Friday, April 21, 2006

Sideswipe

One way to deal with school holiday pressure

By Ana Samways

A snappy new television ad for NZI (voiced by Oscar Kightley) has a light-hearted grumble over other countries appropriating New Zealand's "stuff". "Shania snapped up the South Island," says the ad and "the Poms took off with Spencer, Marshall and Mehrtens." Indeed. The patriotism is poured on. What the ad doesn't mention, even when shoving an NZ flag into a pav covered in kiwifruit, is that NZI itself is owned by Australian insurance giant IAG. Zero for originality too: The voice-over sounds like the L & P ad where the bloke in the stubbies leaves the keys in his ignition, and it looks like an old 42 Below Vodka viral internet ad.

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While gruesome twosome Shane Cortese and Nerida Lister try to boost TV3's Dancing with the Stars ratings by resurrecting their vertical love affair at the final of So You Think You Can Dance on Sunday, most viewers are anticipating the next series of TV One hit Dancing with the Stars, on May 7. Returning highlights include Jason Gunn's Anthony Dixon crazy eyes, Candy Lane's unintended sexual innuendos and Norm's dance partner Carol-Ann Hickmore as judge. As for the contestants, expect another "yummy mummy" from Shortland Street, a beauty queen, a swimming star, an enduring mainland athlete, a potential mayoral candidate and - the worst kept secret of the year - a political party leader and MP for Epsom.

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Cottonelle Kids toilet paper is designed to help kids use the "right amount" of toilet paper each time. According to the directions, the "paw prints show kids how much toilet paper to use. Kids follow the prints to the puppy and tear off the right amount." Five squares appear to be the right amount. (Source: boinboing.net)


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You've got to feel a teeny-weeny bit sorry for Tom Cruise. Don't ya? On the birth of his baby, gossip site PerezHilton.com draws a very long bow and feeds it to its huge readership. "There is a much deeper meaning to the selection by Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes of the name Suri for their new creature child," declares the writer known only as Perez. "Suri = Surrey, which is also a region of England, which is where the 'deceased' L. Ron Hubbard's home is located and it is the headquarters of Scientology in the UK. Coincidence? We think not!" A quick Google reveals Hubbard's home was in West Sussex, where the UK's Church of Scientology headquarters are, not Surrey.

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To address the Auckland SPCA's Easter influx, staff and volunteers have been hitting the streets with orphaned animals wearing "adopt me" signage. SPCA staffer Tarryn Prinsloo was walking 1-year-old labrador/shepherd cross, Gorgeous George in Mission Bay on Good Friday. George was on his best behaviour and lapping up the attention. However, there was one small glitch. Passing a woman having a sneaky meat pie in the Easter sun, George deftly snitched the pie out of her hands without missing a beat. Luckily the now pie-less woman was very understanding but declined to adopt George.

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Happy Birthday to the Queen who turns 80 today. And if you look 80 with grey hair and the appropriate wrinkles, handbag and tiara, the Newmarket Business Association wants to see you at its look-a-like contest tomorrow. Register today by emailing office@newmarket.net.nz before the end of business close today. The person with the most "natural resemblance" will score $500 in shopping vouchers, and they might want to think about buying themselves a new look.

Editorial: Review aid to whaling supporters

It is no surprise that Japan is poised to seize control of the International Whaling Commission. It came within a whisker at last year's annual meeting in South Korea, when it was widely expected to have the numbers to secure the introduction of a secret ballot. It failed only because four of its conscripted supporters failed to show up, and Finland and Denmark put the cause of voter accountability above that of Scandinavian brotherhood with pro-whaling Norway. That setback hardened already bitter attitudes. At the next IWC annual meeting, at St Kitts in June, Japan will be even more determined to see its advantage bear fruit.

A simple numerical superiority will not be enough to allow it to overturn the 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling. That requires a three-quarters majority. But it puts the IWC on a slippery slope. A 51 per cent majority allows the pro-whaling countries to set the agenda for IWC meetings, choose the chairman, close down the likes of the commission's conservation watchdog, and gain a secret ballot. The latter is hugely important.

