However, let's move to the second kind of meaning. The "meaning of life" kind of meaning.

This other kind of meaning is personal.

If someone can truly find that in religious faith, well more power to them. I mean that. If religious faith can be truly really fulfilling then great news.

I do not accept at present that it is possible. Its like taking a pharmaceutical substance that makes you feel happy. That is not real happiness. If a sense of meaning in life is externally induced, then its not real. If you don't accept this think about whether you believe taking a pharmaceutical that causes you to see pink elephants actually makes you see real pink elephants, or illusory ones. You really do see them, so the visual event in your brain might be real. But the elephants are not. Moreover they vanish when the substance is taken away. Similarly you might feel you have meaning in life if induced by some agent in this way, but its not in actuality real and certainly not sustainable.

Please don't think I'm saying religion is the opiate of the masses. That is not my point here at all. What I am saying is that mental states - such as visual images, happiness, or self-esteem - induced by an external agent are not true or sustainable instances of those states. They are illusory and ephemeral facsimiles, which further do little or nothing for the individuals ability to reach those states by true or sustainable means.

It's a case of trying to get self-esteem from someone else. There's a reason its called "self-esteem" - it has to come from you, not from some external source. You can coach someone, and they can find inspiration from your deeds and words, but ultimately it has to come from themselves.

I understand its difficult to find that self-belief. I think that when people say they are having a conversation with God about weighty things in life, it is actually a way of lending credence and substance to messages from within themselves, that are fraught with self-doubt.

For those who suffer from poor self-esteem and personally struggle with believing in their own importance as people, it may seem that one's own belief in what is valued and worthwhile is not enough, hence those thoughts must be recast as coming from one's deity.

The way I see it is that meaning in the personal sense either comes from within yourself, or from external sources - inspiring books, deeds, experiences and people. To the extent that it comes from within yourself, it has the quality of true hard-won self-esteem - no-one can ever take that away from you. This is the sustainable, long-lasting self-esteem. To the extent that it comes from somewhere outside yourself, it is potentially out-of-date, irrelevant, incorrect or even fraudulent. To determine that it is not any of those bad things, you yourself must do the work to determine that it is not - and thus full-circle we are back to relying on ourselves again.

Experiences of being on a mountain-top, or near death in a war, or any other life changing moments, however transcendent, come through the filter of ourselves. We must understand them, and interpret the meaning of them for ourselves. Same with books and deeds of others, and same with the advice from those who would preach to us.

Even Descarte found himself before he went on to find anything else (including God).

To the extent that we go in the other direction, and look to surrender our selves to the external self-proclaimed experts in meaning, then the more the meanings of our lives are placed in the hands of the fallible, corruptible and at best out-of-date. If we are unlucky we find out that the minister who has been preaching chastity and abstinence has been up to no good with the choir boy, or the pastor has been spending the ministries money on his mistress.

I think that even for the very best of religious institutions it is just a matter of time before bad comes of it. Even if that is a very very long time, how would anyone know if their local church was becoming the Westboro Baptists or the Branch Davidians, unless they look to their own values first?

Also if we accept that we must be the first authority for our own meaning in life, but resort to the the books and the catechism for unsullied meaning, then where is the chapter on stem-cells and the internet? What about out-dated exhortations about how what to do when your oxen gores someone's daughter? If we interpret the books to find that meaning then we are back to relying on ourselves again.

I think that it is great that this man who wrote the article is encouraging people of faith to think, and to find ways to understand and defend their beliefs.

I would have loved to respond to the article but comments on it are closed, and them "mail" link is only a thing to share it with others.

Finally can I say that written at Christmas time as it is, this is a bad time to be filling people with the guilt and self-loathing that comes from so much of religious dogma. Original sin, the debt we supposedly owe God for giving his son: all of this is weight that no-one needs on top of the pressure of modern life, as we try to make sense of it all. I personally have never had to suffer any of that but have had several close friends who have.

My advice if you want it, is to look inside yourself, and work to know well what you can do to make a unique and valuable contribution to the world. What is it about you that is special, and what can you do that is worthwhile? Help and inspire others to do the same, where possible, but most of all believe in yourself, and your value as a person.

This is the true source of self-esteem.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Pope Abbot and the Witch Burners

Tony Abbot and his gang of right-wing radio shock jocks, astro-turfers and Tea Party sourced PR consultants have declared all out war on the Gillard government, using the Carbon Tax as a woodpile to hold their own witchburning.

We know Abbot has never liked the idea of doing anything about climate change, but why is Pope Abbot now stoking the fires of his Liberal/National propagandists to such a degree against the Carbon Tax?

Is it because he wants the best for Australians? Is it because he wants to ensure a great future for the wide brown land? Is it even because his religious beliefs as a Catholic compel him to decry an atheist Prime Minister?

No, of course its because he wants to rule.

Check out this video I did a while back, as promo for the Imaginary Friends Show - a great podcast that pokes fun at religious types. The depiction of a witch burning reminded me so much of the image of Abbot above, that I just had to go and dig up the video and repost it here. What do you think? Abbot the Witch-finder Persuivant?

But seriously Abbot wants to pillory the Labour/Greens Carbon Tax not because he believes its bad policy but because his polluting big-industry backers have agreed to help him into government in a US style lobbying driven back room deal, and it is that which requires him to fan the flames of fear and loathing against the Carbon Tax. Abbot believes that he can use the Carbon Tax issue to generate enough heat and smoke to spark an election to get himself into power. But now that the blaze is taking hold just as the Carbon tax becomes law, he has no choice but to become even more strident.

Now I'm quite sure that Abbot also happens to believe that Climate Change is crap, and that therefore he has no problem personally getting on board with the anti-carbon tax fervour. I also think Tony would have no problem convincing himself that God wants him to teach that atheist red-head a thing or two, and that a nice little burning that the stake would fix her right up.

But that is not why he is turning this Liberal/National opposition into a medieval pogrom.

Now just before we go on and look at what is going on here, a brief look at the tax itself.

The first point is this: The Carbon Tax is on polluters. No member of the Australian public is going to pay a cent of carbon taxes into government coffers.

