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February 27, 2012

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Ridin' the golf cart railway

Paul Charman gives the thumbs up to the distinctly eccentric vehicles plying the Stratford-Taumarunui tourist railway.

Forgotten World Adventures operations manager Van Watson gives passengers a driving tutorial before they set out sightseeing.

Backyard tinkerers have long fitted railway wheels to an assortment of maverick machines designed to run either on tarmac or on rail.

Back in the 1930s, the general manager of New Zealand Railways had his own "inspection railcar", a car adapted to drive along the rails.

And, in a famous 1987 episode of MacGyver, our hero escapes from trigger-happy Latin American guerrillas by stripping down a jeep to run along jungle railway tracks.

No problem for MacGyver; all he needed was a Swiss army knife, some duct tape and a spare hour.

But Waikato entrepreneur Ian Balme found the job slightly more taxing when he decided to run tourists along the old Stratford to Okahukura Railway Line.

Balme's company, Forgotten World Adventures, began operations this month, using half a dozen "rail carts", actually golf carts, which can be converted into railway vehicles within about a minute.

The machines run daily on a rail line built from 1901 until 1933, then mothballed in 2009.

Several versions of the ride are attracting adventure tourists from far and wide.

The company's primo ride is a leisurely two-day junket over the full 142km of line, broken in the middle with an overnight stay at the Whangamomona Hotel.

Having taken this "Ultimate Tour" at Labour Weekend, I can attest that the converted golf carts run on the historic track with ease, actually crossing 24 tunnels (the longest more than 1km), numerous bridges, viaducts and some very steep saddles.

They're quite comfortable, if fairly chilly at times, having that gentle "clackety-clack" side-to-side sway, reminiscent of more conventional rail transport.

There's excellent visibility, the travel is quiet enough for a good conversation and the clear plastic "sides" can be put up to give limited rain protection.

In rail mode the steering wheel is (obviously) rendered inoperable. However, on the rails, the "driver" retains control over acceleration, slowing and stopping.

The rail carts do about 20km/h, which is perfect for taking in the beguiling scenery or back blocks farms and rugged bushland.

On my trip, the most exciting incident was a near-collision with a wild goat - one of thousands in the East Taranaki hills - which jumped across the tracks of an old railway river bridge at the very second we drove onto it.

Ease of conversion from road to rail use seems to be the key to the success of these vehicles, a transformation reminding me - in principle, anyway - of how those Sealegs amphibious boats operate.

I can tell you that the back tyres sit on the track, providing the traction required in rail mode, but I cannot reveal a lot more than that.

Balme put much money and resources into the venture which has already started to boost local tourism. He is keen to guard his technology as long as possible, having fielded in the past week inquiries from folk keen to run similar ventures along disused tracks in Northland and Australia.

By Paul Charman

Posted on November 02, 2012 at 9:12 PM

Ready or not, unmanned drones may soon be a staple of American life

If you're worried about companies like Facebook and Google violating your privacy, just wait until you have unmanned aerial drones flying around your house.

While this may sound like some far-fetched futuristic scenario, it's actually something that could become a reality by 2015. That's because an aviation bill signed into law by President Obama earlier this year will allow domestic use of "unmanned aircraft systems" by both the government and private citizens and businesses for the first time. In other words, if the Federal Aviation Administration meets its deadline for integrating unmanned drones into national airspace, we could see unmanned aircraft flying around our neighborhoods in just three years' time.

Naturally, this raises some significant privacy and safety concerns, which is why the Brookings Institute this week held a discussion panel to debate the implications that domestic drones will have for private citizens. Although there was certainly disagreement on the panel, all four participants basically believed that unmanned drones were a potentially useful technology for domestic use as long as the government put in the proper restrictions on their use by both the public and private sector.

Just what those restrictions will be, however, is certainly still up for debate. Paul Rosenzweig, a visiting fellow at the Heritage Foundation and the founder of Red Branch Consulting, said that drones had plenty of natural applications for law enforcement, particularly when it comes to surveillance of the US-Mexico border where border patrol agents have difficulty efficiently monitoring thousands of miles of space. However, he also acknowledged that law enforcement agencies needed to be given strict limitations on how they can use drones. For instance, he said that doing surveillance along the border would not give law enforcement the right to deploy surveillance on local Tea Party or American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) chapters that happened to be meeting in the area.

"Without developing an oversight mechanism to prevent misuse we won't ever get to see the beneficial uses of drones," he said.

Catherine Crump, a staff attorney at the ACLU, expressed concerns about law enforcement gaining access to unmanned drones if private citizens weren't given the same type of access. She also said she was alarmed at how many law enforcement officials she's talked with were interested in attaching non-lethal weapons such as tear gas canisters to drones and using them for crowd control.

"I always thought that it was far-fetched but law enforcement agents have expressed serious interest in [weaponised drones] because they can contain crowds without having any officers present," she said. "One of the things I wonder about is will drones become a tool of law enforcement agents but will private citizens be restricted from using them due to safety concerns?"

Crump also said that drones were more problematic from a civil liberties perspective because they were much less costly to operate and maintain than manned aircraft such as helicopters that police currently use for aerial surveillance.

John Villasenor, a nonresident fellow at the Brookings Institute, shared Crump's view that unmanned drones can be particularly problematic for privacy issues since they're so much smaller and harder to detect than traditional aerial craft.

"FPV aircraft can make it easier to spy," he said. "A pilot who's sitting in a car parked 10 blocks away while operating a drone is less likely to get caught... Sensitive government and military facilities could find it harder to detect a small unmanned drone."

