Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Tuesday, September 13, 2011
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This diagram was drawn to show how the growth cycle can be maintained and how it can falter. It was based on a talk by Paul Callaghan that I heard on Radio NZ.
Since then, it has occurred to me that a similar flow chart could be made to show how stored energy from the Sun is passed on from person to person with money acting as a courier. In fact I would not be surprised if a mathematical model could be constructed to show how converted and stored solar energy is used when monetary exchanges take place. It also might reveal blockages when energy transfers are slowed down or diverted away prematurely from the rest of the community by unproductive activities.
The role of technology has a crucial part to play in the energy transfer processes. If we neglect to nurture science and its practical applications, then I think we could easily revert to a comparatively impoverished nation. Food for thought?
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This diagram is a bit of a shambles, but I have tried to show my opinion of how English speaking societies have changed in recent times. Feudal/tribal hierarchies have been with us for many thousands of years. Democracy, as we know it today, is a new experiment. It will always be threatened by individuals or minority groups who wish to selfishly return their society back to the unequal situation of the past.
As I see it, a very large Middle Class that supports an equitable distribution of wealth and strong Government infrastructure is an important basis for social stability and wealth creation. When too many merchants, professionals and large asset landowners decide to combine to weaken their government services and bypass the rest of society economically, the social and economic consequences can be bad for all. Unfortunately, New Zealand has experienced this (along with USA the U.K). I think we will have to decide if we wish to let this continue until it gets unbearable for the marginalized or correct our course and restore social and economic equity to re-energize the path to sustainable growth.
I will expand upon this later when I present a graphic way to show how every service we pay for and the goods we buy ultimately affects how we live socially and economically. Every tax and purchase we make activates a relationship with another person or group. If these relationships are mostly within our own community, our community grows stronger socially and economically and enables a reciprocal relationship back to each of us. If too many drop outside this cycle then we will all suffer.
Sunday, September 11, 2011
Thursday, August 4, 2011
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The displays of huge tractors and equipment at Field Days are certainly very impressive, but often it is the more interesting looking smaller sites that get the most attention. A really good example was the "Possum Plucker" being demonstrated outside the Department Of Conservation tent at the Northland Field Days this year. This ingenious contraption can be backpacked into the bush to remove fur from possums caught in bait stations and traps.
Possum fur prices are looking good. Inventions like the possum plucker will definitely come in handy as hundreds of possum plucking hunters head off into the bush to cash in on the high prices being paid by exporters and New Zealand textile manufacturers. In a recent TV1 news item, one plucky trapper was reported to have collected $12,000 worth of fur in seven days. That sort of return is creating a lot of interest and now DOC is being pressured to open up more publicly owned land for trappers.
The resurgence of interest in Possum fur is due to not only to its attractive appearance and insulation qualities. It also combines well with merino wool and so "possino" garments are becoming very popular at the top end of the fashion industry. In the past, possum fur prices suffered from animal rights campaigns, but countries like China have fewer concerns over those issues and this is driving possum skin prices up as well.
The New Zealand Fur Council estimates that around two million possums are being harvested each year commercially and returns from possum based products earns New Zealand approximately one hundred million dollars a year. Textiles New Zealand CEO, Elizabeth Tennet, has been making the claim that if Government and local bodies provided more incentives and encouragement, the industry returns from possum products would quickly double.
The TV1 report also had a DOC spokesman explaining how his department was in a bit of a dilemma. Possums are destroying native vegetation and wildlife and so eradication has been DOC's primary objective. Sadly, that goal has been not possible so far because they do not have the funds, manpower or technology to do it. As a stopgap measure, the controversial 1080 poison is being used to lower possum numbers to less destructive levels.
Hunters are arguing that trapping would do much the same thing for free and yield a financial pay back for the country. Tax payments from trapping, trading and manufacturing would then be available for possum proof sanctuaries that are saving native species threatened with extinction. Needless to say, DOC spokespeople are not very comfortable about his proposal. They argue that National Parks and reserves were not created to become possum farms.
However, because eradication has proven to be "Mission Impossumble", our Government is facing a lot of pressure to open up more land in areas with high unemployment. If hunters get their way, then of course less 1080 would be used and so possums would be safer to eat. You never know, possum pie could well be in our supermarkets soon - and not just a mysterious dish rustled up by Grandma Moses in The Beverly Hillbillies.
