Thursday, July 3, 2014

Hybrids: driving with new energy

So after 14 years, two children and a frugal lifestyle, it was finally time to upgrade the car, which was showing signs of needing expensive repairs and still not being OK anymore.
We have considered the one-car family option, but since I would expect it to be me who had the one car for daily runabouts, I can't push this one hard.
Our upgrade wish list included a fancy to invest in advanced motoring technology that uses less petrol.

New Zealand has not yet integrated public charging stations for fully electric vehicles, but some clever online shopping by the DH resulted in quite a special deal from far away from the big smoke: a tidy 10-year-old Toyota Prius with less than 40,000 ks and a certified service history.

The ups

Of course a newer car is always a pleasure to drive, and the whole family is helping to keep it in its original tidy condition instead of its natural state of the "family car".

And it is really really quiet !  We call it the sneaky car, because you often can't hear when it arrives in the garage. Unless the tires squeak.

While I drive it, I get instant feedback on how much petrol I am using vs how much battery power. It's very motivational - it's like a driving game where I see how long I can run just on battery power before running out, or getting to the next hill so I can recharge. If nobody is following me I will often drive much more slowly than I used to, just to keep it on battery only. It's only a few hundres metres to the next corner anyway, so what's the rush? "I'm using no petrol!"

OK, mine shows kms and litres, but you get the idea...
And it is educational to see how just THIS much more pressure on the pedal spends your petrol THAT much faster. I think every car needs this even if it's not a hybrid.

The downs

While I love the extra storage the hatchback provides compared to our previous sedan, I absolutely hate the reduced visibility in every corner and behind the car.

Squashed window and a spoiler - I can't see! DH has kindly installed a high-tech tennis ball feature in the garage so I know when I am finished parking.

And there is always a risk that the hybrid battery could fail, which could be $thousands to replace, or somewhat more reasonably amounts to repair...

The results

I'm sure that like me, when you read about hybrid or electric technology and see the theoretical efficiency, you still wonder how that really translates to real life, especially when hybrids are more expensive to buy than their regular counterparts.

So I'm very happy to report that I am regularly, easily, getting twice the distance from a tank of petrol in the Prius as I did for the old Nissan Sunny. Really: 400km when running the Sunny to the fumes at the bottom of the tank, and 800+ no problem on the Prius.

Modify that gain slightly because the Prius runs on slightly more expensive petrol. But even so, we are doing about 1 fill per month instead of 2 - say about $80/month or $960 per year - this should eventually provide our ROI plus the satisfaction that we are using that much less petrol to get around.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The politicians in person - for NZ Gifted Awareness Week

Yes, another political post for Gifted Awareness Week!

I hope that the following impressions of the speakers at the Auckland Political Panel last night will help those of you who could not attend. I am biased but I welcome discussion from others with different biases.

Kudos to all the parties who sent representatives to talk with us in a face-to-face! You can also read the official party gifted policy document for more information.

The evening was introduced by Deb Clarke, CEO of NZCGE and Rose Blackett, President of NZAGC and moderated by Lynda Garrett of the University of Auckland. All gave fantastic introductions to the barriers and frustrations those of us in the gifted community experienced, and they posed questions for the panelists. After the panelists' formal speeches, questions were taken from the audience, which was comprised of many experienced gifted educators and advocates.


Maggie Barry had this portfolio given to her recently; while she had done some admirable last-minute swotting, like most last minute swotters she showed that she didn't understand the big picture, even her own party's decisions about funding. She reiterated that National had chosen to fund the underachieving educational area instead of extending gifted children and, although properly sympathetic and outraged at our plight, made no indication that there are any plans to change.

Regarding the school culture problem and bullying of gifted children, she felt that bolstering the self-esteem of the bullied was crucial, as in her experience with her own child being bullied, the bullies were "waste of space individuals."

She promised to report our messages back to the government.


Chris Hipkins, showing more clue than Maggie, pointed out that 5 out of 5 children succeeding did not mean they were all equal. He described the progress in gifted education that occurred during Labour's government, to many nodding heads. He promised there would be more funding specifically in our area, but was not able answer directly as to what area that money would be taken from as their budget announcement is not yet public. He contributed to the 2013 BlogTour.


Catherine Delahunty showed clear personal investment and history aligned with our interests (she has been blogging for the BlogTour since 2012). Her speech included genuine passion and detail about the barriers we face, which resonated with the audience, many of whom she already knew. Rumour has it that her car was shunted on the motorway on the way here, and she came to speak anyway. Although she supports separate targeted programmes for the gifted, she believes that these should be supported by the government. She said that she would remove the funding from the charter school area in order to fund gifted education.