What Abbots scaremongers are relying on is that the big polluters once hit with the real costs of dumping their waste into the air we breathe will immediately pass on that cost to you and me - the Australian public.

So just before it gets completely lost - the polluters are going to hit us with these costs, not the government. There is nothing in the Carbon Tax legislation that says the polluters have to make us pay, its just that they have been making out like bandits for so long, its pretty much a certainty that the polluters will be making us pay, now that the jig is up for them.

Also - the fear, uncertainty and doubt being peddled about jobs is not a government mandate either. If these big fat-cats cannot make enough profit from their coal-mines and manufacturing plants, by slugging us with the additional costs once they can no longer pollute for free, the argument goes that they will have to sack workers.

Again - that is a matter for those industries. And as BHP has committed billions to expanding its CO2 producing operations rather than contracting, its very unlikely that the coal industry will be sacking anyone over the Carbon Tax, even without the massive payments that they are getting from government. If anyone gets the sack after the Climate Tax becomes law it will be because the polluters sacked them, not because the law mandated it. But it won't happen, because the government is already cutting most of these groups so much slack that it has had to go into the red on its Carbon Tax rates, just to get it to pass.

But that truth won't stand in the way of a good story for Pope Abbot and his torch-bearing mobs.

But my main question - and my reason for writing today - is that so far Abbot has been playing all sides of this table, at once buddying up with the extremists and at the same time peddling a much tamer line, whenever questioned on it.

Just to be clear, some of the people who are attending these rallies subscribe to a range of bizarre beliefs. They are supporters of movements that believe fervently that the United Nations and the International Monetary Fund are part of a conspiracy to bring down the great nation of the USA. They are people who believe, like Pauline Hanson who was also at the above pictured "grass roots" rally, that asian immigration is the source of all our woes. These people are nut jobs. Crazies. But if in between the craziness they will offer their clenched fist in the air along with the others in response to Tony's anti-climate tax call, then Abbot will be there with them.

So come on Tony, where do you actually stand? Are you going to stand with the mob you have created? Or will you denounce in the strongest terms the calls from your mob, for Gillard to be put to death for what you claim to be lies?

Let's start with just two easy questions for you Tony Abbot:

1) Do you or do you not claim that Gillard knowingly mislead the public about her intentions regarding the Carbon Tax?
2) Do you agree that John Howard is a liar for introducing a GST when he said he would not?

Tony, do you call every one who ever made a political backflip a liar? Remember a liar is someone who knowingly misleads. Did John Howard then knowingly mislead?

John Howard promised that there would be no GST, only to later introduce one. That is one of many "liberal lies", and then of course there are the outright lies - like the Children Overboard scandal.

Tony Abbot has never been a Prime Minister. But if he manages through some ghastly miscarriage of political justice to ride his manufactured wave of fear and hatred to the top, there is nothing surer that that he will be forced to make political compromises.

Of course Gillard's government has been forced to work with the Greens, lead by Bob Brown, and as a result introduce a Carbon Tax at this time. As we know both sides of politics are in agreement that Climate Change initiatives are essential, Labour has had policies on the issue for sometime, including the ones for an Emissions Trading Scheme which Kevin Rudd was planning to bring in and which spelled his political demise. However its almost certain that Labour would not have bought in anything like the Carbon Tax this early without the requirements of their agreements with the Greens when they formed government.

Malcolm Turnbull too was crucified in his political ambitions by his position on Climate Change policies.

But the thing is Abbot has never been forced to make a Climate policy actually work in government. He is thus able to stand back and make inflammatory statements, and align himself with the rabid right - whilst at the same time stepping back from extremist association when it looks as though he might take a penalty from centrist Liberal voters.

Abbot gets to play both ends of Liberal/National politics, pretending to be reasonable while at the same time currying support from the conspiracy theorists and climate denialists.

The problem Abbot has now is that he has unleashed attack dogs like Cory Bernardi who are pulling together any and all of the rabid right that will support the anti-carbon tax cause, regardless of whatever other crazy causes they also support, and also regardless of the methods they are willing to use. The death threats against Gillard and other extreme

This interview with Bernardi shows him quite unabashedly talking about his astro-turfing techniques:

In this image from the Daily Telegraph we see Abbot alongside "Chris" of CATA, yet another of Bernardi's cookie-cutter generated "citizens" websites.

As explained in the interview with Bernardi these websites are all cross-linked, as can be seen in this page from the CATA website, linking in turn to several other "grassroots" websites, including "".

The trouble is that Abbot is now - whether he likes it or not - being closely associated with these radical groups. Anti-jewish groups, conspiracy theorists, anti-foreigner, anti-islam and anti pretty-much-anything you can name are all jumping on the buses organised by Abbots astro-turfers. Now when Abbot stands on that stage and accepts the microphone, he is joining their causes as much as they are joining his.

Every day that Abbot fails to clearly and comprehensively denounce the death threats and hate-speech from his far-right rabble, he becomes more clearly associated with them.

The Abbot lynch mob is now trying to pressure MP's - especially the independents such as Rob Oakeshott - since the only way his tactics can succeed is to stop the Carbon Tax before it becomes law.

Like the GST, once it is seen that life goes on and the new tax is not the monster it is portrayed as, Abbott's hysterical cries will have lost all credibility.

Don't bring the worst of US politics to Australia Tony, we don't want it.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Mucho Mouse

New mouse
Since back in the day I have played Starcraft with my Uni friends, work colleagues and even J Random Interweb-Dweller. The best thing about it is I can have a game if I have 1/2 an hour to spare, and when life is busy I don't have to play - nothing lost.

Some folks I know who play some other online games seem to make a job-of-work out of it. But that's another story / blog post.

Why I'm telling y'all about this is my Starcraft playing has finally caused me to upgrade from my crappy Microsoft LED mouse that I have used for ages to this monster thing. Its a Razer Mamba 4G (also I think called a Razer Mamba 2012) and is one of very few wireless mice designed specifically for playing games. The old LED mouse had developed a nasty habit of dropping out during very fast mousing - suddenly the mouse pointer was reset to some random location on the screen. Time I thought that I boost my lack-luster RTS twitch reflexes with some new tech, and there was no point in going half-way with this - I wanted some bad-ass thing that the macho gamer boys would feel proud to have on their desk. Also I wanted wireless and many of the options, including products from Logitech, do not support Mac here. Your loss Logitech, and plus one for Razer.