Friday, July 15, 2011
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During the last decade, many of the larger South American economies have been growing strongly. Banana Republics and Dictatorships transformed into progressive democracies and their people were rewarded with a rise in their living standard of living.
Fonterra has been cashing in on this change of fortune by investing in dairy processing enterprises there as well as supplying them with milk products from New Zealand. Their latest venture is in buying 850 hectares of farmland in the Brazilian province of Goias and setting up a New Zealand designed dairy farm.
It will supply a local processing company and milk around 3300 cows in two milking sheds. Fonterra obviously thinks that it better to join in with the opposition rather than competing with them head to head. It is very likely that some kiwi dairy farmers will be concerned about this – especially in light of the PPG Wrightson’s problems after investing in Uraguay farms.
This sort of investment is of course not new to Fonterra which these days provides 30 – 40% of the international tradable milk supply with diary products from New Zealand and other countries. Its options in New Zealand for expansion have been limited by Government regulations and the decreasing amount of suitable land for new diary farms. Therefore overseas investment has been seen to be a logical way to grow the company.
In the reported words of their CEO Andrew Ferrier, “This pilot project will allow us to develop and test the right model for our own dairy farming operation. This demand will not be met by milk produced locally.”
Those words will provide little comfort for farmers who see Fonterra as a New Zealand owned farmers co-operative and not an international dairy corporation like Nestle. Strangely enough, Fonterra finds it acceptable to buy farms in Brazil and yet wishes to keep New Zealand farms locally owned. As Fonterra chairman Sir Henry Van Der Heyden has been reported to say, “I want to see as many farms as possible stay in local hands (in NZ).”
If this is so. then setting up dairy farms in Brazil and sharing New Zealand’s technology and capital seems to be a strange way to go about it. New Zealand ownership of farms at home is hard to argue for if you are buying up farms in other countries. Consequently, our Government has allowed an increasing number of New Zealand farms to fall into foreign hands and these have the potential to buy up Fonterra from the inside.
In New Zealand, dairy farmers are also having to change their currently “dirty dairying” behaviour and adopt a “clean streams” approach to give some credibility to our very good environmental reputation. It requires a considerable amount of investment and it could be argued that this should be given a greater priority than expansion overseas.
In Brazil, the Goias district apparently faces similar environmental problems to New Zealand. It will be interesting to see if Fonterra’s trial farms are environmentally friendly or merely shifting “dirty dairying” offshore.
Monday, July 11, 2011
Wednesday, June 22, 2011
Saturday, June 11, 2011
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Overseas visitors to New Zealand often tell me that they are amazed to see animals and vegetation from their own country growing so much better here. This gives us an economic advantage when they are useful, but on the other side of the coin is the huge cost controlling weeds and pests.
Alas, many of us have made it worse by allowing weeds to escape from our gardens. These invaders are giving farmers and the Department of Conservation plenty of financial head aches as they struggle to remove them. In many cases the horse has bolted and keeping weed numbers down is the best we can do.
A recent example is the introduction of beetles from South East Brazil to control Wandering Willie (or as some know it, Wandering Jew or Tradescantia). This plant has for a long time been a widespread nuisance in the garden and many dogs get an allergic reaction by touching it.
Now it is becoming a really dangerous threat to native bush by smothering the forest floor and preventing the growth of regenerating native vegetation. As part a jointly funded project, Landcare and the Auckland Council have now released the first beetles at Mount Smart Domain on the 25th of March this year. It is hoped these beetles will chomp their way into infestations of Wandering Willie and reduce its rampant growth. Other species of beetle are also being prepared for release in the near future to knock the weed back even further.
Over 30,000 new varieties of plants have been brought into New Zealand and more arrive every year. Most of these are beneficial or at least non intrusive. However, our wonderfully mild climate and relatively few insect pests seem to be an open invitation for some plants to conquer the landscape.
The effect of global warming is another factor and Christine Shepherd, from Auckland University, is completing her PhD. by investigating how this is affecting the spread of several species - such as Bungalow Palms and guavas. Bungalow and Phoenix palms are easily out competing their native cousins the Nikau Palms and endangering its presence in our bush.