It is no secret, whatever the denials, that most of Japan's support has been secured by bribing small, generally poor, states. Substantial aid packages have been sufficient to tie nations with as little interest in matters of the sea as landlocked Mongolia and Mali to the pro-whaling cause. A secret ballot would remove the qualms still harboured by some of these nations, and other potential supporters, about backing an unpopular cause.

The temptation for the anti-whaling nations, notably New Zealand, Australia and Britain, is to fight fire with fire. There is a case for saying that, in the interests of the whale they, too, should buy votes. The IWC has only 66 members; there are plenty more small nations to be won over. For starters, New Zealand could pay the IWC membership fees for Samoa, Fiji and the Cook Islands.

But such tactics would see the anti-whaling countries lowering themselves to Japan's odious level of manipulation and becoming involved in an ever escalating, and ever more expensive, auction. That would not be a dignified reaction, or perhaps even a productive one.

Nonetheless, a cogent response is required. At the moment, this seems to involve a joint letter from New Zealand, Australia and Britain urging other anti-whaling nations to attend the meeting in St Kitts. More needs to be done. It is time to look far more closely at those nations who have thrown in their lot with Japan. They include the likes of Tuvalu, Kiribati, the Solomons and Nauru. All, of course, are Pacific states with deep and enduring relationships with New Zealand and Australia. And all have been the beneficiaries of large dollops of aid from the Anzac nations.

New Zealand and Australia have every reason to feel aggrieved that their Pacific neighbours have chosen to support Japan. A few pieces of silver have been enough to see these countries sell out, even while being well aware of the significance of the issue to their long-standing benefactors. It is reasonable to suggest that future aid packages from New Zealand and Australia to these turncoats of the Pacific should reflect their behaviour at IWC meetings.

Diplomacy is always a matter of give and take. Japan, however, has overstepped the bounds of acceptability by so cynically and blatantly buying votes. Its motivation makes this tactic even more dishonourable. The wish to resume uncontrolled harpooning is all about crass nationalism, not any demand of the Japanese palate. The small nations of the Pacific should be left in no doubt about that - and of the cost of their continued support for Japan.

Jim Hopkins: The unknown soldier chips in over a few cold ones

Flipping heck," said Stu, who'd never been in a newspaper column before and was therefore choosing his words rather more carefully than he usually did at the pub, "these bloomin' petrol prices are killing me."

"Join the club, mate," grunted Reg, morosely wiping a whiskery chin, "when I said I was comin' down tonight, the missus went spare. Said I could ***** ... "

"Careful," said Stu, with a pointed nod in the direction of the readers.

"Sorry," muttered Reg apologetically. "I'd forgotten about them."

"Easy to do," quipped the old soldier beside them. He'd been there when they arrived, insensitively parked right in the middle of their favourite possie.

"B@#%*y hell," Bruce had moaned, "we're goin' t' need some 'Reserved' signs round here!"

But once they'd got a beer and started chewing the fat, Bruce pretty quickly mellowed. "So what did y' missus say," he asked, curious to hear how Reg's interrupted tale actually ended.

"Oh, she just said if I was goin' to the pub I could *** ... damn well walk. No point wasting money on two fluids, she reckoned. So I said, 'Fine. I'll walk to the pub if you walk to the supermarket. We're all in this together'."

"Jeez, that wouldn't've gone down well," chuckled Bruce, secretly wishing he had the courage to be equally brusque. His way of dealing with such confrontations was a non-committal grunt that never gave him anything more than the uncertain comfort of a sullen silence.

"Well, it's true!" continued Reg, "We are all in it together ..."

"I just don't like what we're in," Stu interrupted. "Some days I reckon I've become a bleedin' Northland oyster farm! A joker on the radio the other day reckoned petrol's goin' t' be three bucks by Christmas!"

