Sudoku secret solved

March 25, 2009

Sudoku frustrates me. I can usually do the easy ones but have never made progress with any of the more advanced puzzles.

Not that I’ve ever spent much time on it because I never thought it was worth the effort when solving Sudoku seemed to owe more to luck and probability rather than brain power.

But I was wrong, it’s not jsut luck. The answers can by worked out by applying logic and there is a formula for solving the number puzzles.

James Crook, an emeritus professor in South Carolina, will be publishing his “pen-and-paper algorithm for solving Sudoku puzzles” on the web-site of the American Mathematical Society. While his paper runs to nine pages of detailed argument, the algorithm boils down to five logical steps.

If it takes nine pages to get the logic, I’d rather leave it to luck. However,  if you’re more enamoured with numbers than I am and want to apply the formula, you can read the paper here.

Hat Tip: Larvatus Prodeo


Fushnchups causing indigestion

March 25, 2009

Goodness me, aren’t we sensitive wee souls?

Fush ‘n’ chups , is a tongue in cheek guide to help Aussies bridge the Trans-Tasman cultural divide but some people are swallowing it whole and not not liking the taste.

Come on guys, wake up and smell the feesh n cheeps. We need to faice up to our national foibles with a smoile or they’ll theenk we don’t have a sense of humour.


Falling trade + rising protectionism = bad news for NZ

March 25, 2009

 New Zealand’s economic outlook  has declined and it’s going to get worse  as world trade declines according to credit reporting company Dun & Bradsheet.

New Zealand economic growth was forecast at -1 percent this year, while world economic growth was expected to slow to -1.2 percent, slightly worse than D&B’s forecast in January, the company said in its Economic and Risk Outlook.

Declining world trade, particularly in the Asia-Pacific, and a sharp drop in economic growth for China had significantly heightened the downside risk to New Zealand’s outlook, D&B New Zealand general manager John Scott said.

. . . Increasingly protectionist governments and policies aimed at shoring up domestic banks, which may result in restricted international capital flows, posed big risks to the world economy in coming months, Mr Scott said.

. . . “This requires a unique balancing act from the New Zealand government. They need to stimulate the New Zealand economy but do so in a way that avoids contributing to protectionist trends, both manufacturing and financial, around the world.”

Producing good food for a hungry world is only one half of the equation, as other economies retract their ability to buy from us and the prices they’re willing and able to pay will decrease.

Selling will be even harder if other countries use their deteriorating economies as an excuse to close their borders, threatening the slow progress we’ve been making on freeing up world trade.

Finance Minister Bill English also points to a gloomy picture :

Mr English told MPs that two key economic indicators out this week showed New Zealand faced a “challenge of chronic twin deficits” in the government accounts and balance of payments.

“This week’s statistics will show that the balance of payments deficit for 2008 is in the order of 9 percent of GDP – one of the worst in the OECD – and this week’s GDP statistics will show that output declined in the December quarter to around 2 percent lower than a year earlier and that is the economy will have contracted by about that much,” Mr English said.

 There is a silver lining to that cloud of bad news, though. It means we can’t afford protectionist measures which would claw back the hard won gains which have come from freeing up our economy.


Happily rural

March 25, 2009

There’s no surprises in a UMR survey which found that rural residents are happier with their location than people who live in small towns, suburbs or city centres.

The UMR Research survey of 750 New Zealanders people aged 18 and over found 90 percent of rural residents would most like to live in a rural area.

. . . More people wanted to live in a rural area than did so, at 26 percent, while 22 percent wanted to live in a small town.

Fewer people wanted to live in the suburbs or central city than did so, with 39 percent keen on the suburbs and 11 percent on the central city.

More space, less traffic, fewer people, fresher air . . . why wouldn’t you be happier in the country?


The money or the holiday

March 25, 2009

Some of our staff take all the holidays owing to them and more; we have to insist others take all they’re entitled to.

Those who take extra time off won’t be affected by the proposal to allow workers to choose the fourth week’s holiday or an extra week’s pay; those who aren’t keen to take what they’re eligible for will happily take the money instead of  packing a bag for a  fourth week off.

Four weeks holiday plus 11 statutory days off adds up to six working weeks plus a day off work in a year. Not everyone wants that much so now they’ll have a choice of taking the money instead.

The existing policy gives workers a vacation which many turn into a staycation, because they can’t afford to go away. National’s policy will enable them to choose a paycation instead.

It’s each worker’s choice, and if blogs are anything to go by this is clearly understood by those on the right but not on the left.

Kiwiblog approves the move and notes the fear and ignorance from opponents. 