These new palms grow much faster and produce a lot more seeds than Nikaus. At present, they are not very noticeable but in 30 years time they could be a common sight in our bush. They take around 7 years to mature and birds disperse them over wide areas. Both palms are admired for their beauty but some tough decisions might have to be made if we want our bush to be free of the dangerous spines of the Phoenix Palm and Nikau endangering Bungalow palm.
Insects that eat the weed palms and not Nikaus could be hard to find because they are all closely related. The most helpful things we can all do would be to stop planting exotic palms and remove the ones already here – or at least remove all the flowers on valued palms each year.
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It looks as tho' the Whangarei District Council is going to fund a very controversial Hundertwasser styled gallery at the Town Basin area costing around 12 to 13 million dollars. As much as I like Hundertwassers work, this gallery is a fake one based on a sketch which showed very few details. The new gallery will not earn its keep I suspect and reminds me very much of the Cargo Cult in the Pacific, where Islanders built airports with wooden planes on them to attract the magic aircraft they had seen land during WW2.
Wednesday, June 8, 2011
I wrote this song after seeing the film No Direction Home which changed my mind about Bob Dylan's music and what he means to us. I recorded it to mark Bob Dylan's 70th birthday using my iMac and a webcam mic. I played a mandola and harmonica as I sang - the drawing is mine too from another cartoon.
Monday, April 25, 2011
Thursday, April 21, 2011
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
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When you drive through Northland, there appears to be quite a few trees on farms. Shelterbelts often line the roads and here and there are patches of pine plantations and pockets of native bush. However, when you fly over the district (or use Google Earth) it is very obvious that there are in fact very few trees amongst the thousands of hectares of bare pasture.
In parts of France, which have a very similar climate to Northland, the landscape patterns are quite different. There appears to be many more trees in the landscape. I suspect that this is due to hundreds of years of peasant farming which broke the land titles up into small pieces and kept a lot of trees for practical reasons (food, timber and shelter).
When I was at school we were taught that New Zealand farming was much more efficient than French farms. We were told that farmer’s incomes here were higher too due to them owning larger farms, greater use of technology and modern processing methods.
At the time that was probably right. But when France helped form the EEC, their farm gate prices rose and production on these so called backward farms rapidly increased. Eventually, the EEC had to pay French farmers to produce less to better match production with consumption.
This was a bit of a mystery to me because I really believed what I was taught. I now know that some peasant farming methods actually make a lot of sense when you take a longer historical view. Food markets and politics are always changing and it obviously pays to be fairly self sufficient and not have all your eggs in one basket.
Perhaps there is a timely message here for Northland farmers who try to maximize production from one or two types of animals such as cattle and sheep. Like many areas in rural France, Northland is close to a large prosperous urban area. This offers plenty of opportunities for a diverse range of small specialized farms and mixed land use on larger farms.
Trees can fill that niche and lower the carbon footprint of livestock grazing as well. We are blessed with a climate that can successfully grow trees from both temperate and sub-tropical regions. In the farmers markets in Northland, there is of course a demand for familiar fruit such as plums and apples etc. The better prices though are gained from the more exotic fruits that grow well here such as bananas, figs, cherimoyas, dates and sapotes.
Timber for housing, furniture and shipbuilding are also needed (including natives). I was impressed with the way a farmer in Waipu persuaded his children to plant quite a few timber trees on an unproductive part of the farm. These trees now stabilize the land and provide valuable shelter. His kids put in the hard graft and their efforts are now secured in writing to enable each child to pay off student loans and capital for other ventures.
Friday, March 18, 2011
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Native pigeons in New Zealand might be very beautiful, but they are not the smartest of birds. Unfortunately, their city slicker cousins are not much brighter. They got into the news recently when it was discovered that 10,000 of them had joined the Chinese Army.
A Chinese military spokesman has been reported to say that messenger pigeons are being used as a backup if electronic communications break down. This explanation sounds plausible enough, however are there possibly other uses for these pigeons that we do not know about?
For quite some time now, there has been much speculation about the development of a Chinese Stealth Bomber. It has been commonly thought that it will resemble the American versions that look like giant Manta Rays. Stealth Bombers are designed to sneak into enemy territory (by evading radar detection) and then make a surprise attack.
