Being in Christchurch made me realise how reliant I am on Google Maps whenever I’m out of the tiny patch of Wellington I’m familiar with. Maps doesn’t really work in Christrchurch – every time I tried to use it the application lead me to a giant construction site or into the middle of a vast, empty temporary carpark the size of a city block and then told me ‘You have arrived at your destination.’
August 29, 2016
I spent the weekend in Christchurch at the (excellent) Word festival, and someone reminded me of poetry – although technically song lyrics – even worse than McGongall’s:
I don’t want to see a ghost
It’s a sight that I fear most
I’d rather have a piece of toast
And watch the evening news
– Life, Des’Ree
August 26, 2016
I discussed this celebration with friends at lunch and somehow none of them had heard of 19th Century Scottish poet William Topaz McGongall, widely celebrated as the worst poet of all time: he seems roughly cognate to Tommy Wiseau. Here is the first verse of his masterpiece The Tay Bridge Disaster:
Beautiful Railway Bridge of the Silv’ry Tay!
Alas! I am very sorry to say
That ninety lives have been taken away
On the last Sabbath day of 1879,
Which will be remember’d for a very long time
August 25, 2016
Earlier this year Key is said to have asked his Ministers to come up with some new policy ideas, to deflect the criticism that they were a tired, exhausted, intellectually bankrupt government spinning its wheels and going nowhere. Maggie Barry’s ‘Predator Free New Zealand’ stunt was one. And now here’s Hekia Parata:
School-age students will be able to enrol in an accredited online learning provider instead of attending school, under new Government legislation.
The move has dismayed the primary school teachers’ union who say education is about learning to work and play with other children.
The radical change will see any registered school, tertiary provider such as a polytechnic or an approved body corporate be able to apply to be a “community of online learning” (COOL).
Any student of compulsory schooling age will be able to enrol in a COOL – and that provider will determine whether students will need to physically attend for all or some of the school day.
The Ministry of Education says this requirement may depend on the type of COOL.
There’s a scene in HBO’s Silicon Valley where an engineer is trying to explain his product to a group of ordinary people. He asks them, ‘What’d you have for breakfast today?’ Scrambled eggs,’ someone replies. ‘Scrambled eggs!’ he repeats, thrilled to finally be communicating his idea. ‘And what’s in the eggs? Electrons! Right? And we all know how electrons exist in orbitals. Multivalent states? No?
The idea of COOLs has been around in the tertiary sector for a LONG time now – although there they’re called MOOCs – Massive Open Online Courses – and I think it’s based on this type of reductive thinking. Universities (and now, schools) are really expensive. Huge capital investments. Huge staff costs. Huge overheads. But what do people do at these universities? Well, they learn. What do they learn? Information. And how do you transmit information? Electrons! So there is obviously no reason why those electrons can’t be transmitted digitally at super-low cost instead of via expensive lecture theaters and classrooms and lecturers. Right? No?
I was at a seminar on how MOOCs were going to ‘massively disrupt’ the entire tertiary education system over ‘the next twelve to eighteen months’ (this was back in, I think, 2006) and a computer scientist in the audience made a point that stuck with me. ‘If there was a killer app that was going to disrupt lecture and classroom based teaching you’d think it would have been the invention of Movable Type, back in the 15th Century. That drastically lowered the cost of information transfer. For the first time in history people could read a book at a lesser cost than attending a lecture. And yet the four hundred years since then people are spending more and more of their lives in lecture and classroom based teaching. Why is that?’
The guy giving the seminar did not know, and seemed amused at the sight of all these university staffers trying to justify their existence. Didn’t we see that the digital technology meant our entire sector was going to be wiped out in a matter of months? Why were we so blind? It’s still there, though, and the reason for that is that these institutions add value to the electrons they deliver in ways that online solutions don’t.
There are various theories about what the value-add is for tertiary institutes, but for schools an additional and critical value-add is that they function as child care. Obviously the teaching and socialisation is really important, but providing a safe place for kids to go while their parents work is a huge part of the package. Who is looking after kids who are studying at home through a COOL? What happens to the grades of COOL kids who study online instead of in the school environment? If they’re at home for part of the day and at school for others, how do they travel in between outside of normal commuting times? I think Parata would say it was too early to ask those questions. Actually she’d say something like, ‘We will work towards delivering robust partnership solutions going forwards.’ But these are really basic questions that should probably be answered before we spend money on this policy.
From an excellent New Yorker article about the exoplanet detected in Proxima Centauri:
In the coming decades, we will discover exoplanets by the tens of thousands and will come to know them, from afar, in intimate detail. Yet the nearest one is an eighty-thousand-year drive away. Whatever Proxima b is like today—that is, 4.3 years ago—it’s likely to be vastly different eighty thousand years from now. In fact, it wouldn’t even be there by the time we arrived. Stars wander ever so slightly, and the cosmos as a whole is expanding; in the next eighty thousand years, Proxima Centauri and its planet will have moved two light-years farther from Earth, adding another forty thousand years to the trip.