You can read lots of reviews on the net covering the Mamba in depth wither respect to gaming and learn far more than I know about how it would benefit a serious gamer - rather than a dabbler like me. What I can tell you about is its compatibility with Mac, since the Razer is originally a MS Windows beast. Also I can look at how easy it was for me to use, again given that I not a serious tech-head when it comes to hardware.
Image from Wikipedia of Terminator hand in clear case
The first thing that weirded me out was that the Razer comes in this crazy perspex display box, made up of a monolith-like black plastic base and clear case lid. Then the mouse itself is raised up above the base on a perspex stand inside the clear case. The net effect is that looks like some piece of sci-fi set dressing. I just hope this mouse isn't going to attain sentience and alter the future.

The perspex stand thing was a real pain to detach - eventually I figured out that you had to pull back the tab in front of the mouse wheel (between Mamba's left and right buttons) and the swivel the perspex base clear of Mamba's battery housing. The battery (just like a cell-phone's) and its cover come in a seperate package.

Then reading the user-doc, it says you have to download the Mamba driver software from their website. No problem - soon found and installed. I did notice when doing this that the mouse already seemed to be operating, but I thought - "Oh, well - they would not say you needed it if you didn't".

With hindsight I would give it a try without their driver first - if you can live without the configurability. Because now its installed I cannot see a way to uninstall it. Sigh.

The battery is initially flat, and takes hours to charge, so I started out by connecting up the braided USB cable and using Mamba in its "wired" configuration.

Once running the mouse seemed fine around the Mac desktop, if a little frisky. The buttons on the side which change (on the fly) the mouse sensitivity (in user-adjustable "stages") helped a bit with that.


When it came to playing games tho' on the Mac, that's when the frustration kicked in. Why could I not click on anything!

Finally some research indicated that an additional program was required to be installed to work around the issues with Mac's mouse acceleration. For the uninitiated mouse acceleration is used to make the mouse responsiveness increase when you start to move it quickly across the desk, but makes the reponsiveness decrease when moving it slowly. This enables you to position a mouse precisely when doing slow detailed mouse-moves, and still get the pointer quickly across your desktop.

Apparently - just ask Google - there is a problem with Mac OSX mouse acceleration. Some folks don't experience the issue at all, but many who are from the Windows world apparently do. I'd never realised there was an issue until I tried to use my new piece of black awesomeness to actually play a game. The mouse pointer would constantly overshoot the target. I'd start to move the pointer toward one of my little Starcraft workers and suddenly the mouse pointer would gather speed and race past where I was trying to click.

Fiddling with the settings did not help. And the Razer Mamba's configuration screen comes with a million settings so I fiddled with as many as I could find, believe me.

Since the Razer really comes from the Windows world, and apparently the driver is ported to the Mac, maybe the acceleration algorithms in the drivers are fighting with each other?

Installing SteerMouse fixed the problem, however. I did not try to do anything special with SteerMouse - it has a feature set including being able to quickly shoot the mouse to some pre-specified destination - but none of that interested me. Whatever SteerMouse was intended to do, it has the effect of neutralising the interaction between Razer and the Mac acceleration issue.

Other things about the wireless gaming mouse - it comes with stand that features a charging connector to hitch up against the Mamba's underside charge contacts. The charging stand is in the same black (of course) but with a shiny finish, and has a pulsating led lighting effect that matches the one given out by Mamba's mousewheel. As well as being a charge station the base is the wireless receiver for the mouse. The braided USB cable slots into the back of the stand, and is easily reachable in case you need to quickly go over to using your mouse in wired mode.

I love Razer's customisable lighting! As you can see in the picture I have mine tuned to give out a lilac glow, instead of the standard blue. Both the base and the mouse itself do this, and the effect is pretty cool. I don't know about the practical value - Razer say this personalisation allows you to identify your mouse if you're gaming with friends. I dunno - I just like it. I can't really imagine this feature would solve any arguments about who's mice was who's - but I like it anyway.

One last thing - I wanted a wireless mouse because cables drive me crazy on my desktop. But its all too easy to forget to put Mamba back on its stand when you're done with it. And if you've forgotten to do that you probably also forgot to slide the wireless switch to the off position, resulting in a red low battery warning light on the black mouse when you next settle down for some game playing. Razer warn you about this in the user doc, but if you're used to bluetooth mice and keyboards, or even wireless kit like Logitech's trackball (which I use and love) you might find this surprising. Those bluetooth gadgets seem to auto-power off, or something equivalent, and however the Logitech works it seems to have no such issues either.

Maybe its the high sample rates on the Razer? Or all that lighting? Anyway, its easy enough to do, so I will just have to get used to putting Mamba on its stand when done.

Final analysis? I'd allow yourself plenty of time for setup and bedding in before planning some gaming with the Mamba, so buy it at least a week before that big frag-fest. In the end a good result, but some issues to be aware of especially on Mac.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Bad GL

Developing on linux is annoying sometimes.

All the OpenGL functionality tests failed!
You might need to modify the include and library search paths by editing

If you get this error on Ubuntu, it may be due to bad OpenGL packages. To check if the bad GL packages issue is the cause, do:

cd /usr/lib && ls -la libGL*

If you have color turned on in your terminal you might see this:

If so you have bad GL packages, and a broken symlink. The build process cannot find the library because even though its there, the broken symlink is hiding it - hence why its colored red.

Just do (from the same directory /usr/lib) ensuring that the in the command below is the same as whatever your actual library installed:
sudo ln -s -f

Then check (with the ls command again) to see if you now have a green link instead of a red one.

Now your builds should work again...

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Driving iMiev

This morning - a cool but sunny Queensland winter's day - I responded to an invite from Mark Whyte, iMiev Account Manager for Mitsubishi Motors Australia Ltd (MMAL) and went for a test-drive of the first production Electric Vehicle to hit Australian shores: the Mitsubishi iMiev.

Whyte - based in Adelaide but attending in Brisbane for this event - says that maybe Tesla was the first to take orders for an Australian production EV but adds that MMAL is delivering iMiev's ordered now, in August - where as Tesla customers are on year long waiting lists.