There have been pictures of various prototypes of Chinese Stealth Bombers appearing in the media, but so far there has been no reliable confirmations of one flying. What we do know for sure is that the Chinese Army has 10,000 pigeons being trained.
The Chinese Army also has access to the latest advances in Nano Technology. It is now feasible to make very tiny machines to interact with (and potentially control), any part of the body. It is quite possible therefore, that giant aircraft are only red herrings and the real Stealth Bombers are in fact electronically controlled pigeons.
If indeed Chinese scientists are using pigeons in this way, then they have certainly chosen the right bird for the job. Pigeons can be trained to reliably return home from over 700 kilometers away and twice that distance has been shown to be possible. It is thought that pigeons use the Earth’s magnetic fields to guide them over long distance and then with their excellent eyesight, they use landmarks for the last 80 kilometers.
Visiting a city park might never be the same again. Some of the innocent looking pigeons, that jostle to get your food scraps, might in fact be stealth bombers in disguise. All it would take would be a button to be pushed in Beijing and it will be all on. Forget about conventional warfare, pigeons would be able to disrupt a nation’s military capacity behind the lines in devastating ways.
How on earth could you stop explosive pigeons terrifying the civilian population and then attempt to shoot down thousands of controlled pigeons that carry nano nuclear bombs?
You might of course prefer to accept Chinese assurances that their weapons and huge army, are kept purely for defensive purposes. It is true, that apart from invading Tibet, the Chinese Army has been content to keep the Chinese Government in power at home.
Even so, the Chinese Government would be wise to keep sharp eye on the personal in the pigeon brigade. It might very well attract the wrong sort of people who would like to carry out a “Cooo d’état” and threaten World peace.
Friday, March 4, 2011
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After years of speculation and hearings, it seems that the Kaipara Harbour will soon be the site of New Zealand’s first tidal power station. I am sure a lot of people have mixed feelings about this. We all need electric power to run our houses and businesses, but we also need a healthy environment to maintain an enjoyable and sustainable way of life.
Most of us probably take reliable supplies of electricity for granted and it would be very hard to live without it. As we all know, every day there appears to be a new “must have” appliance that is bound to increase our power bills.
Northland’s power supply comes from far away in other regions. This will change radically if Crest Energy fulfils its expectations to use its tidal turbines on the Kaipara Harbour. They expect to produce enough power to supply all current electrical demand from Albany to Cape Reinga.
Ruawai and Dargaville will be the closest towns to the turbines and this must surely offer them unique opportunities to access cheaper power. This is because a lot of power is lost transmitting it away from the generators and so power hungry businesses are bound to be waiting to invest there if the price is right.
In my opinion, one of those enterprises would be fish farming. A while back, I heard an interesting BBC documentary about salmon farming in the fiords of Chile and I could see how easy it would be for the Kaipara Harbour to attract that sort of investment. Various people were interviewed and the least happy were the native Indian people whose ancestors have been living there for thousands of years.
They were slowly being forced to move out because of the pollution that has upset the purity of the water. As a consequence, the wild fish stocks and shellfish beds declined and can no longer support the local tribes with food. Another problem was the use of thousands of electric lights to boost the growth of salmon. These further upset the natural balance, along with the diesel generator fumes and spillage from servicing craft.
The Kaipara Harbour too has been under a lot of environmental pressure ever since man first arrived here. What we see today is very different from pre-human times. Even though there are some positive changes in land use that are slowing the decline of water quality, there is still a long way to go. Perhaps the proposed Crest Energy Kaipara Trust Fund could put some money in that direction now that their project has the green light.
The Crest Energy website assures us that their turbines will not have a negative affect on fish in the Kaipara Harbour. However, I imagine the photo on the homepage will do little to calm their opponents. Some might see it as a large group of birds waiting on the shoreline for the tidal turbines to provide their daily feed of “fish in chips”.
Thursday, February 24, 2011
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Living “out in the Wopwops” once meant putting up with rough roads, variable electric supply, party lines and weak radio/TV receptions. Today, it is quite a different story. Country people can increasingly live lifestyles not much different from their urban counterparts. Many feel they have an equal right the same services and amenities and world class broadband is often high up on their wish lists.