"It's stuffed Anzac Day for me," Reg said ruefully. "I was going t' turn it into a long weekend but I can't afford to now."

"Somebody should drop a bomb on the b@#%*y oil companies," snorted Bruce, something vaguely approximating heroism coursing through his veins.

"You mean the gummint, don't ya?" snarled Reg. "Those ba ... blighters are raking it in. What with the extra petrol tax and GST, they're laughin' all the way to the tank!!!"

"I wouldn't mind if they spent it on something worthwhile," added Stu, "like cuttin' down the waitin' lists. Eight thousand people dumped off 'em, apparently. Elective surgery, they call it. Huh! Next time I get elective I'm gonna do a bit of surgery!!!"

"Yup," said Reg mournfully. "Things are pretty sick when y' can't look after the sick."

"Mind you, it's a different world now," the old soldier chipped in. "I remember when they started the old National Health system back in the 30s. They only had five diseases and four cures then. They'd discover that many every day now."

"It's not diseases they're discovering," sneered Bruce, "it's stupid ways to spend our money. Like forking out millions to landscape b@#%*y prisons!"

"I'd ship all the b@#%*y crims over to the Solomons," Reg hissed vehemently. "They've got a jail there, haven't they? And jungle. Well, that's landscape, isn't it?"

"It's a bit more than that," said the old soldier quietly.

"Might as well send 'em over," grumbled Bruce, who wasn't listening to the old bloke. "What's left of the Army's there already. They could do something useful and guard 'em, couldn't they?"

"Except they'd bloo ... min' put m' taxes up to pay for it," Stu sniffed contemptuously. "I tell, y' what, in m' next life, I'm comin' back as one of the Rolling Stones. Strewth, $5 million for singing a bunch of 40-year-old songs at the Cake Tin. That's good money in anyone's language!!"

"More than you get for a medal, apparently," the old soldier suggested.

"You mean Charlie's?" inquired Bruce, who'd never actually met the double VC recipient but felt as if he knew him. "Look," he continued, "if his family wanna sell it, then good luck to them. But not to the gummint. I don't see why we should have to pay for it!"

"Speaking of which," Reg chimed in, "whose round is it?"

"Don't look at me," Stu protested. "I got the last one."

"And I got the one before that," said Bruce emphatically.

It took less than a second for the trio to work out whose turn it was. Well, he had occupied their possie. The least he could do was buy them a beer. Reg, Bruce and Stu turned towards their uninvited guest.

"I'm sorry to say this," said the old soldier, "especially after hearing about all these problems, but I can't buy you a beer."

"Why not?" his companions objected.

"Because I'm dead," said the old soldier calmly. "I have been since 1942. There was a bit of a problem with petrol then too, as I recall ... "

"You mean you're ... " gasped Stu.

"Yup," said the old soldier. "I'm a ghost. The ghost of future past. Or life unlived. Take your pick. These are my children," he added, placing a crumpled photo on the bar.

"But ... " whispered Reg.

"That's right," the old soldier nodded. "They were never born. Sorry to hear your Anzac Day's mucked up. Hey, things could be worse." And with that, he disappeared.

Reg, Stu and Bruce sat for what seemed an age till Bruce could bear the silence no longer. "That's easy for him to say," Bruce mumbled. "He doesn't have to live here!!"

Peter Griffin: Google comes up with an organiser for the disorganised

They arrive with the minimum of fuss but end up having maximum impact. They're new free products from that ingenious internet company Google, and its latest gem is aimed squarely at bumbling, disorganised fools like me.

Electronic and internet-based calendars are nothing new. Internet provider and Google rival Yahoo has been in the game since 1998 and has millions of users.

Microsoft's Outlook calendar, which is packaged with every copy of Windows, also organises the lives of millions of computer users. But both have passed me by. I've even got a Pocket PC handheld computer with Outlook on it. There's nothing to stop me syncing the little gadget with my computer to transfer all my calendar entries and have them at my fingertips. I never do it.