The car in its bright RACQ promotional paint job was waiting behind the showroom as I arrived - I'm guessing the RACQ who are one of MMAL's early adopting partners had loaned it for the day.

A couple of EV enthusiasts were waiting on their turn behind the wheel, and we got talking. They both felt that the time for home conversions and retrofits was coming to a close, and that cars like the iMiev would soon be taking what market there was for that. Even at $50,000 the brand new iMiev is a better proposition than a 15 year old car that you've spent $30,000 on converting to an EV, the guys said. But the price for either is a bit rich for most ordinary motorists, without Government incentives and infrastructure benefits.

After trading some general comments about EV's with those guys and the MMAL staffers, it was apparent we were all members of the choir. We know EV's are great, now let's see how this one drives.

The cars first impressions were that its much roomier inside than its quirky bug-like exterior would lead you to believe. By pushing the wheels out to the four corners and putting most of the mechanicals into the floor pan, the cars designers have been able to fill most of it with passenger and cargo space. The rear hatch opens into a sizeable cargo space for a micro car - much bigger for example than that in my current ride, a Fiat 500C. With the rear seats forward it would make a great delivery vehicle for small businesses like a florist or pizza delivery.

The drivers seat had room for my 5' 10" without any problems - but those over six-foot might start getting snug. The MMAL rep who accompanied me in the passenger seat was at arms length and there was plenty of room in the cockpit despite the small overall footprint of the car.

On moving off the cars silence and sure smoothness reminded so much of the Toyota Prius, which typically would be on battery as it first moved away from a stop. To me that was very normal - but what was awesome and spread a big grin on my face was that that experience just kept on, as we gunned around the city streets. There was some hum from the tires, a background whine - something about the ABS according to my passenger. Generally NVH issues (noise, vibration and harshness) in this tiny car were better than many large passenger sedans I had been in, and certainly impressive next to micro cars like the Fiat.

The car went exactly where I pointed it, partly perhaps due to the right-up-front positioning of the drivers position, but also a result of a very nice electrically assisted steering system. The low weight of the batteries gave the car a solid stance on the road and made it much better mannered over choppy side streets than I had expected.

I kept the car in normal drive mode for the whole time virtually and was impressed with the take off speed at lights. Not super fast but very respectable and the zero lag from the electronic throttle combined with the EV power train to make a lively response without any thought on the lights turning to green. The gear shifter will also go into an Eco mode, but I'm too much of a leadfoot to stay with that for long, and if I owned the iMiev knowing I get 100% green power at home I would have no qualms about using it.

Presiding over the iMiev's console display is a large "rev counter" like instrument that shows when charge is being used - ranging from green to white for hard use - or when it is being gained, as in slowing or regenerative braking. Mounted inside that is the speedo - something I didn't like so much as it was an LCD display and could have been more user friendly, perhaps like the Prius one which is brighter and mounted right up by the edge of the windscreen. To either side are a "fuel" gauge and range display. The range is based on your current consumption, so if you start going more gently or use Eco you'll see it jump up slightly. When you amp up the air-con (for example) it goes back down.

The controls including the leather covered steering wheel were all very natural, and normal car styling - away from the instrument panel nothing gave away the fact this was an EV. Mounted in the center of the dash was the Sat-Nav, which also doubled as a in vehicle information system. From my time with the Prius iTech I know how good an integrated sat-nav with a large screen can be. I can never look at those poky little suction cup mounted ones and think of them as real nav's and it would be great to have one again.

Coming back into the MMAL yard the car had in just a short time pretty much gotten me convinced. Mitsubishi has made no mistakes here and come up with a brilliantly practical zero-emissions vehicle that most conventional car motorists will quickly find familiar.

Charging and EV practicalities will be one hurdle. MMAL offers roadside assist for the iMiev, to help out new adopters if they have trouble. Whyte candidly says that they have had a lot of calls for battery issues. But all of them (bar one or two) were for the same problem: folks getting out of the car and leaving it running. Because the iMiev makes no noise leaving it in "idle" state is easy enough to do but of course whilst its sitting there, its using up the accessory battery (a conventional 12v cell under the bonnet). So nothing to do with range or merchant of doom battery problems - but real early adopter issues nonetheless.

Part of the problem here is that these folks were fleet users and not accustomed to EV's making no noise. To address the issue, MMAL have the next bunch of arrivals fitted with a standard "ignition lock" style key which you have to turn to the off position before you can withdraw it. Its a shame because the the keyless entry is a great feature. Maybe EV cognoscenti will be able to arranged to have it retro-fitted given that it won't be used by fleet types.

I asked Whyte about the street bollards and he showed me a few that might be coming our way. It will make a big difference to the attractiveness of EV's if dedicated bays are available, and of course the chance to add some charge is even better. What if local wags decided to unplug you? What about rain and surface water?

In this shot Whyte holds the J1772 charger that comes with the iMiev and you can possibly make out two great features. One is the locking catch which prevents casual interference. Probably good to stop the kids playing with it in the garage too. The second is the breakout box on the cable which servers as an earth-leakage current breaker - in case of shorting it will cut the power, and also the extra sender cables which also cause the cable to go inert if it is withdrawn from the socket on the car. Nice features which will allay the concerns of many motorists worried about high voltage driving.

The question is what will those motorists make of the high price. Well the first thing it say is that its not bad for an EV - the Tesla is 4 times that price. But the second thing is that in my view we need to think about what we value - look at cars you get for $50,000. For example a 2007 HSV Holden Senator. It offers performance and a "conspicuous consumption" profile. Apart from that it just gets you from A to B, the same as any other car. A 2010 BMW 120i - probably economical enough but offers you the BMW name. So what would you like to have: HSV performance, or zero petrol use? BMW name or zero emissions? Seriously - what is cooler, a gas guzzler or a car that runs on electrons?

There are a lot of people who think its just fine to spend $50,000 on a car - it is just that we have to be honest about what it is we think is worth paying for. A name? Zero to sixty in 7 seconds? Or zero foreign oil, no emissions and the convenience of never having to go to a gas station.