For quite some time now, economically advanced countries have been investing heavily in broadband. Unfortunately, New Zealand has been lagging behind as it waited for private investment from the two main providers, Telecom and Vodafone. These companies appeared to respond by keeping their prices well above the world average while they phased out their slower copper connections and older wireless transmission equipment.
It was taking far too long and so the National Government has decided to spend $1500 million to catch up with countries like Australia. Sadly, rural New Zealand will only get around $300 million heading its way and it will be given to the old duopoly – Telecom and Vodafone. Telecom will continue putting in fibre optic cable (to schools and then elsewhere) and Vodafone will extend its wireless coverage.
This has disappointed many rural commentators and farming leaders like Don Nicholson, as it appears to be nowhere near what is needed and rewards mainly Telecom and Vodafone. However Communications Minister, Steven Joyce, has insisted that the improvements will now be openly accessible to other providers and this will mean Telecom will have to change how it runs its business.
So what improvements can rural people in Northland expect? At present, in my rural area, broadband via copper wires delivers an average of 3 Megabytes per second (Mps) on a really good day and a lot less upload speed. As optic fibre connection to exchanges and houses spreads, that speed could gradually rise to a potential 100Mps – which is what most the urban areas will get within 6 to10 years. In contrast, I expect broadband rates in my area of the Kaipara to lift from 3Mps to about 5Mps download and a greater improvement in present upload speeds with a few years.
After the work is done, will we be up there in the World broadband speed stakes? According to my research, not really. Many Asian countries are already laying out 1000 Mps connections and that sort of leaves us in their dust.
Quite clearly, a lot more investment needs to be done and farmers in some areas are not waiting for Telecom and they are laying down cable of their own. I expect this will happen in Northland too as they plug into providers like the Opto Network who use the railway lines as an optic fibre route.
For most rural Northlanders though, I expect the urban/rural divide to get wider. Perhaps here is an opportunity for the Northland Regional Council to step in and oversee a greater investment in Northland’s communication infrastructure. If nothing is done, it could be business as usual as we pay more for less
Monday, February 21, 2011
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It has often been said that ‘time waits for no man’. There is not much we can do about that, but a lot of us Baby Boomers seem to be very keen to slow down the way time affects the way we look.
Every night on TV, heaps of adverts tell us which cream will banish wrinkles, the best machines to eliminate flab and even tablets that promise to rejuvenate our love life. Hair dying is big business too, although very few people I know like to advertise that they are keeping the grey hairs at bay this way.
I was therefore very surprised to hear Phil Goff admitting that he had recently started changing the colour of his hair. Was this another Goff gaff, or was he hoping that being candid would stop his receding level of support in the popularity polls?
I think most of us want our politicians to be honest and Phil certainly appears making a real effort in this direction. However, I have noticed that quite often his body language does not appear to match his words. He was after all an enthusiastic supporter of the Rogernomics experiment and I have yet to be convinced that he no longer believes in those ideas.
Phil Goff is of course not alone with this sort of problem. I wish there was a better way for us to easily identify the direction our political leaders are heading and it has occurred to me that hair dying might provide a solution.
Perhaps it is time for scientists in the fabric dying industry to do some lateral thinking and take their amazing technology to the hairdressers. I know there are fabrics and paint available that responds to a person’s body heat. Just imagine how useful it would be if they could do something similar with politician’s hair and make it respond to their thoughts.
We could insist that all politicians entering Parliament have a “Poli-Perm” to give us another visible way to check which political camp they really feel at home in. Instead of, “Ayes to the right, Nays to the left”, we could have a MMP colour wheel directing members to numerous voting stations that indicate their level of commitment to each piece of legislation (and the Party that promotes it).
Obviously, there are some politicians like Rodney Hide who have no hair at all and they could have suitable wigs made to cope with that. In fact a wig on Rodney’s head would be very appropriate. In Britain The Tories and Wigs ran the country for a very long time and I and sure he would like to do the same here.
The Maori party could however be another kete of fish. All of them might believe the prophecy, made by a Kaumatua at Waitangi, that Wellington will soon be devastated by earthquakes and a tsunami. In that case they will all be wearing hard hats and fluorescent search and rescue jackets.
