The best of years and the worst of years

2009 has been a very odd year for me, a year of many highs and extreme lows. Of trials and triumph, of hurt and pain, of joy and euphoria, of sorrow and misery, and of anticipation and expectation. And while the fifty words I have written as an introduction may be nothing more than cliché they compactly summarise my feelings at the end of one of the most dramatic years of my short life.

My year started in January (as all years do in the Gregorian calendar); at the time I was exhausted after a year of intense stress serving as President of the Students’ Association at University. The experience of student politics had left me very bitter and in a way messed up. I was in a state where I wanted to be left alone to my own devices and at the time I was actively working to avoid people and block out the year before. I managed to find some space and time to myself in the middle of Parachute music festival in late January. It is ironic that I can find solace in the middle of 30,000 people but sometimes being around people but not knowing people can be a good form of rehabilitation.

February was a much more exciting month. I spent a number of afternoons and evenings perched on the top of North Head watching America’s Cup Class yachts race in the Auckland Harbour for the first time in more than five years. Later in the month I left NZ for the first time in my life to spend two days holidaying in Melbourne. While I was over there I set myself a goal of moving to Australia to study in 2010 (a goal that I am pleased to have achieved). However, February was also the start of an intense drama in my life that carried on as a drawn out and ridiculous soap opera until mid December. For the last two years I have been going out with on and off with Malaysian Girl. However, I was not comfortable with this and after picking Malaysian Girl up from Auckland Airport at 5am one morning after flying back from holiday I explained that I was sick of the games and I wanted things to either be going out or not going out. Unfortunately for me I was not firm enough and the games continued for another 11 months.

The memories of March, April, and May are all lost in a blur. In March I started my honours degree and for the semester I put my head down and didn’t lift it to breathe again until June.

June will be remembered most for the marks that I achieved on my first semester papers. Although I have always been relatively smart and typically get good grades I have never been a straight A student, however, this changed in June when my marks for my first semester came back with 2 A+ and 1 A grade. To celebrate I went skiing at my happy place, Mt Ruapehu. The first day of skiing was in typical Whakapapa misty shit, but the second day was a beautiful bluebird day on the slopes of Turoa after 10cm of overnight snow fell.

July saw university restart for Semester Two and the rest is a blur.

August was the beginning of the end for any friendship or future with Malaysian Girl. As mentioned I was not firm enough with stopping the game playing back in February and by August it got to the ridiculous situation where I was being played off against someone else of closer ethnicity. I didn’t have a hope and within two weeks of being told that Chinese Boy was on the radar I was flicked off like an ant that tried to follow the wrong pheromone trail for far too long. This left me in a state of intense distress and the pain of how I was treated by someone who I really cared about still leaves a bitter aftertaste even now. August also saw a nice weekend away in Christchurch skiing at Porters Ski Area where I rocketed down a 400m vertical double black diamond run, not once, but twice, it is an awesome way to get the adrenaline pumping and one of the absolute highlights of my year.

In comparison to the hell of August, September was like being in another world. Early in the month I was successful in being awarded a travel grant to fly to Sydney to visit University New South Wales (UNSW). Having spent the last five years studying at the awesome but tiny Albany campus of Massey University the experience was eye opening. I also began an ill-fated relationship with West Auckland Girl.

October was a month where the hell of August began to set back in. As the end of the semester and exams drew near I began to have nasty panic attacks (something I have been fighting for two years). In an urgent bid to get my head back I decided at 2am one morning to drive to my happy place, Mt Ruapehu for a day of skiing, this was great until a) I hurt my leg and b) four days later the panic attacks were back with a vengeance. October also opened my eyes to just how bad an employer can treat a staff member and after my workplace fired a staff member and close friend on the basis of unsubstantiated and circumstantial claims shit really hit the fan. On the morning before one of my final exams I had a massive panic attack which spelt the end of my part time work, but fortunately for me I somehow aced the test.