Monday, June 27, 2011

EV's for the rest of Us

Never having to visit a gas station ever again? I'd pay for that.

Dealerships in Australia have begun notifying their customers that the all-electric Mitsubish i-Miev will be available for purchase "soon after" fleet orders are filled starting in August this year.

Mitsubishi made the i-Miev available to selected "early-adopter" fleets late last year, and this roll-out finally extends the battery powered electric vehicle - the first mass market EV to be offered in Australia - to the rest of us.

EV's of course - unlike hybrids such as Toyota's Prius - require no petrol or oil. At home or at work, plug into a 3-pin wall outlet and when you jump in you're good to go. Imagine that - every day you travel to work, the shops or to collect the kids, never having that sinking feeling that you'll have to detour to the servo, and dig into your wallet for fuel.

Nissan, not to be outdone, is hawking its new Leaf EV to car buyers at the Motor Show in Melbourne from this Friday (the 1st of July) through the 10th of July. Apparently fans of the Leaf will be able to drive it - obviously not very fast or far - around inside the Motor Show venue.

Arguably the Leaf is the better car, performance-wise, and in some other areas - but both have their advantages, and Mitsubishi looks to beat Nissan in the race to get their cars into the hands of the motoring public.

Australia is still lagging very far behind in incentives for the battery powered electric vehicle, and both Nissan and Mitsubishi are taking a big gamble bringing these technologically advanced vehicles here to the wide brown land.

Will the Australian motoring public "get it" when it comes to EV's?

EV's are not new - hobbyists and small entrepreneurs have been building EV's in their back yards and workshops for a couple of decades. Groups like the AEVA have been waiting for this moment when EV's begin to go mainstream - so that plugging in becomes de rigeur and EV charge points start to spring up in cafe's and supermarkets.

If you want to find out about the history, the future and the technology of EV's the AEVA is a good place to start - in October you'll be able to to to their EV festival, right here in Brisbane.

Of course the big drawcard for EV's is the massive savings in the cost of driving - cents per day instead of dollars.

But both companies will be hoping that early-adopting Aussie drivers will discover the other benefits - such as clean air, low noise, and the convenience of never having to go to the gas station ever again - and word of mouth will spread the EV bug.

Tech savvy city dwellers are likely to be the first to grab an i-Miev or Leaf: already au fait with cellphones, laptops and other cool gadgets, the ready-anytime EV is likely to a hit with them. But another risk is that buyers will be caught out by the leap in technology and fail to plan their charging habits, or otherwise fail to abide by the EV playbook.

Both Mitsubishi and Nissan will be taking extra care to groom their customers and only let the cars out once new owners are schooled in "plugging-in".

Its a great thing to see - the beginnings of roads that are free from pollution, so kids on their way to school, in the future will not have to breath the pollution from those countless tail-pipes. The start of quieter streets, and the beginning of an end to the strong dependence on foreign oil.

For me personally - it will have to be a case of "wait and see". Right now $50k-plus is too rich for me to drop on my daily ride. I would love to buy one of the two offerings as soon as they're available, but the price tag will have to be right. I'll be pulling out my calculator to see how those fuel savings stack up.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Hey Gas, Don't Project Your Anxiety

I love this new PSA from Plug-in America. Since I work in the mobile phone industry, and I'm surrounded by technology powered by electricity it really is galling to have to commute in a device that burns fuel, and produces smoke.

But what galls me even more is statements like the one in this BBC new clip that range anxiety will put ordinary car buyers off the newest electric powered wonder - the EV, or electric vehicle.

EV's are cars that plug-in to a socket in your garage at night, and then every morning they're ready to go with a clean pollution free ride to work or the errands of the day. Unlike hybrids, or range extended plugins, EV's use no fuel at all, and you never have to go to a gas station. Instead your transport costs are a fraction of the equivalent fuel bill for a gas burning car, and just show up on your power bill as a few cents per day.

EV's are just now appearing in the hands of a tiny few early adopters - like cell-phones and personal computers did in the 1980's and 1990's. And also like those devices they seem in some ways clunky and cumbersome - not fitting into the lifestyle of today's busy consumers.

Imagine if you tried to use one of the house-brick sized cell-phones of the 90's in your daily life. Of course today, no-one is without their pocket sized device that not only does phone calls but also email, texts and even internet browsing.

Fast forward to today, and the critics of EV's are busy judging these early clean running cars as not viable - and their favourite argument is "range anxiety" - the idea that people will be too worried about running out of power to buy an EV.

But hold on - how do they know people would worry about "range anxiety" when no-one has EV's yet?

Here's the reason: we suffer from "range anxiety" right now in our petrol powered cars.

"Hey honey - sorry I'm late - I had to put gas in the car".

"Guys - sorry I missed the meeting the queue at the gas station was a mile long."

"Damn - the cars low on gas, but I can't afford to fill it right up. I'll just go with $10 worth."

How many of those statements ring true for you?

Can you think of a few more, from your friends or colleagues? I bet there is plenty. Most of us in our younger days when money was tighter have run out of gas and had the sad and sorry walk of shame to the gas station.

Of course we are anxious about running out because gas burning cars are part of our lives and we constantly live with the nagging idea of "how much gas have I got left" and that needle that always edges towards "E" for empty.

Where the range anxiety argument goes wrong is that EV's are not gas cars, and like cellphones are not the "old-school" handsets on your Mom's hallstand, they don't work the same in life either.

Do you have some older relatives who insist on trying to call you when you're at home, because they know that cellphone charges are dearer than calling a landline? If we think about it we can probably remember a time too when we'd think twice about calling a mobile number, or curse at our friend that dialled some mystery cellphone number leaving a big charge on our phone bill.

But those times are past and we love the convenience of cellphones, and the ready-to-go power of these amazing communications devices, with their internet connectivity, text messages and so on.

That's how EV's work - you plug them in over night - they are always ready to go in the morning. No visit to the gas station ever.

You don't have a once a week mounting tension as the needle drops to zero, and you never have to join that queue at the smelly petrol pumps. Instead plugging-in means that you are always ready to drive.

But wait - say the critics - EV's have only 100 miles range! What if I want to do a trip that is nearly 100 miles around! I could run out!