Wednesday, February 2, 2011
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“No freeman shall ever be debarred the use of arms”. This statement, by Thomas Jefferson, is still holds true in most parts of the U.S.A. Every citizen there has the right to own a firearm and that right is protected by their constitution (with the much debated, “Second Amendment”). The recent gunning down of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson and the hundreds of daily shootings across the country, makes me wonder if their version of civil peace might be more accurately described as an armed truce.
I once thought that Americans lived lives very similar to our own. After all, most of our modern cultural influences come from there. I now know this is sadly not the case after talking to a neighbour’s son who described to me his experiences while working in the States as part of his O.E.
He had a job as a contract builder in Florida knocking up kitset houses with some Kiwi mates of his. One summers evening, they decided to buy some paint guns and try them out before driving off to a paint gun game park.
They set up some beer cans as targets in the backyard of their flat and began to compete to see who was the best shot. Very soon they heard sirens and heavily armed police came storming in, demanding through a megaphone that everyone should freeze or get shot. The Kiwis thought this was a bit over the top and tried to explain that all they were up to was harmless fun.
The police were not impressed it seems with this attitude. They told them to shut up, booked them for resisting arrest and man handled them into the paddy wagon. The hapless Kiwis then spent a few days on remand and had some nasty close encounters with some of the real criminals of the area.
Fortunately, they were released without charge. The judge was content to let them off with a sermon on how to behave in America. My neighbour’s son thought that working in the States was not his thing and came home. The rough treatment he received at the hands of the police was such a shock that for months afterwards anyone in uniform gave him the shakes.
So far, New Zealand governments have resisted attempts to arm every police officer here. I regard that as a great achievement - even though some policemen have been grievously injured recently. Sadly, these incidents still happen in countries with heavily armed police because the risks go with the job. It could even be argued that police guns increase the likelihood of violence by raising the tension level.
Unarmed police on the streets tells me that we live in a country that generally believes in persuasion rather than intimidation. Long may it remain so. Let us hope we will not have any politicians like Sarah Palin putting gun sight markings on election posters this year - or pushing the politics of fear to get firearms onto the streets.
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
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A couple of weeks ago I finally got my hands onto an iPad. The salesman demonstrated how it worked and then gave me a shot at playing a motor racing game. I gripped the iPad as though it was a steering wheel and drove onto the racing track.
The experience was so much like the real thing the salesman and a few onlookers laughed as I waved it around, crouching and wincing every time I crashed into another vehicle or a wall. I could also feel myself getting nervous. That beautifully designed iPad was as slippery as my iPod and could be easily dropped (best played on a couch perhaps).
I was very impressed with the picture quality and quick response times on the touch screen. After some practice, my fingers started to do what I wanted as I zoomed in and out, moved stuff around and typed on the keyboard. I can now see why so many commentators are saying that tablets are going to change the way we do things.
iPads were first off the block, but they are no longer alone in the tablet market. Rivals are gearing up to tackle them with products of their own. Although they might not be so sexy, tablets like Samsung’s “Galaxy” have a few nifty extras like two cameras and flash players to access some website video material.
Earlier this month, Las Vegas hosted the annual Consumer Electronic Show (CES) and sure enough the new tablet prototypes got most of the media attention. The ones to watch out for seem to be the Xoom by Motorola and the Blackberry Playbook. Hewlett-Packard is going to reveal its own tablet in February and Google and Microsoft are rumoured to be working on theirs.
The other tablets at CES were very interesting too, but what really caught my eye was a new graphics application for iPads called the Griffin Crayola Colour Studio. This is a very interesting joint project by an IT accessory company (Griffin) and an art materials company (Crayola).
There are plenty of other drawing and painting applications, however this one comes with a new interactive stylus, which mimics real crayons and paint brushes. At this stage it looks very basic and I have hopes that it will develop further to help people like myself who want to draw directly onto the tablet.
I once railed against computers in Primary Schools because I thought they might prevent children from experiencing the joyful discovery of handling real materials. I have since changed my tune. I have heard of children, with what has been described as “learning difficulties”, restore their self confidence by using computers.
The days of teachers behaving like Moses delivering the Ten Commandments from curriculum tablets to overcrowded classrooms, might well be coming to an end. In the near future, every child will probably have their own tablet. Hopefully, their own style of learning will be recognized and they will be able to march to their own drumbeat.