NZ First

Tracey Martin said some great things, but lost some points for announcing she had decided not to change her speech and then clearly reading her speech. NZ First highlights the need for a national summit on the success of our current education direction. She had personal experience with her own special needs children in the school system, and the failure of the system to address these needs led her eventually to get involved in politics. She said that gifted funding would come from rearranging the current allocation away from the top level bureaucracy in education.


David Seymour declared that ACT knew nothing about gifted education and that the Ministry of Education was also not qualified in this area, but that charter schools would fix everything because everyone could most effectively "vote with their feet" to another school if one school did not suit. While he mentioned knowing that having to move schools was a terrible thing for child and parent, he said that having the choice of a wide variety of special character schools was the practical solution to providing for individual student needs. While David did not blog for the BlogTour, John Banks contributed in 2012.

Maori and Internet Mana

No show.


All these politicians have a dream of making a difference, but their priorities, goals, and chosen directions are very different. Use your vote when it counts.

This post has been written for the 2014 Gifted Awareness Week Blog tour. See all the blogs as they are voted on...

Jessica Parsons is the current president of Auckland Explorers, branch of the NZ Association for Gifted Children. She has two gifted children with her gifted husband.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Is it smart to vote?

You may not make it to the Wellington or Auckland Gifted Political Panels this Gifted Awareness Week, but everyone has the chance to vote on Election Day (20 September, 2014).

The word these days seems to be "don't vote, it only encourages them" or "if voting made a difference, they would make it illegal."

Taking off any rose-coloured glasses about democracy, voting and the system, let's examine a few things.

Low voter turnout

In 2011, NZ's voter turnout was the lowest since the 1880s. And for 2011 and 2008, the low voter turnout returned a National (conservative) win.

Low turnout favouring the right is a democracy truism researched worldwide. Conservatives like to vote. They vote for their people. They don't argue endlessly about who are their people or if they're always right or whether the system is broken.They know that they want their people in the driving seat of whatever system controls the power and the money.

If you stay away from the polls on principle, you are voting to continue with a government whose minister would make the Maui dolphin go the way of the moa for money. (And who, in case you haven't heard, cut gifted funding in 2009.)


"The two main parties are both the same anyway!" I hear you groan. There's some truth in that. But in NZ, we have MMP.

Is MMP perfect? No. But there are millions of people in the world, especially in the USA, who would get to the voting booth on their knees, kissing the ground in front of the door, for the chance to vote for a minor party and have that party actually get into government and pass bills and stuff.

We certainly have some strong and interesting choices on the table for the power balance after this election.

Does your vote matter?
5% = percentage of people generally accepted as gifted in any area

5% = percentage of the party vote needed to get representatives in Parliament

If this coincidence isn't enough to get you out to start the Gifted Party of New Zealand, I hope it illustrates how even a small number of people voting strategically to promote their own special interest can make a difference.

So is it smart to vote? 

Only you can decide that. But there will be plenty of people voting who believe that the gifted already have enough advantages, so on Election Day I will be there, ticking my voting paper for some left-leaning, status-quo stirring, 1% bashing, people and planet power party.

I hope to see you there.

This post has been written for the 2014 Gifted Awareness Week Blog tour. See all the blogs as they are voted on...

Jessica Parsons is the current president of Auckland Explorers, branch of the NZ Association for Gifted Children. She has two gifted children with her gifted husband.

Monday, June 9, 2014

The gift of wizardry

In JK Rowling's world, some people are wizards.

Where do wizard children come from?

You are very likely to be a wizard if you have a wizard parent or especially two. If so, your siblings are probably wizards too. If they aren't, this can cause family friction.

Sometimes young wizard children are born to nonwizard parents, which is sometimes welcome and sometimes awkward when this is discovered. You have to recognise when a child is a wizard, or everything will get pretty confused.

Raising a wizard

Wizards may have a variety of unusual skills - some will be really helpful in everyday life and some will be a real burden or even a danger until the skill is really well understood by the wizard child, usually with the help of family or another great teacher. Wizards can be expensive to educate, with special equipment, methods, and expertly trained teachers. Some families will not be able to afford as much special attention as their wizard child needs.

But each wizard individual has different strengths and weaknesses, and sometimes the weaknesses are more obvious than the strengths. No wizard is good at everything, although some may drive themselves crazy trying.

Wizard life

Wizards usually have to hide what they can do from nonwizards, because their capabilities can be confusing or frightening. It can be easier for wizards to spend most of their time with other wizards, so they can be comfortable and talk freely without being rejected or judged as weird.