Keeping Stock  agrees with the Herald editorial.

Oswald Bastable will be happy to take the cash and use it for his annual holiday.

Whaleoil is please the government will let employees buy back holidays.

The Visible Hand in Economics thinks it’s an excellent policy, thinks the Greens have got it wrong and has a more detailed discussion.

Monkeywithtypewriter may not consider himself politically right but he’s right on this when he says four weeks entitlement, pull the other one.

Meanwhile the sky is falling on the left where:

Bomber at Tumeke! doesn’t understand that the four week’s entitlement doesn’t kick in until a year has been worked so has nothing to do with the 90 day trial period.

No Right Turn takes a very jaundiced view  of employers.

And The Standard is doesn’t believe in good faith.


A touch of frost

March 24, 2009

The ute which had been left outside on Sunday night had ice on its windscreen when we got up yesterday and if the fog hadn’t rolled in it would have been cold enough for frost this morning too.

That is surely proof that daylight saving ought to have finished on Sunday as it used to, rather than continuing until the first Sunday in April.

Mutter, mumble.

Still, I suppose I should be grateful that the sheep and cows aren’t harmed by the frost, unlike grapes. The Central Otago harvest is still a couple of weeks away which means frost fighting takes priority over sleep when overnight temperatures drop.


Fonterra payout stays at $5.10

March 24, 2009

Phew.

Farming families and staff will be relieved with Fonterra’s announcement that its forecast payout will stay at $5.10.

While its well below last year’s record $7.90, and down from the opening forecast of $7 , it will be the third highest payout Fonterra has made and is above the longterm average.

The average payout during the 10 years prior to 2008 has been $4.21 per kg of milksolids.

Costs rose on the back, and sometimes ahead, of the increased payout. They never go down as quickly as they go up, but the drop in interest rates and the fall in the price of fuel and fertiliser are having a positive  impact on farm budgets. Widespread autumn rain has also meant better pasture and less need for supplements than last year when drought reduced production.

And while the international price of milk has dropped,  so too has the value of our dollar. Even though it’s gone up a few cents in the past week, it is still compensating in part for the reduced price on world markets.

UPDATE: Roarprawn compares media coverage of the half-year report and rightly points out that farmers won’t be overjoyed with the results.


Payment by honour

March 24, 2009

How much would you pay for a meal if you could choose the amount yourself?

Barecelona restauranteur Eledino Garcia started letting patrons pay whatever they want for the daily special three weeks ago to help customers who had lost their jobs.

And the idea is actually working: Garcia says his daily take is up.

After a midday meal, diners who opted for the ¤10 ($13.56), three-course daily special get something other than a check.

“I give you an envelope, and you pay what you think it was worth, or whatever you can pay,” said Garcia, the 50-year-old owner of the small restaurant called Mireya.

. . .  Garcia says his trust in the public is paying off. Although he says he does not keep track of how much each person pays, no one seems to be taking advantage of him.

“People are better than we think,” Garcia said.

It was a gamble which has paid off and I’m delighted the trust Garcia showed in his patrons hasn’t been abused because, like him, I believe most people are good.

I have a vague memory that someone tried ths system in New Zealand and that people often paid more than they would have been charged in that restaurant too.


How will we notice the difference?

March 24, 2009

 

TVNZ could be reduced to idiot box by scrapping charter

Scrapping TVNZ’s charter spells doom for public broadcasting and will relegate the network to idiot box status, critics of the Government’s decision say.

Passing over the irony that this comes from TV3, how will that differ from what we get now?


In sickness . . .

March 24, 2009

The traditional marriage vows are also applicable to parenting.

When you have children you have them to love and to cherish, in sickness and in health.

That doesn’t mean that it’s easy when a child is ill or has a disability, but it does help explain why most parents sacrifice so much for and give so much to their children both because of and in spite of their problems.

When we were told our son had a degenerative brain disorder, that he was unlikely to live long and if he did he’d be profoundly disabled, I didn’t know which would be worse.

He died soon after but two years later his brother was born with the same condition and lived until just after his fifth birthday which gave me the answer – both disability and death are worse than the happy, healthy children we all hope for. But you can’t give your child back nor do you stop loving him because his brain doesn’t work properly.

Caring for a child with multi handicaps isn’t easy, but when Dan was alive I often wondered if it was less difficult with someone like him who was totally dependent than it might be with a child whose disabilities weren’t quite as severe but still left them well behind “normal” development.

Dan could do nothing for himself, didn’t appear to see or hear and his only communication was crying so there was no feedback or affection from him but at least he couldn’t hurt himself or other people or misbehave.