Also, probably unrelated but I came across this Reinhold Niebuhr quote in my reading the other day:
The will-to-power uses reason as kings used courtiers and chaplins to add grace to their enterprise.
August 23, 2016
But yesterday UMR released results of a poll that found 60% of Aucklanders and 55% of home owners would prefer that house prices either fell a bit or fell dramatically over the next year.
The poll of 1,000 New Zealanders over the age of 18 was taken from July 29 to August 17 through UMR’s online omnibus survey and found a total of 63% nationwide who would either prefer house prices to ‘fall but not too much’ (37%) or to fall dramatically (26%).
UMR, which conducts polls for the Labour, found 55% of home owners would prefer house prices to fall a bit (40%) or dramatically (15%).
Here’s my problem with all this talk about lowering house prices. If prices fall, either ‘a bit’ or dramatically then won’t we also see people borrow less and save more and spend less (because they’re effectively poorer), leading to a drop in aggregate demand, leading to a recession? Isn’t that how these things work?
August 17, 2016
It’s one year since the Auditor General began investigating Murray McCully’s decision to use taxpayer money to fund an agrihub in a palace in the Arabian desert. Rumour has it the delay releasing the report has been caused by McCully and MFAT lawyering up and litigating the entire report, line-by-line. On a recent RNZ politics segment Matthew Hooton suggested that this process will involve a negotiation with the Auditor General’s office to include an exculpating sentence in the executive summary that National can seize on as evidence that McCully has been ‘completely cleared’, regardless of the findings of the report, which seems to be how these things are done nowadays.
August 14, 2016
The gallery are all writing about the Andrew Little/Stuart Nash/Nick Leggett/Phil Quin thing that happened this week. Tracy Watkins’ column is a representative sample:
- What hasn’t been covered and which I’d be pretty curious to know about is: what actually happened with the Labour selection for the Wellington Mayoralty? There’s obviously incredibly bad blood over it, which has resulted in Leggett leaving his party and Labour declaring war on him. Labour doesn’t have so many young, successful mayors of multi-cultural working-class cities that they can afford to just burn them off like this. Maybe Leggett was unmanageable and the relationships were too toxic; I’ve no idea. Seems like there might be a story there.
- Is Little’s rage at Leggett really ideological – outside of Labour’s tendency to label all of their opponents ‘far right’ – or a more pragmatic form of rage, given that Leggett might split the left vote, deny Justin Lester a first preference win and risk Leggett or the right-wing candidate winning on second preferences?
- Telling Nash he couldn’t go to a public function with Phil Quin seems pretty reasonable to me, given that Quin routinely attacks Labour in print columns in the Herald. Telling MPs they can’t say or do something is routine stuff in a political party, but I’d expect that to be handled by the party whip, not the leader, and also for the conversation not to be made public, or for the leader to comment on it when it did. Nash will struggle to hold his seat next year, I think – the Conservative Party candidate split the vote in 2014 – and I doubt he’ll make it very high on the list, especially now.
August 11, 2016
National List MP based in the Port Hills, Nuk Korako, has had his Airport Authorities (Lost Property) Amendment Bill drawn from the ballot today. The bill will make it easier for travellers to recover lost property.
“The Airport Authorities Act sets out the process a local or airport authority must go through before selling or disposing of lost property, this bill will modernise that process so it is more sensible and flexible,” Mr Korako said.
“The section of law we are amending is around providing the public with information about lost property, giving owners the chance to recover their property before the authority begins the process of sale or disposal.
“The current section of law is restrictive – currently all advertising must be in a newspaper circulating within the district of the airport. There’s no requirement for online notices or other forms of communication.
If you got a crack team of satirists working around the clock to figure out ways to depict the utter pointlessness of the third term National government, they’d never have come up with anything this perfectly inane. I guess this bill – if passed – will save the airports literally dozens of dollars in advertising fees by letting them stick lost property notifications on their web site instead of the local newspaper, and it prevented a different Member’s bill – which might have actually accomplished something for someone – from being drawn, so mission accomplished.
The Reserve Bank has just the Official Cash Rate by 0.25 pc to a new record low of 2 per cent.
Cheap money! If you can get it. What we now have is a segregated credit regime in which many – ie younger, poorer people – can’t borrow because the loan-to-value ratios prevent them from doing so, but those who can access it – ie those with equity – have never been able to borrow at better rates. And now it gets better! If the banks even pass the cuts on.