If there was one month that was a bellweather indicator of the rest of the year it would be November. The main stress of the month was getting my thesis complete and handed in on time. No easy task when your supervisor is on the other side of the world and because of all the dramas of August and October in particular there had been little progress on it since July. In the midst of the stress was the ending of my relationship with West Auckland Girl – the second breakup in 4 months, and when I have had less than 5 serious relationships in my life it was quite a blow. However, the good thing to come from the month was starting to play summer Hockey. I am completely useless at team sports – especially ones that involve hand and eye coordination so I was stoked to score a goal in my second ever game (and since then have only scored one more).

The final month of the year, December was by far the best, all because of a few simple words: “first class honours” and “full PhD scholarship”. Despite all the trials, challenges, pain, and torment the year had thrown at me I had made it through with a few battle scars and a massive piece of treasure at the end. In hindsight there are things that I would have done differently, there are still many things that I am very bitter about, and there are things that I am sorry about, however, in saying that you cannot celebrate the good times until you have first felt the pain and suffering of the bad times. Now the question is what does the new start in life hold?

Its Climate Change Silly

The Herald has an article summarising New Zealand’s year of ‘weird weather’:

We basked through the warmest winter in 150 years and shivered through the coldest spring in decades – all during a year of weird weather.

Globally, this year was the fifth warmest in the past 130 years, and capped off New Zealand’s hottest decade on record.

But that would have been little comfort to those stuck in record snowstorms during the coldest October in six decades.

MetService weather ambassador Bob McDavitt said three months stood out as the “weirdest weather”. A chilly May was countered by an unseasonably warm August, before temperatures plunged to record lows in October.

McDavitt said the icy spring weather was caused by troughs stalled over New Zealand because of large anticyclones over Australia – coating Sydney with dust storms while Kiwis shivered in late snowfalls.

The hottest temperature was 38C, recorded in Culverden in Canterbury on February 8.

At the moment all the Climate Change Deniers are carrying on about the massive snow falls as being proof that the world is not warming. However the point is not about a few isolated snow storms (yes the top of the USA and Europe are isolated in the size of the world), they completely missing the point claiming this. While the overall temperture of the world may be increasing becuase of this it will unsettle the weather patterns around the world and we are clearly seeing the affects of this in NZ. Instead of Winter being cold and Summer being hot we are getting dramatically changing weather patterns throughout the seasons and the year. Take a look at Winter this year – May and June coldest in decades – we even had ice and -4c in northern Albany! And then the traditional coldest month of August was warmest on recored. And lets not even start on October.

It is simple. The world’s climate is changing and I find it hard to believe that all this changes in the weather patterns are anything but caused by humans and their direct actions.

Make you own bus banner

Over the past week there has been quite a bit of fuss around a group of aethists raising $20k to put some advertising on busses saying “There is probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”

It didn’t take long for someone to create a image generator to create your own ad, here is my attempt:


You can make you own here: Bus Slogan Generator

Magnify at Parachute 2009

I just stumbled across this video of Magnify performing at Parachute Festival earlier this year.

Parachute will be one of the things I miss about NZ the most when I move. The festival is awesome – I have been 6 out of the last 7 years.

Crowd as seen from the Mainstage
Crowd as seen from the Mainstage

The reason why I stumbled upon the video was because I was looking for a clip of an older song, In Wonder:

Which of course the Newsboys remade, and around a month ago was played as the wake up music for one of the astronauts on the space station:

The Completed Future Jigsaw

The last eight days have been simply amazing. For most of the past year my life has been like a giant jigsaw puzzle. A whole lot of pieces messed up, some missing, and some from the wrong puzzle set. But this week they have all slotted together perfectly and the result is simply awesome.

As I blogged a week ago I achieved first class honours for my honours degree. This was the centre piece to my future. I had applied for PhD programmes at Massey University, Monash University, and The University of New South Wales, however first class honours is the prerequisite into all three universities.