After four years of tinkering around the edges of the Herald's elaborate IBM Lotus Notes calendar, I finally admitted that I was never going to use the thing properly and went back to shuffling bits of paper.

I'm the sort of person who starts out with good intentions, making diary entries, setting electronic reminders, referring to my neat little schedule, then giving up after a week.

I get the feeling it's going to be a different story with Google Calendar (See link below). It helps that I'm already a consummate user of Gmail, Google's free webmail service, and therefore can easily access the Calendar with the same password.

But there's a user-friendliness and richness of design about Google Calendar that makes it appealing to those of us less predisposed to spend time and energy organising our lives.

Part of it is the quick-loading and flexible design of Google Calendar, which, like the rest of the company's applications, is built on AJAX, a mix of Java and XML programming languages.

The design is simple, easy to use and surprisingly intelligent. You can view your calendar by day, week, month, the next four days and also as a useful agenda, which can be printed off.

You can drag and drop calendar entries and quickly modify the information. Running your mouse pointer over the entries brings up a speech bubble outlining all the details.

Google is playing smart and knows that, in taking on Yahoo, it is engaging the web calendar king. The company is allowing its calendar events to be shared with those on Yahoo and Outlook, and Apple's iCal entries can also be integrated.

In the end, Google's offering has a number of great features that won me over. The first is a natural language feature that identifies appointments from simple sentences and embeds them in your calendar.

For a quick calendar entry you might jot down: "Birthday dinner at Tony's, 7.30pm." The calendar seizes on the time given and puts the entry in at 7.30pm. It's easy and quick.

While you can build your own calendar for years out, RSS (really simple syndication) feeds give you access to other, publicly available calendars. Accessing calendars relevant to New Zealand, I was able to automatically enter public holidays and the dates and locations of conferences, film festivals, World Rally Championship events and All Black games for later in the year.

For other Google Calendar users, the invite you send out can automatically appear on their calendar. You can also share your calendar with friends and workmates. Businesses already do this with Outlook, but Google Calendar makes it easier for the user to do this less formally with friends.

You can throw open your diary for friends to peek at, or just divulge the free gaps in your schedule. I can see small businesses using this as a quick, cheap way to co-ordinate schedules.

But Google Calendar's greatest feature is its integration with Gmail. It searches the Gmail inbox for references to dates and events and asks users if they want them entered automatically.

This is hugely useful for me. I use the search function of Gmail to retrieve all sorts of information from the clutter of my inbox, including flight and appointment times and important dates.

If you're a Gmail user, don't expect to find the Google Calendar function integrated straight away. It seems Google is staggering the launch of the service, starting with its key demographic - North America.

It may take a few days before your Gmail account displays Google Calendar related features, Google explains on its website.

Once Gmail can integrate those key dates into my calendar, it will seem as if I have a personal assistant working for me. Maybe someone at Google could start clearing my email for me.

Cynical observers, of course, would point out that Google already does read my email for the purposes of finding key words to generate advertising tailored to my interests. I'm okay with that, as long as my personal information isn't passed on to advertisers or governments. Google has taken a laudable stand to avoid divulging information to the latter.

Still, things like Google Calender also integrate our lives even further with the company.

I'm more comfortable with that since Google listed on the stock market. In many ways it's more accountable now and also more susceptible to the scandal that wholesale security breaches would generate. Imagine the hit the share price would take if it was discovered Google was spying on us for reasons other than to sell advertising.

Maybe Microsoft will come up with something better for organising my life when its new operating system Vista finally appears. In the meantime, you'll find me Googling.

Jane Coombs: Korea hungry for knowledge and ripe for picking

Korea is a nation on the move. Driven by a national sense of "baly baly" or "hurry hurry", the country and its achievements are remarkable.

In the 1950s it was one of the poorest countries in the world and its landscape was ravaged by war.

Fifty years on, Korea has rebuilt itself to become the world's 11th-largest economy. With Japan, it is one of the most advanced economies in Asia.