Parents of children with severe autism have the challenge of dealing with people who are physically able but socially and often intellectually disabled and as Macdoctor explains in response to the story of the 18 year old autistic girl who was jailed  there is a large hole in the system  which means people with these sorts of conditions and their families don’t get the support they need.

I fully support the theory of deinstitutionalisation of people with intellectual disabilities and mental illnesses but the practice has been flawed because of a lack of training for care givers, lack of support for the people and their families and as always, a lack of funding.

But there are a couple of  glimmers of hope, Innovative Learning of Dunedin is:

. . . joining forces with two international partners in a $3 million deal to help fight the spreading “epidemic” of autism.

Innovative Learning, headed by chief executive and psychologist Dr Mike Reid, of Dunedin, will launch two new certificate programmes later this year.

The certificates are the result of a partnership between his company and Antioch University Santa Barbara, a private institution based in the United States, and will also be distributed in the United Kingdom by Ludlow Street Healthcare.

The programmes aimed to improve the care given to those diagnosed with a range of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) by upskilling those who came into contact with them – from teachers and carers to GPs and other health professionals, Dr Reid said.

And yesterday, John Key told Breakfast he would look into the matter.

Now isn’t the time to be expanding budgets but ensuring people with mental illnesses and intellectuall disabilities have the care and support they need must be a priority.


A man is no financial plan

March 24, 2009

We aren’t too far removed from the times when a woman was dependent on her father, husband or other male relatives. We have come a long way and now have legal equality but many women are still less than equal financially.

That there’s neither security nor independence in that is recognised by Property Women Australia.

Bearing in mind their strict mantra – a man is no financial plan – the sisterhood has come to New Zealand looking for bargains to add to their property portfolios.

. . .  This unique support group is all about women taking control of their own finances.

And they are much more likely to live happily ever after by doing that than by kissing toads or waiting for a prince.


Reputation under threat by scaremongering

March 23, 2009

Last week New Zealand’s reputation was threatened by proposals for a harder line in sentencing and no parole.

This week it’s under threat by the possible resumption  of live sheep exports.

We are a tiny country with a fraction of the population which would hardly register as a city in many other places. Contrary to the view of the scaremongers, most people don’t spend their lives examining our actions and many probably don’t even know where we are.

That doesn’t mean we should be unconcerned about what other people in other places think of us.Our economic and social well being depend on exports. Markets are fickle and easily swayed by emotion so we must guard against campaigns, overt or covert, which undermine our produce.

But rather than not doing something because of ill-founded fears about our reputation we need to ensure that what we do is done well, and in the case of live exports, with proper safeguards to ensure the humane treatment of the sheep.


Woolhandler wins sports award

March 23, 2009

The Wanganui sportsperson of the year is woolhandler, Sheree Alabaster.

The award on Saturday night suprised many, not least the 34-year-old school principal from Taihape who triumphed over popular contenders such as Heartland rugby championships 2008 player of the year and Wanganui wing Cameron Crowley and Olympic Games cyclist Catherine Cheatley. . .

She said it was exciting for wool-handling competitions to be recognised as sport by the sporting fraternity, after the pioneering efforts of such people as the late Godfrey Bowen, who almost 20 years ago was named a foundation inductee of the national Sports Hall of Fame.

Falling sheep numbers have reduced the number of shearers and woolhandlers but not the quality of their performance and it’s good to have their skills acknowledged like this.


At last a government that listens

March 23, 2009

The guilt by association clause in the Copyright Ammendment Act was likened to the Electoral Finance Act.

But there is one important difference. The previous government which enacted the EFA didn’t listen to its critics.

The new government has listened and a press release from Commerce Minister Simon Power says that it will ammend the controversial section 92A.


In his own words on his own blog

March 23, 2009

Fairfacts Media has been blogging at No Minister and Barnsley Bill.

Now he’s become a lone-blogger at The Fairfacts Media Show.

Hat Tip: Barnsley Bill


Spamming myself?

March 23, 2009

A couple of weeks ago a comment was left purporting to be from a regular commentator but which was in fact spam.

Today I found a comment supposedly from me which was also spam.

For the record – I don’t require drugs, software or assistance with my sex life nor do I want to advertise any goods or services associated with these.

Sigh.


Nationality not important in land ownership

March 23, 2009

The announcement that the government is to simplify foreign investment rules  has attracted the usual hysterical responses.

Colin Espiner started it:

Slices of the South Island high country and assets such as ports and airports may again be for sale to the highest overseas bidder under changes to investment rules being considered by the Government.