You could run out in your petrol car too - just the same. Of course you don't - because you plan ahead. As our examples above illustrate - there's plenty of range anxiety for gas burning motorists. Shunning EV's is not a way to escape it.

My daily commute is 28 kilometers (that's around 18 miles) and where I'm from that's considered a moderate commute. For me an EV would be perfect - even today, with the lack of infrastructure or government support. Even if I could only charge in my garage, it would be perfect.

But not everyone can use an EV, chide the anxiety peddling gas lobby. When you have to travel more than 50 miles out, you cannot get the round trip done in an EV. You'd be out of charge!

Now the EV bashers wail, that you cannot fill up on these long trips - it takes far too long! The charging stations do not exist yet!

True - right now EV's are only good for around 90% of the trips people make. If you're like me and use the car for trips of less than 100 miles, you are one of the probably 20% of motorists who could use an EV as your only car.

Even today with the early EV technology - like the clunky 90's cellphone, or slow 80's PC - what if 20% of motorists could be free of ever having to go to a gas station, don't you think many of them would leap at the chance? In fact many are - thousands are signing up to register interest for cars like Nissan's Leaf and Mitsubishi's iMiev.

There's not enough EV's in production to meet a fraction of that demand. So don't worry - anxious gasser drivers - no-one is going to force you to drive an EV, because the folks who can actually benefit from them are going to be fighting over the ones they can lay their hands on.

Cellphones and computers took 20 years to get to the size and power they are today. EV's I predict in just 10 years will be going much further and providing much greater benefits with regard to power saving technologies, such as internet enabled charge point locations.

By that time, with ubiquitous plugging-in - charge points in your supermarket car park, workplace and sports facilities - the round trip range will not be an issue at all.

Kids starting at University in 10 years time and getting their first internet enabled EV, with everything that opens and shuts, will shake their heads and roll their eyes in disbelief when "the olds" talk about range anxiety.

They'll know that range anxiety is the last gasp of the fossil fuel burning old guard, and that EV's are way cooler than queueing for gas.

So, hey Mr Gas, own that range anxiety - its all yours.

Monday, March 28, 2011

All Clear for Clean Nuclear Power

Japan was recently struck by a natural disaster of unprecedented scale. A one-two punch of an 8.9 strength earthquake, followed minutes later by a massive tsunami wave.

But the worlds great powers are worried about the impact of the disaster, not for the Japanese, but for its possible nuclear risks. Instead of the usual concerns for citizens whose lives and livelihoods have been destroyed in this terrible disaster, all we hear are calls in imperious tones for the Japanese to surrender to international inspections of their nuclear facilities.

Wait, when did the USA start treating Japan like it was North Korea? What the hell is going on here?

With images like the ones above coming from Japan after the disaster, aren't the "International Community" right to be concerned?

Well they would be if the above was an image of the nuclear power stations burning - but that report is of a Japanese Oil Refinery.

Fires burn, smoke from industrial and other fires roil across the stricken landscape of Japan. As we know from the disaster of the Twin Tower on 9/11 the miasma of debris fields creates a toxic and tainted atmosphere all around. The stink of death and destruction all rise from the wake of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami.

Beside this the steam releases from Fukushima are immeasurably tiny.

Look at the reporting from the New York Times: "On Monday, an explosion blew the roof off the second reactor, not damaging the core, officials said, but presumably leaking more radiation."

Presumably? No - there was no radiation leak, and no mention of the fact that the 'explosion' was actually steam, and not a 'nuclear explosion' as they definitely intend readers to think. The steam that was escaping is radioactive but breaks down after leaving the reactor before it can cause any damage. The big concern would be if harmful "dirty bomb" type contaminants such as nuclear material, or worse plutonium, were escaping but there is nothing of the sort happening here.

And this (from the same article): "But Pentagon officials reported Sunday that helicopters flying 60 miles from the plant picked up small amounts of radioactive particulates — still being analyzed, but presumed to include cesium-137 and iodine-121 — suggesting widening environmental contamination".

Update: (noon, Mar 29th) The ABC are reporting that TEPCO has announced discovery of plutonium outside the containment vessel of reactor 2 at Fukushima. This is bad news for their continued efforts in cleaning up after the earthquake and tsunami damage. However it does seem to put paid to claims that TEPCO are hiding information. In the chaos that is the disaster cleanup reports come in as information is to hand, and the suggestion that somehow the Japanese are complicit in hiding information about the plant is my main point here. This is the first report of any kind of actual environmental contamination and it has not come from circling pentagon helicopters - it has come from the Japanese themselves.

Coal plants put out radioactive isotopes from their smokestacks at levels above trace. There is no scientific analysis of these particulates either linking them to Fukushima, or stating that they are at levels above normal pollution out put for an industrial area. Whose helicopters are these? What scientific bodies are carrying out the analysis?

No facts of actual harm - just speculation and fear-mongering. And of course because the USA is saying it, news reports worldwide are regurgitating this same story.
Image from Wikipedia of the Deepwater Horizon BP Oil Disaster
The truth is that Fukushima is a ringing endorsement of the safety of nuclear power. Especially when compared to the massive real health and environmental impacts of other energy related disasters.

The image at left is of the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico where smoke, and flame and tons and tons of oil - actual real harmful contaminants poured by the super-tanker load right into the shared environment of us all. This, in the USA's own backyard.

Did the "International Community" demand oversight of the safety precautions taken by the USA?

What about the chilling revelations that safety measures came second to the operational realities of profits? What judgements flowed from that toward tighter controls on energy production on US soil?

None, of course - because that would be an outrageous challenge to the sovereignty of a first world nation with an advanced level of technological expertise and engineering whom we must trust to manage its national affairs.

Lets get this in perspective. Compare the images above of flaming oil refineries and platforms to the steam released at Fukushima. How much airborne cancer causing agents is in that thick black oil smoke pouring out of those burning oil refineries? That is real damage, not speculative fear-mongering and wild talk of nuclear possibilities.

Also look at the radiation from a coal plant as shown in this diagram:

Radiation dose comparison from by Randall MunroeThe largest of the blue dose measures in the top left segment of the chart represents the radiation dose from just one airplane flight from LA to New York. The flying I did last year would have been enough to expose me to the dose received by Fukushima power workers.