Its consumers are increasingly affluent - and love to shop. The opportunities for New Zealand businesses are excellent.

It is a nation with which New Zealand has longstanding links, stemming from the Korean War, but in a modern context extending beyond traditional industries into exciting developments such as film and co-operation in research, science and technology.

The visit to Korea this week by Governor-General Dame Silvia Cartwright provides an opportunity to celebrate the strength of the relationship, and to signal New Zealand's keen interest in taking the relationship forward.

Korea is New Zealand's seventh-largest trading partner, and sixth-largest export destination. Korea is New Zealand's fifth-largest source of tourists, with more than 100,000 Koreans visiting here last year.

One booming industry is in education. Korea is our second-largest source of international students behind China, with more than 15,000 coming to study each year.

And New Zealanders are increasingly travelling to Korea to work as English language teachers. Auckland University now provides undergraduate study in the Korean language and culture.

The importance Koreans attach to education cannot be understated. Step into an international hotel or company in Seoul, and you will find extremely well educated, fluent English speakers. Koreans spend more per capita on education than any other OECD country.

With 80 per cent of students carrying on to tertiary education in Korea, and many of those institutions teaching their subjects in English, the need for English language training will remain a potential area of growth.

A promising new development is in film. The phenomenon of the "Korean wave", or "Hallyu", shows no sign of letting up. Korea has a vibrant national film industry, not only with creative talent but significant investment power.

Several recent Korean films have been partly filmed and produced in New Zealand. More are in the pipeline. Koreans are showing keen interest in our leading edge film technology, post production facilities, skills and diverse locations.

Prime Minister Helen Clark has thrown her support behind film links, signing at Apec in Seoul last November an Audiovisual Co-operation Arrangement with Korea which provides a framework for developing joint projects. Just last year, a New Zealand film festival toured five Korean cities.

Korea has a well-funded, state-of-the-art sector. It is also one of the world's most "wired" countries, with more than 80 per cent of its 48 million people having access to broadband technology.

Last September New Zealand and Korea's respective science funding organisations signed a Memorandum of Understanding aimed at promoting co-operation between our respective scientists. That has led to successful visits by scientists to attend workshops and investigate potential joint projects in areas such as biotechnology, environmental science and ICT.

New Zealand-born Nobel Prize Laureate Alan McDiarmid was in Korea just last week to open the Dr Alan McDiarmid Energy Laboratory to be housed in Chonnan University, Kwangju.

So how do we build on these successes?

We have been steadily promoting the idea of a free trade agreement.

Korea has concluded a deal with Chile (a competitor of New Zealand in some key products in Korea, such as kiwifruit), with Singapore and with EFTA. It is negotiating with Asean, Canada, India, Mexico and Japan. And it intends to begin negotiating with the United States, with a view to concluding a free trade agreement by next July.

That leaves New Zealand among the second "tier" of nations Korea might negotiate with. Pursuing a free trade agreement with Korea continues to be a key ambition for New Zealand.

One concern that is frequently cited around trade talks is the sensitivities of the Korean agricultural producers. However, this need not block co-operation as New Zealand does not produce rice, the most sensitive item for Korean farmers, and does not export items such as chili, sesame and garlic.

Meanwhile, Korean consumers enjoy New Zealand's beef, dairy products, fruit and vegetables.

More New Zealand wine is available in Korea. Up until 2001 there was only one New Zealand wine available - now 22 wineries are represented.

And the amount of our wine being consumed has increased dramatically, by 80 per cent last year, and by 100 per cent the previous year.

New Zealand's relationship with Korea has its roots in this country's participation in the Korean War. This week 30 New Zealand veterans are visiting Korea as part of an annual visit sponsored by the Korean Government.

While the Armistice of 1953 has held for the last 53 years, North-South issues remain an ever present aspect of life in South Korea.

