1 October 2005

NZ final election result

NZ Electoral Commission

  • Labour Party 41.10%, 31 electorate MPs, 19 list MPs, total MPs 50 (+1 since original count)
  • National Party 39.10%, 31 electorate MPs, 17 list MPs, 48 total MPs (-1 since original count)
  • New Zealand First Party 5.72%, 0 electorate MPs, 7 list MPs, total MPs 7
  • Green Party 5.30%, 0 electorate MPs, 6 list MPs, total MPs 6
  • Mâori Party 2.12%, 4 electorate MPs, 0 list MPs, total MPs 4
  • United Future New Zealand 2.67%, 1 electorate MPs, 2 list MPs, total MPs 3
  • ACT New Zealand 1.51%, 1 electorate MPs, 1 list MPs, total MPs 2
  • Jim Anderton's Progressive 1.16%, 1 electorate MPs, 0 list MPs, total MPs 1

Despite claims that the special and overseas vote favour the Nationals, the only change since the original count is to transfer one list seat from National to Labour and to reduce the house frm 122 to 121. Both results favour Labour.

Don Brash, the National opposition leader, has now conceded the election and Helen Clark is finalising negotiations to form the next government, putting her on course to become New Zealand's first Labour prime minister to serve a third term.

29 September 2005

somebody tell the president!

Scientists perfect sandcastle recipe
A lesson learned by centuries of beachcombers has been distilled to a physicist's formula: to make the perfect sandcastle, use eight parts sand to one part water.

The physicists' study, released before publication in the journal Nature Physics, is entitled, rather grandly, 'Maximum angle of stability of a wet granular pile'.

While it deals with sandcastles, it could also help determine the stability of retaining walls and the material they hold back, one of its authors said.

This study and those that follow on this subject might have implications for those preparing for or recovering from a watery disaster like a hurricane, physicist Arshad Kudrolli said.

'Our study is the first step, in some sense, in trying to understand what's the most stable angle that one can build, say, a retaining wall,' he said. 'And if it fails, where would the material end up? How much part of the land will give way?'

Inspired by childhood memories of the seaside, the study's authors worked on a simple model of what makes for the most stable construction involving liquid and particles.

In the case of a sandcastle, builders need to use roughly one-eighth the water to the amount of sand, though Mr Kudrolli said there is a range of possibilities that would work.

Quicksand myth exposed
Quicksand is not the bottomless pit portrayed in Hollywood films that sucks in unsuspecting victims and swallows them whole. It is true the more people struggle, the deeper they sink into the soupy mixture.But its buoyancy makes it impossible to be completely submerged, scientists report today in the journal Nature. 'Everybody thinks, thanks to Hollywood, that you can drown in quicksand. Basically if you do a simple buoyancy calculation, the Archimedes force, it is immediately evident that you can't drown completely,' says Professor Daniel Bonn, a physicist at the University of Amsterdam.Quicksand consists of salt, water, sand and clay. It is the water content that makes quicksand, which is found near estuaries, beaches and rivers, so dangerous.

This important research has significant rhetorical, domestic and foreign policy implications. George Bush, despite charges that he's all hat and no cattle, loves Western metaphors, like getting Osama bin Laden dead or alive (give or take a delay longer than separates Pearl Harbour and VJ Day). He also loves saving money on flood protection. Now if you can't drown in a quagmire... And if you can build a levee bank that's 8 parts sand...

one ape to rule them

Peter Jackson is obsessed with King Kong. He's also obsessed with making sure we get to know all about the making of his ape movie. Do we have to wait for the documentary on the special features DVD? Nope, just sign up to his RSS feed at Kong Is King.

27 September 2005

Katie Kouric just doesn't cut it

The Australian Electoral Commission has just posted its report on the 2004 general election. The Parliament's joinst standing committee on electoral matters is conducting its own review, as it does after every election.

Behind the Scenes - Election Night
National Tally Room Preparations
The NTR for the 2004 federal election was located at Exhibition Park in Canberra. It took about two weeks to build, three days to dismantle and many months of detailed planning to organise.

Transforming the empty hall into the central point on election night was a massive logistical exercise. The AEC had access to the building from 27 September when the work began on:

  • laying the temporary floor
  • building the 35 metre x 7 metre tally board
  • allocating space to the media, parties and television networks
  • organising the electricity supply, air conditioning, telecommunication lines and computer cabling.

Elaborate security arrangements were in place during the building of the tally room and on election night. To ensure the smooth running of the NTR the AEC also conducted a rehearsal on the Thursday before election day to test the computer system and to provide training for the casual staff employed on the National Tally Board and in divisional offices throughout Australia.

The NTR cost approximately $650 000 to organise. This included the hire of venue, communication and computing facilities, equipment hire, casual staff wages and security. The television networks met the costs of constructing their own sets.