That should read . . . sold to the highest bidder who may be from overseas because the vendor is unlikely to sell to a foreigner if a New Zealander offers a better deal.

Finlay McDonald Macdonald * continued the emotive slant with a piece headlined Bending over backwards for foreign coin.

The critics always see a freeing up of investment rules from the point of view of another buyer who may not be able to pay as much, rather than the seller who will receive more which could then be invested in something else, here or overseas, both of which will have benefits for New Zealand.

Critics also don’t appear to see that if we stop foreign investment here it is hypocritical to reap the rewards from New Zealand investment overseas.

But the worst of the criticism is nothing more than xenophobia based on ignorance.

It’s not who owns land or other assets which matters, it’s what they are permitted to do – or not  do – and that is governed by laws and regulations, including district and regional plans, which apply to everyone.

Those who oppose foreign investment ignore the benefits it brings to New Zealand and New Zealanders.

One of the farms we visited last week is owned by immigrants who brought a lot of money with them when they came. They poured it into their property and have worked hard to increase its productivity and improve it not just economically but environmentally. They employ other New Zealanders, send their chidlren to local schools, are active in the community and have strengthened the economic and social fabric of the district.

They are by no means the exception and if the rules are simplified to allow more people like them to invest here the critics will be proved wrong.

* Thanks to David Cohen  for corrrecting my spelling.


Five days, nine farms . . .

March 23, 2009

We’ve just completed a farm tour with a group we were invited to join four years ago.

Each autumn we have a study tour which visits members’ farms, alternating between the North & South Islands. We also have a city-based seminar every second winter and conference calls with a guest speaker every couple of months.

Farming can be a lonely and isolated business so sharing experiences with and learning from others in this way has immense value.

Chatham House rules apply which promotes a high level of openess in discussions and very strong friendships develop amongst us all.

This trip we visited nine farms which included a lamb finishing unit, intensive dairy and crop farms and a high country run. We also visited an agribusiness and had two sets of guest speakers.

They not only opened their gates to us, they opened their businesses too.

They were very different operations but all had several things in common – the people who owned them work hard, are very good at what they do  and are passionate about doing it.

Discussions often got on to the recession and there was concern about what impact it might have, but also confidence about the part agriculture will play in the recovery.

The week wasn’t all work, we also had plenty of good food, wine, lots of laughter and finished here with an asado:

pmg-09-012


He would say that wouldn’t he

March 22, 2009

Andrew Little denied any conflict of interest between his roles as Labour Party president and General Secretary of the EPMU when he was interviewed on Q & A  this morning.

Well he would wouldn’t he?

If I was a member of Labour Party I’d probably be quite happy to have the voluntary wing led by someone who’d bring the money and mebership of a large union with him.

But if I was in the EPMU I would have concerns about how much of his time Little was devoting to his union duties and that there might be times that the best interests of the union might be different from those of the party.

Little was interviewed by Paul Holmes. The other feature interview on Q&A  was Guyon Espiner with John Key.

I hadn’t realise that the programme was on this morning so have jsut watched the interviews on line, but Kiwiblog,  thought it was pretty good overall while the Home Office  misses Agenda and Frogblog said it was visually and aurally obnoxious.


Water water everywhere . . .

March 22, 2009

In honour of World Water Day I offer this for you to ponder on.

It was written by Ken Gibson who farmed in the Enfield District in North Otago and published his memories in a book, Days Gone By.

We made holes with post hole diggers. We dug wells. We made dams. We carted water from what wells we had on the farm. The cows stood and drank the water as fast as we could lift it to the surface.

We were not alone. With one or two exceptions, the farms between the Waiareka Creek and the Kakanui river were without good supplies of water. It was virtually a risk to stok the farm up because when the dry and heat came on we couldn’t give the animals a drink.

We sledged, we bucketed, we drayed, we truckes, we pumped water to try and get ahead of it. There was never enough until 1957 came, but that is another story.

The other story was the development of rural water schemes. The first in New Zealand was built in 1956 by farmers in the Windsor District, among whom was my father in law. The Enfield scheme was opened the following year and it was greeted as eagerly by farmers of that era as irrigation is today.

Before the advent of rural water schemes, it wasn’t only the land and stock which were short of water, houses were reliant on rain too and with an average of 20 inches  a year that was a scarce commodity.

Even when the rural water schemes were introduced there wasn’t a lot to spare for houses and gardens because stock water was the priority.

One unexpected bonus of irrigation has been enough water for gardens. My mother in law established her plantings by carrying buckets of water to plants. My farmer rigged up a couple of k-lines  for our garden so it’s mostly watered with the turn of a tap.


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