The next piece of the jigsaw was non conditional acceptance into the PhD programme I had applied for at The University of New South Wales – I got this on Tuesday. This left me with acceptance into the programme I wanted to do but no funding to actually do it.

For funding I had applied for the relevant PhD scholarships at all three universities. I was not expecting to hear back from any of them on the results of these scholarships until Monday next week. However, to my surprise around midday on Friday I got an email informing me that I had been awarded a scholarship for Monash. This was great news, although Monash has been my backup plan to UNSW, at least going into the weekend I would be calm that no matter what my future had been secured for the next three years.

Then even better news came at 6.45pm on Friday night. I got an email informing me I had been awarded the Australian Postgraduate Award scholarship and an Engineering Research Award scholarship at UNSW. This is exactly what I wanted and will allow me to complete PhD at UNSW, Sydney. The total combined value of these two scholarships over the next three years is in excess of $110,000 NZD. And is the best Christmas present anyone could get. It is as close to winning lotto as I will probably ever get – (especially as I don’t pay as the stats say it isn’t worth it!).

To make the week that much better I started a new job on Monday which runs until the end of January. I am working as a Web Monkey (yes that is the job title) for Mighty Ape – if you need Christmas gifts avoid the malls and shop online.

I am so stoked with the way that all of this has fallen into place. The last year has been incredibly tough on so many levels but to finally see the rewards at the end of it is such an awesome feeling. I have a new jigsaw to sort out now – planning and moving to Sydney in less than 7 weeks, but I am now sure that jigsaw will fall into place a lot more smoothly.

Bless the LORD, O my soul; And all that is within me, bless His holy name! Psalm 103:1 NKJV

And if you read this expecting a blog about a real jigsaw puzzle check this out: Ravensburger Jigsaw Puzzle: Bombardment of Algier (9000 pc)

Under The Mountain – A Must See

I just got home from seeing the movie adaptation of Under The Mountain. It is a must see. It remains very true to the book with only a few minor changes (such as the age of the twins). The entire production is top notch, the acting and cast is perfect, the special effects state of the art (thanks Weta Workshops) and it is great to see such a good kiwi film. I will note that the film, while based on a kids book, is rated M, it is not over the top scary. But it is scary enough that it would easily upset some kids (even some adults jumped in parts of it). It would be the best kiwi film since Out of the Blue.

Climategate. Yeah Right.

I have been watching the whole climategate saga for a few weeks now. So far I have not blogged on it because I was hoping that it would either be shown to be such the stupid smokescreen that it really is, or that there would be some truth to it and there would be some form of outcome. However, as it stands at the moment both sides are claiming victory over a situation that has become very messy.

If you are not already up to play on the situation Wikipedia (as always) provides a good overview of the mess:

In a nutshell: sometime in November (or earlier) the computers are the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia were hacked and a large amount of emails and other data were then selective leaked onto the internet. The right wingers/nutcases/conspiracy theorist/deniers claim that this stolen data shows collusion amongst climate researchers in deliberately trying to prove climate change is man made when the data shows a decline in global temperatures. Of course this is complete and utter nonsense, the content of the emails that have been leaked are damaging to the reputation of a few scientists. However, they completely fail to prove any worldwide conspiracy.

There are two great articles that have been produced dismissing the points that have attempted to be made by climategate. The first is from New Scientist:

We can be 100 per cent sure the world is getting warmer

Forget about the temperature records compiled by researchers such as those whose emails were hacked. Next spring, go out into your garden or the nearby countryside and note when the leaves unfold, when flowers bloom, when migrating birds arrive and so on. Compare your findings with historical records, where available, and you’ll probably find spring is coming days, even weeks earlier than a few decades ago.

You can’t fake spring coming earlier, or trees growing higher up on mountains, or glaciers retreating for kilometres up valleys, or shrinking ice cover in the Arctic, or birds changing their migration times, or permafrost melting in Alaska, or the tropics expanding, or ice shelves on the Antarctic peninsula breaking up, or peak river flow occurring earlier in summer because of earlier snowmelt, or sea level rising faster and faster, or any of the thousands of similar examples.