New Zealand provides four New Zealand Defence Force personnel, stationed with the United Nations Command Military Armistice Committee. Their role has been to monitor the terms of the Armistice, but increasingly they are also helping move trucks and people across the Demilitarised Zone, to both the Kaesong Industrial Complex, and the Mt Kumkang tourist area in the North.

These two projects are interesting new explorations in inter-Korean relations. Already 13 South Korean companies are working in the pilot phase of the Kaesong complex, while more than 100,000 tourists crossed into Mt Kumkang last year.

In other words, there is a lot more traffic across the zone than people might think.

Of course, the nuclear problem remains. It is unclear when the stalled six-party talks might resume. While New Zealand does not play a direct role in this process, as one of 14 countries accredited to Pyongyang from Seoul, we are in a position to monitor developments closely and to register key messages on the nuclear issue with the North Korean Government.

With New Zealand home to about 35,000 Koreans, or nearly 1 per cent of our population, we are closely connected not only through history, economics and politics, but increasingly through people. These people-to-people links tie our countries together in a fundamental way, and form an excellent basis on which to take forward the relationship.

* Jane Coombs is New Zealand's ambassador to Korea.

Stocktakes: Pistols at dawn

By Liam Dann

On the face of it, the Government's proposed tax changes seem terribly complicated and yawn-inducing.

Thank heavens then for the bare-knuckle brawl that has erupted between Guinness Peat Group's Tony Gibbs and Revenue Minister Peter Dunne. On a level playing field (such as a back alley), I'd put my money on Gibbs.

The New Zealand GPG chief might look like Father Christmas but is probably better suited in the fancy dress of a gnarly pirate captain.

But neither man is afraid of a good scrap - as anyone who saw Dunne rip into Mark Sainsbury on election night will know.

A pitched email battle was fought in public last week. Gibbs fired the first shot claiming the tax proposals unfairly penalised investors in GPG. He said they might even force the company to move offshore.

In response, Dunne just stopped short of claiming that Gibbs' pants were on fire - describing his critique of the tax proposal as "misleading - bordering on untrue".

After all, GPG, which is registered in the UK, was hardly a New Zealand company.

That really got Gibbs' goat.

He promptly fired off a message from his personal email account - kindly sharing his contact list with us all (well probably his B list as it didn't include Sir Ron). "Respectfully, the minister does not appear to understand the impact of his own proposals," Gibbs wrote through (one imagines) clenched teeth.

Another GPG statement turned up on the the NZX website on Tuesday with similarly heavy undertones. "The ministers should be careful in suggesting that others are making statements which are misleading - bordering on untrue," it warned.

None of this gets to the bottom of who is right or wrong, of course (we'll leave that to the likes of Brian Gaynor tomorrow), but it makes for an entertaining sideshow.

Frothy proposition

Foster's A$750 million ($900 million) sale of its beer brand in Europe last week raises questions about what the Australian brewer plans to do with the cash. Foster's says it will use the proceeds to pay down debt but the sale undoubtedly gives it a bit more firepower on the balance sheet - a bit more ammunition to buy Michael Erceg's Independent Distillers perhaps? The Australian brewer had a strong enough balance sheet to be able to make the purchase without the sale, but the extra cash could make any purchase that much easier. Foster's has failed to break the dominance of DB and Lion, the two incumbents in New Zealand. Getting its hands on Independent's distribution channels could help overcome this.

Mirror market

CMC Markets has set up shop here.

The UK-based firm - which is expanding its Aussie operation - specialises in contracts for difference (CFD) trading. CFDs are one of those weird and wonderful financial products that offer adventurous investors the chance to make maximum profits for minimum outlay. Of course, like most things the opportunity comes with an equal-sized portion of risk. Basically, CFDs are virtual stock which mirror the real sharemarket and allow punters to gamble on the rises and falls of a stock without actually buying it.

Typically, investors pay a small percentage of the actual share price up front. The profits and losses are full sized of course and the full value of the share is paid when the shares are cashed in. Although they are still a fringe investment product in this part of the world, their popularity does seem to be growing. A company called OMF Financial also offers CFD contracts here.