But wizards, even with their flashy tricks and magic words, know that they are not superior to nonwizards - who also have their own strengths that most wizards struggle to master. The wizards who do believe they are superior can be very hard to like and live with.

Some wizards never get the hang of their powers and their role in the world, and they die before their time.

And now for the magic trick

Now go replace every instance of "wizard" above with "gifted."

There are a lot of parallels with this exciting fantasy fiction, which lets anyone imagine a special role. Unfortunately for the gifted, it gets even more complicated after that. In real life, we don't have an easily-identified evil enemy to band together and fight, so we're just as likely to fight with each other when we get stressed.

Our goals aren't well-defined, and there's no fanfare or explosion when we succeed or fail. There is no Ministry for the Gifted, with rules and regulations to guide our behaviour.

And it is generally recommended that the gifted try their best to integrate most of the time, so saddest of all, there is no Hogwarts for the gifted. At least not in my neighbourhood - if there's one in yours, please tell me in the comments. And where to catch the train. Because I'm not ready to give up on the magic just yet.

This post has been written for the 2014 Gifted Awareness Week Blog tour. See all the blogs as they magically appear...

Jessica Parsons is the current president of Auckland Explorers, branch of the NZ Association for Gifted Children. She has two gifted children with her gifted husband.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Bestiality vs animal husbandry: a roleplaying game

Alex Macmillan - Northland beef farmer and
artificial insemination technician. Source
Apparently New Zealand farmers would like cows to get pregnant earlier and more easily.
(Warning: this post is not graphic but discusses sensitive topics. In case the title wasn't enough of a clue.)
DairyNZ senior scientist and project leader Dr Chris Burke says “More cows in-calf means more milk in the vat before Christmas, fewer replacements required, more flexibility when making culling decisions to improve herds and better returns overall for dairy farmers.”

But can we ask how rewarding it will be for the cows in this study? Nationwide outrage was generated against animal testing for party pills; sadly animal testing to increase productivity barely raises an eyebrow.

(For extra credit and fun, also ask a New Zealand farmer to say "killing" and "culling" and see if you hear any difference.)

Bestiality vs animal husbandry

If I were an animal, what is the difference?

BestialityAnimal Husbandry
I did not consentI did not consent

Abuse Risk
BestialityAnimal Husbandry
High - I might be hurt or killed for fun or by accidentHigh - I might be hurt or culled (oops, killed) for fun, by accident, or if I am not economically beneficial.

Pregnancy Risk
BestialityAnimal Husbandry
I won't get pregnant. High. I am meant to get pregnant (if I can't, I may be killed...erm...culled)
The stress of pregnancy and lactation is business as usual for my body, with my babies taken away to be more industrial product. I will be sicker and die earlier.

BestialityAnimal Husbandry
I'm used for pleasure. I'm used for profit.

BestialityAnimal Husbandry
It is illegal to do this to me.It is legal to do this to me, and encouraged and rewarded.

I could be better off as as a victim of bestiality - at least I won't get pregnant and the violator would be stopped and possibly prosecuted.

Legal links and loopholes

Admittedly, bestiality isn't even illegal in a lot of places. You may not want to recognise a link between bestiality and animal husbandry, and New Zealand and Australian law still both sorta take it for granted that farmers and other breeders are just doing their job when the job.

However, bestiality laws being implemented now in many states of the USA (eg Maine) have seen the logical need to exclude animal husbandry's intimate interference with animals' bodies. Similar exemptions are listed for other practices of cruelty to animals.

So it's OK to abuse animals, even sexually, as long as someone is making money out of it, and not just enjoying it.

Because they're just animals. Right?
Go vegan please...

Monday, May 12, 2014

Creative frugal energy at home

We have various commercial heating sources in our home: woodburner, heat pumps, portable heaters, solar hot water. We are lucky to get a lot of sun exposure. But we also have a natural cold spot in our house; unfortunately it is the bedroom.

In winter, we get 2 hours of a slanted afternoon sunbeam across one far corner of the room before the sun disappears behind the neighbour's house.

Many New Zealand houses like ours are poorly insulated. We go suddenly from "all windows wide open" to "treasure every sunbeam." And it is truly satisfying to set up our homemade sun reflector - made at the end of winter last year and now ready to serve us through a whole cold season.

Sun reflector inspiration

While the bedroom is dark all day, the fence opposite gets all day sun. So close! I knew we must be able to capture that somehow. I favour reuse where possible, so I envisaged hanging an old metal shower tray or several computer cases with some bracing to reflect and direct the light.


Examples of solar reflector designs abound on the internet, but many focus on concentrating sunlight to a point for cooking, which was overengineering for us.