National Tally Room Logistics
The NTR included:

  • 700 members of the media
  • four major and two minor purpose-built television studios
  • 100 political party workers and Members of Parliament
  • 160 international and other official guests
  • 150 AEC and other NTR workers
  • 2 400 members of the public (a maximum of about 300 at any one time).

On the technical side there were:

  • 84 terminals, four printers and 7 separate data feeds
  • six kilometres of telephone cables
  • 8.5 kilometres of computer cabling
  • two mobile telephone repeater stations
  • in excess of 300 mobile and 150 static telephones
  • up to 650 amps of electrical load (enough to power a small town).

The US does not have a more perfect electoral system, despite their more perfect union. Having a public tally where nation-wide results get collated and posted would make a big difference. For that matter, having a single election management body that (subject to judicial review) administers elections transparently, impartially, and professionally would be a good thing too.

Arthur C Clarke on the space elevator

The Times Online guest contributors Opinion
Today's communications satellites demonstrate how an object can remain poised over a fixed spot on the Equator by matching its speed to the turning Earth, 22,300 miles (35,780 km) below. Now imagine a cable linking the satellite to the ground. Payloads could be hoisted up it by purely mechanical means, reaching orbit without any use of rocket power. The cost of launching payloads into orbit could be reduced to a tiny fraction of today's costs.

The space elevator was the central theme in my 1978 science-fiction novel The Fountains of Paradise (soon to be a Hollywood movie). When I wrote it, I considered it little more than a fascinating thought experiment. At that time, the only material from which it could be built – diamond – was not readily available in sufficient megaton quantities. This situation has now changed, with the discovery of the third form of carbon, C60, and its relatives, the Buckminsterfullerenes. If these can be mass-produced, building a space elevator would be a completely viable engineering proposition.

What makes the space elevator such an attractive idea is its cost-effectiveness. A ticket to orbit now costs tens of millions of dollars (as the millionaire space tourists have paid). But the actual energy required, if you purchased it from your friendly local utility, would add only about a hundred dollars to your electricity bill. And a round trip would cost only about one tenth of that, as most of the energy could be recovered on the way back.

Once built, the space elevator could be used to lift payloads, passengers, prefabricated components of spacecraft, as well as rocket fuel up to Earth orbit. In this way, more than 90 per cent of the energy needed for exploration of the solar system could be provided by Earth-based energy sources.
Looking even farther ahead, one could see the virtual elimination of the rocket except for minor orbit adjustments. By extending the elevator, it would act as a giant sling, and payloads could be shot off to anywhere in the solar system by releasing them at the correct moment. Of course, rockets would still be responsible for the journey back to Earth – at least until elevator/slings were constructed on the other planets. If this ever happens, the most expensive component of travel around the solar system would be for life support – and inflight movies.

As its most enthusiastic promoter, I am often asked when I think the first space elevator might be built. My answer has always been: about 50 years after everyone has stopped laughing. Maybe I should now revise it to 25 years.

Clarke (who predicted the communications satellite many years before the first one was launched) also speaks about the 1911-12 Antarctic expedition and the more than 40 years it took to return there and stay. I could think of much better things to do wth the NASA budget than another Apollo Program and a human-crewed Mars expedition. Building a space elevator is one of them.

why the PR-is-evil snowclone lives on

Via Make My Vote Count

MMP: saner and safer, but don't you miss the blood?
Yes, the spectacle of the two major parties slugging it out brought to mind the old system. And yet, curiously enough, the result looks like precisely the kind of outcome MMP encourages a shifting balance of power around the notional centre, where all must take into account the position of the other, not dismiss them as irrelevant. To paraphrase another commentator, this is the opposite of Geoffrey Palmer's famous 'unbridled power'.

If First Past the Post lingers anywhere it is in the mindsets of certain journalists and politicians. Elections are still reported as though they are rugby tests, and there is an almost tangible desire for a close result to mean instability or potential chaos.

Perhaps this is due partly to the journalistic instinct for avoiding boredom. Where Helen Clark plainly revels in the Scandinavian torpor of policy negotiation and strategic alliance building, we hacks would prefer it all to descend into bitching and scratching because it makes better headlines and obviates the need for anything more than superficial analysis.

Attempts now to blame MMP for delivering a supposedly unjust outcome, as Richard Prebble has argued, can perhaps be attributed partly to the Right's lingering distaste for a system that by design precludes absolute minority rule and 'reform' by decree. As Prebble also observed, Brash fought a good First Past the Post campaign. It's just that history has moved on.

The other snowclone well past its meltdown date is the alleged considerate conservatism of Barnaby Joyce. The senator from St George seems to spend an awful lot of time waving his sword at the dragon but somehow always whips it back in the scabbard just before it's time to vote.