Other of the blue squares represent the amounts flowing from the smoke stacks of coal burning electric power plants. We are frantic about tiny amounts of radiation exposure, that we are already receiving without being near any reactors.

We are panicking and frothing at the mouth about amounts of nuclear exposure that are tiny in their harmful effects compared to the smoke, and flames and environmental pollution that the rest of the tsunami and earthquake have produced.

If I had to choose between my family living downwind of a coal plant, oil refinery or nuclear plant it would be the nuke every time. If there is a forecast of a tidal wave or an earthquake - safest place to go? Your local nuclear plant.

If you dredge through the hype on Fukushima you don't see any actual figures on who was exposed to what. I have yet to see an actual report of anyone actually being harmed. Where are the workers whose rad-badges show them receiving an actual fatal or semi-fatal dose of radiation? Not one, and yet the death toll from the quake, the fires and other conditions flowing from the rest of the quake and tsunami are over 18,000 people.

What if you knew there was a power generation technology which killed in OECD countries between 1969 and 2000 a total of 14 people? Is the risk of that technology too great?

Do you say yes, 14 dead is 14 too many? Then you have consigned Hydro electric power generation to the scrap heap.

The same statistic for Nuclear power generation is zero.

For coal it is 2259 deaths.

So how has the international media got this so wrong? Apart from the hysteria and headline grabbing power of anything nuclear, the problem comes also from misunderstandings about the nature of radiation dose measurement.

There are reports of levels being measured at various locations, and spike rates being quoted as though they were constant - no actual figures of the workers (who wear dosimeters) of what they actually got exposed to.

I cannot believe how incredibly paternalistic our government and the USA are being. These demands to oversight what is happening in Japan verge on US Imperialism. And Kevin Rudd making demands on behalf of the "international community" to examine the reactors is just an outright challenge to a 1st world sovereign nation that would be warlike if it wasn't laughable.

This sort of thing happens all too often - you suddenly out of the blue hear Australian politicians and US politicians both spontaneously start singing off the same song sheet - its the intelligence briefings that they are all taking as gospel truth, even though military hawks with an eye on their budget are behind it. Same thing happened with Haneef.

In an article on this blog previously I wrote about how the same "think tanks" that denied the link between smoking cigarettes and lung cancer are now working to spread fear, uncertainty and doubt about climate change.

In Australia where there is no nuclear energy industry, its easy to forget how prevalent nuclear power is already. This represents competition, for the players in the energy sector - but what has kept nuclear down as a competitor to coal has been the cost of nuclear. Building a plant takes longer, and its approvals process is full of risks - especially for the investors in the plant. Once its built the operators of the plant must arrange to dispose of the waste - sequestration if you like - where as currently coal plant operators just spew their toxic waste directly into the air.

So what is interesting about this is that with climate change on the agenda, coal and oil industry executives are scared of a future where market dominance of their products is eroded by nuclear plants. The USA has a lot of Nuclear plants already, as shown in the map above - so does Europe, Japan and many other countries. It would be very easy to scale up nuclear plant building and scale down coal plant building & oil fired home heating (big in the north-eastern USA) if cap-and-trade or other anti-carbon measures made it economic. If coal plants were required to sequester their waste product like the nuclear industry has to, then their profits would be seriously eroded.

As a result these industry figures are cranking up their lobbying machine, and getting their PR executives and spin merchants on the job to peddle the anti-nuclear story to anyone that will listen. They're especially scared of advanced clean and safe reactor technology gaining a foothold since then their dirty and dangerous energy production will be unsaleable.

Here's a good analysis of the Fukushima situation by a British tech journalist. Summary - a 30 year old reactor, due for decommissioning, hit first by an earthquake at 9 on the Richter scale (when it was designed to cope with up to 8), and then hit by a tsunami - result no fatalities.

There are reports in the press of "people showing symptoms" but there is no science in any of this. If you have a population of thousands of scared people and ask them if they have symptoms X, Y and Z you will get a handful saying "Oh, I have that". There are zero medically or scientifically confirmed cases of serious harm radiation exposure to anyone outside the plant.

Its hard to find good data. Wikipedia has a lot of "data" on their Fukushima page but when you look at their sources, again all of the danger danger red showing on their tables is sourced from such august scientific sources as the Los Angeles Times or the New York Times, who are using words like "presumably" in their reporting

Compare all of this to the Gulf of Mexico and the BP Oil Disaster - that happened without an earthquake or a tsunami. Or Exxon Valdez.

Nuclear reactors are not killing or harming people. Just scaring them - or at least the newspapers are.

What is killing and harming people? Coal.

Coal pollutant contamination is what some people who do live near the dirty and dangerous coal plants already fear.

Thousands of people have died over the last 10 years from Athsma - and it is known that air pollution is a strong risk factor for those with athsma. Nuclear plants don't have any affect on athsmatics at all. If we replaced all of our coal plants with nuclear reactors tomorrow my bet is that those athsma deaths would drop significantly. Similar story with lung cancer and other health problems.

I believe we need to urgently act to stop the pollution from our current industrial and domestic activities. We only have one climate, we only have one environment. The worst offenders are coal plants, but the transport sector with its motor vehicles are up there too.

However our livelihood, our hospitals, schools and industries depend on energy - particularly electricity. If we are to clean up transport by switching to electric vehicles, that electricity has to be clean and sustainable. The base load power has to come from nuclear - nothing else is both clean and plentiful - wind and solar have their place, but you cannot run an aluminium smelter or a hospital or a data centre off wind and solar alone.

By fostering a safe and efficient nuclear industry now, the advances desperately needed in nuclear power generation technology can come from innovation. Thorium based reactors which we have known about for decades are now being built in China, and hold the promise of much safer, ubiquitous nuclear power with a tiny fraction of the waste.

If we falter on nuclear now, coal plants will continue and our climate and our health, and the world we leave to our children will suffer.

The writing is on the wall here - energy is dangerous. To be the safest we can be, nuclear energy is the answer.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Time to quit

Like a 2 pack-a-day man, who's been told by his doctor to quit, Australia has been in denial.