But while Villasenor acknowledged that unmanned drones created real risks for privacy and security, he also said they also provide life-saving technologies that are too beneficial to ignore, such as the ability to easily search for stranded survivors that need medical attention in the wake of natural disasters. Villasenor said some of the biggest issues in deploying unmanned drones domestically will be how to safely integrate potentially tens of thousands of new vehicles into American airspace.

"It's a complex problem," he said. How in the world are we going to navigate the safety challenges of having tens of thousands of these unmanned drones being used for assorted reasons? The sheer math of it says that we're going to have some hiccups along the way."

Kenneth Anderson, a nonresident senior fellow at Brookings, also thought that safety was a major concern for the future of unmanned drones and warned that the technology would face an immediate public backlash if drones were involved in high-profile accidents.

"It wouldn't take many safety incidents of a serious kind to shut the whole thing back down," he says.

Background: What the drone invasion looks like:http://www.networkworld.com/slideshow/28277...

First Published in ComputerWorld
Link to original article:http://computerworld.co.nz/news.nsf/technology/ready-or-not-unmanne...

Posted on October 18, 2012 at 9:22 PM

Martian landscape revealed

NASA has released a stunning panoramic image of the Martian landscape which it hailed as the "next best thing to being there".

The image was compiled from 817 images taken between December 21, 2011, and May 8, 2012, while Mars rover Opportunity was stationed on an outcrop informally named Greeley Haven, on a segment of the rim of the ancient Endeavour Crater.

The scene, recorded from a mast-mounted colour camera on top of Opportunity, shows the rover's own solar arrays and deck in the foreground, and fresh track marks from the rover's exploration.

"The view provides rich geologic context for the detailed chemical and mineral work that the team did at Greeley Haven over the rover's fifth Martian winter, as well as a spectacularly detailed view of the largest impact crater that we've driven to yet with either rover over the course of the mission," said Jim Bell of Arizona State University, Tempe, Pancam lead scientist.

The crater spans 22 kilometres in diameter.

North is at the centre of the image, while south is at both ends.

The colours of the image has been altered to emphasise differences between materials in the scene, Nasa explained.

The release of the image comes shortly after Opportunity completed its 3000th Martian day the red planet on July 2.

Opportunity and its twin, Spirit, landed on Mars in January, 2004 for missions originally planned to last for three months.

Nasa's next-generation Mars rover, Curiosity, is on course for landing on Mars next month

Posted on October 18, 2012 at 9:21 PM

Earth Hit by Powerful Solar Flare

A powerful solar flare was unleashed from a massive sunspot Thursday, blocking high-frequency radio communication in the Northern Hemisphere and producing the potential for auroras to rage across the northern United States......



Posted on October 18, 2012 at 9:20 PM

Photo + Story - What is this Martian mystery?

What created this unusual hole in Mars? The hole was discovered by chance on images of the dusty slopes of Mars' Pavonis Mons volcano taken by the HiRISE instrument aboard the robotic Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter currently circling Mars, according to Nasa.

What created this unusual hole in Mars? Scientists are investigating it as a possible spot for life on the Red Planet. Photo / Nasa

The hole appears to be an opening to an underground cavern, partly illuminated on the image right.

Analysis of this and follow-up images revealed the opening to be about 35 meters across, while the interior shadow angle indicates that the underlying cavern is roughly 20 meters deep. Why there is a circular crater surrounding this hole remains a topic of speculation, as is the full extent of the underlying cavern.

Holes such as this are of particular interest because their interior caves are relatively protected from the harsh surface of Mars, making them relatively good candidates to contain Martian life, Nasa reports.

These pits are therefore prime targets for possible future spacecraft, robots, and even human interplanetary explorers.

- nzherald.co.nz

Posted on October 18, 2012 at 9:19 PM

Time Zone Converter – Time Difference Calculator

Time Zone Converter – Time Difference Calculator
Find the time difference between several cities with the Time Difference Calculator. Provides time zone conversions taking into account daylight saving time (DST), local time zone and accepts present, past or future dates.
For current time anywhere in the world, please use The World Clock.

Posted on September 23, 2012 at 10:09 PM

Philip Duncan's Weekly Column

A Weather related Weekly Column written by Philip Duncan – Head Weather Analyst at Weatherwatch.co.nz

Posted on September 23, 2012 at 8:41 AM

International Weather Events

Reports and Discussion on International Weather Events

Posted on September 23, 2012 at 8:40 AM

Ohauiti Weather Station - Longest Wet Period

Longest Wet Period 11 days to 28 June 2012

More local weather records available athttp://www.ohauitiweather.co.nz/weather/record.htm...

Posted on September 16, 2012 at 8:11 AM


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Total Posts: 494
Joined: February 27, 2012

Wednesday's national forecast

Posted by WW Forecast Team on Wed, 28/11/2018 - 03:33

A large low is centred just to the northeast of the North Island today. This low pushes in a southeasterly airflow over most of New Zealand, tending southwest Waikato northwards.

Northland, Auck…

Posted on November 28, 2018 at 8:08 PM


Total Posts: 494
Joined: February 27, 2012

Tuesday's national forecast

Posted by WW Forecast Team on Tue, 27/11/2018 - 04:00

A large broad low rotates onto the North Island today from the Tasman Sea, further unsettled weather likely today for both Islands.

Northland, Auckland, Waikato & Bay Of Plenty
Sunny areas and …

Posted on November 27, 2018 at 3:32 PM


Total Posts: 494
Joined: February 27, 2012

Monday's National Forecast

Posted by WW Forecast Team on Mon, 26/11/2018 - 04:00

A low pressure system fires an easterly quarter airflow over the South Island today meanwhile most of the North Island has northwesterlies. Unsettled weather for the majority to follow.

North Is…

Posted on November 26, 2018 at 11:28 AM