Is it possible that tens of thousands of scientists have got it wrong? It is incredibly unlikely. The evidence that CO2 levels are rising is irrefutable, and the idea that rising levels lead to warming has withstood more than a century of genuine scientific scepticism.

The second is from the academic journal Nature:

The e-mail archives stolen last month from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia (UEA), UK, have been greeted by the climate-change-denialist fringe as a propaganda windfall (see page 551). To these denialists, the scientists’ scathing remarks about certain controversial palaeoclimate reconstructions qualify as the proverbial ‘smoking gun’: proof that mainstream climate researchers have systematically conspired to suppress evidence contradicting their doctrine that humans are warming the globe.

This paranoid interpretation would be laughable were it not for the fact that obstructionist politicians in the US Senate will probably use it next year as an excuse to stiffen their opposition to the country’s much needed climate bill. Nothing in the e-mails undermines the scientific case that global warming is real — or that human activities are almost certainly the cause. That case is supported by multiple, robust lines of evidence, including several that are completely independent of the climate reconstructions debated in the e-mails.

Back in New Zealand we have had our own little mini conspiracy theory with Ian Wishart among others trying to claim that NIWA have deliberately altered their data to artificially create a warming trend. The truth is they have deliberately altered their data but only to adjust changes in the physical locations of weather stations. NIWA has close to a 100 years of data and over time both the way in which you collect data and the instruments use change as a result the data collected by one method has to be adjusted to match up with the data collected through a different method. This is standard scientific practice. In fact if you didn’t do this any analysis done over time would be wrong! But because the scientists at NIWA have done the right thing the crazy climate change deniers are claiming a conspiracy.
So here we have NIWA with this plot of adjusted data:

and the deniers with this plot of unadjusted data:

The most interesting thing about both of these plots is in the end of both of them I can see an overall rise trending!

A few days ago NIWA responded to the nutcases who are claiming conspiracy everywhere by producing a plot of only the 11 weather stations that have not been moved or adjusted (see below) note that the rise is 1C and the P-Value (extremely small this an absolutely confirmed rise there is no arguing with it). Now the conspiracy crazies are claiming the graph should include all weather stations and thus a circle begins.

For more on the stupidity of Climategate there are some good blogs on Open Parachute:

Finally I will leave the last word with Jon Stewart’s take on the whole saga:

Honours Research Project Now Available

I have just uploaded my thesis and source code for my honours research project to the site. You can find them in the Research section.

Earlier today I received my final grades for my research project and three papers from Semester Two. I scored an A+ grade in all three papers and the project. I am absolutely delighted with the marks and my overall performance this year. In total, for both semesters, I scored 7 A+ grades and 1 A grade. This is by far my best ever set of marks and as a result I have been accepted into a PhD programme at The University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia beginning early next year.

In time I will blog about some of the challenges I have faced this year (it has not been all plain sailing), as well as this I am working on uploading some of my past assignments to the site (some with and without source code – and minor modifications). I never imagined I would progress so far in academia and now I feel like the journey has only just begun.

A dangerous precedent

Switzerland runs a system of direct democracy through binding referenda. This is different from New Zealand’s political system of representative democracy. However, as we have seen over the past few weeks there is a call from some extreme right wing factions within New Zealand who want to implement a simpler system in New Zealand. However, this idea is very dangerous. For instance, in Switzerland they have just banned the construction of Minarets and Mosques as a result of a binding referendum. As David Farrar at Kiwiblog puts it “Freedom of religion is a fundamental human right, and should not be at the whim of referenda.”

In New Zealand it is primarily the extreme Christian Right who want to implement such a system that imposes such ridiculous restrictions on citizens. However, what happens when a binding referendum is passed which runs against the view of these extreme right wingers? Is that the point they stage a violent political uprising or some other form of so called direct democracy? As much as we dislike all politicians the current representative democracy system that we current have is the most fair to all views and opinions.