Smoke from coal plants, and other pollution has been pluming from Aussie smokestacks throughout history, and we don't want to hear that its bad for us.

But guess, what its killing us. The image left is from a 2008 article I wrote about how strong government action on energy and climate change was urgent to counter what polluters were doing to us.

In February 2010 I wrote here on this blog about how climate change would bring significant increases in the incidence of floods, droughts, heat waves and wildfires
Just a year later, flooding in my city of Brisbane, caused death and devastation. These news shots are of an area in Milton, just 15 minutes walk from my home.

Images from Brisbane's 4BC News during Jan 2011 floods.

This was a year after deadly wildfires and heatwaves in 2009. Now flooding has swept through the Brisbane valley, killing and destroying property, ruining lives and wrecking livelihoods.

We've been told. But we didn't want to listen.

As I explained in my article in mid-2009, the pollution lobby is paying for expensive think tanks and "conferences" to throw up a smoke-screen in front of their activities. And the Idiocracy that passes for our political system has been drinking this kool-aid by the gallon.

Somehow we've suspected that all this smoke was bad, but the pollution lobby - like the tobacco lobby of 20 years ago - has been there to provide us with ready made plausible denial. And we believed it because it was more comfortable to believe that what we'd been doing so far was some how OK, than to believe we'd been wrecking the world we are leaving for our children for our own profits.

The floods and fires we have seen are like the first few spots of blood on that inveterate smokers white handkerchief. This is just the early warning.

We asked "how long before it causes real damage?"

"What can we get away with?"

Well, you know what? I've been writing this blog, about the things we can do about climate change - using public transport, using non-polluting vehicles, looking out for what we are doing to the planet - for going on 5 years now. In that time I have seen more evidence of the violent damage that polluting practices can do to our planet, than I could ever write in a blog.

Our scientists have been telling us. So what do we do? Keep going until we can find another scientist who will tell us what we want to hear.

Every smoke-stack, every tail-pipe is doing us damage. Every day.

Now. We have to stop now.

The BP oil disaster off the shores of the USA, cyclones, fires and floods killing so many. In Australia we were lucky, floods in Brazil earlier this year were worse:

This is recent history. How soon will we forget?

Right through history tycoons have profited by pressuring or paying their political cronies into allowing them to plunder our futures. In previous blog posts here I have written about how in 1949 shell companies formed by Standard Oil, and Firestone Tire & Rubber tore up and burned the electric trams of US cities.

How could they - that must have been illegal, you ask? It was, and they were charged in court, and convicted of it (read the article) - a tiny slap on the hand, as they went on to cover the US with gas stations and highways.

Those same tycoons are doing their stuff now. Duping and dealing with our politicians in order to get just one more, two more, another years worth of quarterly profit reports up and into their bonus cheques.

So what can we do? Its all hopeless then?

No its not. Yes, its a gloomy message. Yes, its not news we want to hear.

Use recycled shopping bags and take the bus or pushbike to work? Yes - do those things. However the scale of pollutions from corporates is undoing that good work faster than we can fix it.

But there are things we can do to tell our politicians that we have the will, to start to fix this mess. We can tell politicians - since there are those that have the guts to fight for this - that we are are behind them. has recently claimed a big success in re-instantiating a government programme to build power stations using solar energy, and to instead get the required funding for the flood rebuilding from subsidies to the polluters. Movements like GetUp's Solar Flagship programme are galvanizing an Australian public who are sick of being dictated to by the captains of industry who enjoy far too much access to the corridors of politial power.

If you don't like the idea of organisations like GetUp, then get personal: do it yourself. Learn, research, become informed - and then write to the MP's and politicians. Use the internet, the phone or write letters. Or even blog posts.

But whatever you do, don't forget the 2011 floods.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Catching buses to QUT KG

For visitors from places without great public transit infrastructure catching buses around a strange place will be anaethema.

But for some places in Brisbane, Australia - you'd be mad not to use public transport since the new bus-way system was set up. Combined with the new Translink Go Card this system is a breeze to use, and its also clean and safe.

The air-conditioned natural gas buses are not "on the nose" (as diesel ones normally are) and run on an elevated "bus way" which is exclusive for their use, so no stop-go and jerking around like in regular traffic. Through congested areas the bus way goes down through tunnels, and is the easiest way to get across town.

The bus way is well lit, well sign-posted, fitted with security cameras and is well lit, making it a safe and easy way to get around.

Here's some popular locations well served by bus way buses.

View Larger Map

From Urbanest to QUT Kelvin Grove.

In the Google Street View image above the structure on the right is the bus way station. Urbanest is at off the left of this image, at 60 Tribune Street (which is running left-to-right in the foreground).

Take your go card, go to the station and go to the platform heading into the city. Don't worry about time tables - buses are very frequent. Check the digital display for buses arriving.

Catch the 66 bus and it will take you straight through the city to QUT - easy!

As you get on the bus touch your Go Card to the reader - no money changes hands. Nice.

Or you can get on any bus that is heading to the city, and change to a QUT bound bus at King George Square bus station.

Touch your Go Card to the reader as you get off.

King George Square is a clean, new structure only a year old - its an underground station, next stop after the Myer Center.

There, get on the 66 bus, or any other bus going to QUT Kelvin Grove campus. It will leave a few steps from where you got off on the same platform.

The 66 bus leaves from Stop E on the outbound platform - this is the stop in the photo above.

Check the BCC map of the bus station for more details.

QUT Kelvin Grove from the city.

Walk to the King George Square station. The entrance is on Adelaide St, a few steps from Queens Street Mall, near the intersection with Albert Street.

Down the escalators to the outbound platform, as in the section above.

If you see people checking tickets and so on, just vaguely wave your Go Card at them, they'll smile and wave you through. Some people still try to get on buses with loose change.

At QUT Kelvin Grove.

You can see the bus-way station in QUT's color map of the campus - its very well located right next to S block.

This photo shows the entrance to the QUT busway station.

To head south again back to the city or south bank, cross the bus way stations foot bridge which drops you onto the inbound platform without having to cross any roads or dice with traffic.

Platforms are well protected from the weather and are fitted with machines to top up your go card, or to check the balance.