Research head

Also on the brokerage front, CitiGroup has responded to speculation in this column about the future of its research department. Yes, they were facing some big decisions after the departure of the local research head, Mark Benseman, for ABN AMRO. But Citi local chief Mark Fitzgerald says they are committed to growing in this market. They've appointed Andy Bowley - a Kiwi returning home after three years as a senior member of the consumer and beverage team at CSFB in London. He will lead CitiGroup's team of four analysts.

Swipe that

It's been a good month for Provenco and Cadmus - both listed sellers of electronic payment solutions. The companies have done some interesting deals - Cadmus with taxi drivers in Singapore and Provenco with a petrol company in India - and look likely to benefit from the lower dollar as they clock up US dollar sales. Cadmus also seems to be making good progress in setting up a finance division.

But the good news has done little to inspire the kind of share price rallies that other exporters have seen this year.

Cadmus closed at 22c yesterday down 1c since the start of the year. Provenco closed at 81c yesterday up just 6c since the start of the year.

Shining path

Always a sticky topic, the resin business (ba dum-ching). But Nuplex Industries seems to have a bit of a shine to it right now. Goldman Sachs JBWere has upgraded its short-term outlook for the stock on the basis of five positive catalysts.

Interestingly, Goldman is picking the strongest driver to be lower raw material costs - that's basically lower crude oil prices - a big call given the soaring price of the past few weeks.

The broker's oil analysts estimate that oil prices will recede through the second half of this year and 2007/08 so that crude oil - now more than US$73 a barrel - will be at US$30 a barrel by 2009.

The local analysts, drawing on the research of the US parent company, concede that looks rather optimistic right now with the Iran stand-off hanging over the industry like a mushroom cloud. But they say Nuplex is in an increasingly strong position to pass on short-term price rises to customers.

Prices for other important chemical ingredients are also expected to fall in the next year.

Add to that mix a further weakening of the kiwi dollar, increased demand in its export markets and a renewed focus on its core business and the business is looking significantly under-valued. In fact, the analysts have put a value of $6.74 on the stock - it closed at $5.86 yesterday.

TV or net TV...

... Was that the question? In its latest report on Sky TV, the Forsyth Barr research team barely conceals its contempt for the TVNZ/TV3/BCL free-to-air (FTA) digital plans. the report recognises there will be some negative impact on Sky's stock from the falling dollar - foreign programmes just got more expensive - but dismisses the commercial threat posed by the potential digital rival.

"We believe the proposed FTA digital service will fail," the report says. "BCL's move to launch a competing satellite service with an inferior product is a backward step not a forward move and will cost them and, ultimately, the tax-payers money."

Forsyth Barr is picking that state-owned transmission company BCL will bear the brunt of the risk from the venture.

Chris Hegan: Aquaculture a welcome sight

Twenty-six years ago some friends and I bought a farm at Port Charles at the tip of the Coromandel Peninsula. One of the great sights on the drive there was the island-dotted reaches of the Coromandel Harbour spread below us when we reached the peninsula ridge from the western side. Once at Port Charles we looked across untouched waters to Great Barrier Island.

Now on my drive I see part of the Coromandel Harbour dotted with row after row of mussel buoys, and the same sight occupies one corner of our Port Charles view to the Barrier.

Can you imagine what that does to me? Let me surprise you - absolutely nothing. If anything, I see a couple of paddocks impinging on the vast stretches of water and find it encouraging and interesting.

The fishing has improved. We have become world leaders in a new industry.

Although there are differing points of view on the overall ecological effects, common sense suggests the net effect is an increase in biomass and food source. Nutrition doesn't go wasted in the sea.

On the other hand it distresses me that the refusal of a mussel farming permit in the Kaipara is credited to the need to preserve walkers' appreciation of the view, while conceding that "as yet, there are few walkers but they will increase one day". Yeah, right.