The builder (my husband) is pretty handy and felt my shower tray design was underengineered, so after various experiments and research we reached a suitable compromise (see end of post for full details).

He still wants to automate it to follow the sun. I am OK with resetting it every couple of hours during the day when I can. When it moves off the bedroom window, the ensuite window benefits.


The reflector hanging from the fence is not the most beautiful sight. The most beautiful sight is this warm beam of sunshine (bright enough to show how much our mirror needs cleaning)!

I can have this beauty and warmth from just after 8am until about 4pm.

I still believe in my shower tray design, for those of us without a master builder on tap.

But I also hope that more examples of what has been done will inspire more of us to try what works in our own environment.

Reflector Details (from the builder)

Board materials and Assembly

  • Chrome Vinyl wrap (used on cars or signwriting)
  • Coreflute board
  • six 40mm x 18mm x 1.2m plank for framing support for coreflute board
  • surefix screws
  • staples + staplegun

  1. Create a frame to support the coreflute board
  2. Staple the coreflute board to the frame
  3. Cover the coreflute board with the chrome vinyl wrap

Mounting materials and assembly
  • 45 x 90 x 1500 H3 post
  • 2 x "Gate hinge pin and strap"
  • 1 x 150 x 25 x 1500 fence board
  1. Attach the post to a fence with spacing to allow the reflector board to rotate
  2. Install the hinge pins into the post ~1m  apart
  3. Put the hinge strap on the pins
  4. Mark one fence board to attach the gate straps at the correct spacing
  5. Remove straps from pins and attach to fence board

Tilt materials and assembly

  • 2 x 150 x 25 x 1500 fence board
  • 2 x "garden Gate hinges
  • Bolts and screws to suit

  1. Attach a fence board to the fence board of the mounting to make the top of a "T"
  2. Use the 2 x garden gate hinge to attach the third fence board to the top of the "t"
  3. Lift the tilt assembly onto the mounting post gate hinge pins to test fit and remove.
  4. Attach the reflector board to the third board.
  5. Lift the assembly onto the mounting post gate hinge pins to test fit.

Tilt stay materials and assembly

  • length of aluminium flat 15mm x 4mm
  • two 20mm right angle bracket
  • 15mm M3 or M4 bolt and 2xnuts (or 1 x nylock) and washers
  • Stay clamp
  • Captive nut and bolt
  • piece of wood to mount the captive nut
  • washers for spacing the mount from the

  1. Cut flat bar to length
  2. Round one end of the bar and drill 3mm/ 4mm hole for bolt in same end 
  3. Attach right-angle brackets to back of reflector with space between for Stay
  4. Attach stay to the brackets with the bolt and nuts
  5. Drill hole in piece of wood to suit captive nut and bolt 
  6. Insert captive nut
  7. Install piece of wood on edge of upright of the tilt mounting, using screws at each end with washers to provide space for the stay to pass through. Ensure the gap between the washers allows for the stay to rotate, but not so large that the bolt that holds the stay cannot clamp the stay.
A similar stay assembly can be used for the yaw stay

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Superbugs and deadly silence

In the news today - again - scary deadly superbugs. A new WHO report reiterates that antibiotic overuse has led to antibiotic resistance, and there is now "no escape" from the risk. .

But even with this documented developing threat, this alert avoids mentioning an inconvenient truth to you. The article shares a few handy hints, implying you (yes you) can use antibiotics responsibly.

But despite all of your personal caution, the global animal industry's very model depends on routine (not prescribed) antibiotics.

I cannot say it better than councillor and veteran consumer advocate Sue Kedgley did in her 2013 article:
"There's little point in a nationwide campaign to reduce the amount of antibiotics we humans use if at the same time we turn a blind eye to the massive use of antibiotics in agriculture."
Clean green New Zealand

If like me, you are lucky enough to live in clean green New Zealand, you might think our system is not as bad as the rest of the world. And you are right - Sir Peter Gluckman says so. If only "not as bad" were good enough. 60 per cent of the total amount of antibiotics used in New Zealand are used on farmed animals, and even if they don't end up in the final product that you eat, they don't disappear.

  • Experts in New Zealand know we use antibiotics in animal agriculture. They talk a lot about "minimisation" - surely a case of locking the barn door after the superbugs have bolted.
  • The full WHO report says it "will also be of interest to the other sectors that are directly involved, including veterinary drug and animal husbandry, agriculture and aquaculture." And was it just in 2011 that we were talking about the last latest WHO report?

These facts need to be part of any antibiotic discussion, anywhere.  And especially in a national news report aimed at you, the consumer, who can vote with your money. You can go vegan. You can boycott any product from animals treated with antibiotics. You can make real change.