I know that the baby boomer bubble is in its prime nature-walking period -old enough to be interested and not too old for the effort.

Judging by the interests of my children, I predict a decline in those numbers.

The views being protected are always described as "outstanding". The New Zealand coast is almost uniformly lovely. Only a few places, by definition, can accurately be described as outstanding.

From what I have seen of the Kaipara, pretty as it is, there are no outstanding views.

A mussel farm wrapped around Lion Rock at Piha? Never.

But in a lovely, but average, stretch of coastal waters, why on earth not?

The only objection I could raise is to its size - 30ha is a lot of space.

I consider myself a conservationist. I rejoiced at the Maruia Declaration. I lent what support I could to prevent mining at Coromandel and will do so again if necessary because there are compelling environmental arguments against that activity.

But what I most want to conserve is a prosperous future for my children. I don't want them to bail out of the world's first "de-developed" nation.

I understand ideas are afoot to try mussel farming in deeper waters several kilometres offshore. I don't believe it will fly.

Why put up with greater fuel costs, greater anchoring challenges, fewer harvesting days because of bad weather and slower growth from less nutrition when you can simply set up quickly and easily in Australia, with a bigger, more prosperous domestic industry and be closer to the world markets?

I doubt that many would-be or actual mussel farmers are that patriotic.

If the attitude to aquaculture apparent in our bureaucracy and judiciary today had been around 150 years ago, we would not have a farming economy. We wouldn't have an economy at all.

We have grown to see rolling farmlands cleared of bush hosting sleek, well-cared-for stock as attractive. It's all in the mind. Poverty is not.

It's time to start looking at aquaculture with new eyes.

* Chris Hegan lives in Grey Lynn and has no commercial interest in aquaculture, although he wishes he had.

Te Radar: Pontius Pilate, New Zealand needs you...

To be chastised as a nation for failing to wash our hands correctly is bad enough. To then be told that we are even worse at drying them causes me to wonder if the research people were taking the proverbial, or whether we are indeed a realm of retards.

The Tork Hygiene Survey revealed that many of us are deficient in our hand-hygiene regimes.

I have always believed that my immune system is strengthened by continual exposure to low-level bacterial threats provided by an almost complete rejection of hand-washing, combined with eating off recently abandoned plates in food courts, and shaking hands with television executives.

It strikes me that if we are to wash our hands when going to the toilet, it should be done before, and not subsequent to, the expulsion of waste.

After all, I know where my hands have been prior to the event, and I know that what they are handling is not filthy. Ergo, washing our hands first keeps our vitals more hygienic, thus reducing the need to wash our hands afterwards, unless you are somewhat clumsy.

The whole saga has become more significant due to the threat of the bird flu pandemic.

According to Those Who Claim to Know, the best defence against this contagion is simply to wash our hands.

I haven't felt so reassured by any official advice since I saw an instructional video that said crouching under thin wooden desks would protect people from the brief unpleasantness of a nuclear attack.

I would have thought that it might be more appropriate when attempting to avoid bird flu to refrain from being sneezed on by poultry, and at the first sign of the virus here to immediately institute a rigorous campaign of hen-icide.

When it comes to drying our hands, it appears that 46 per cent of us have no idea that doing this properly is as important as washing them. I had always assumed that this was the reason jeans were invented.

Apparently not.

A mixture of paper towels and hot air is reputed to be the best combination. If we have access only to hot air driers, we should, we are told, utilise them for a full 45 seconds.

Clearly the people who issued this diktat have not heard that we are facing a national power crisis. Nor have they fathomed that anyone monopolising a hand drier for 45 seconds is more likely to face a health crisis caused through being highly annoying, as opposed to one caused by microbes.

On a more positive note, the threat of bird flu is something that doesn't trouble us unduly as a nation.

Eleven per cent of people, however, say they wouldn't go to work if there were a bird flu outbreak.

What is shocking about this is how few people this represents. There would be a far larger percentage of people who wouldn't go to work if it meant missing a Rugby World Cup final.