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Sunday, August 28, 2005

THE GOOD LIFE: Penny Pyett, top left, with her permaculture students at Curl Curl.

Culture club

With drought, rising oil prices and global warming dominating headlines, people are turning to permaculture for answers, Simon Webster writes.

PENNY Pyett is at her Marsfield home assembling showbags for this weekend's Gardening Australia festival. "There are organic seeds," she says, "vetch and millet, green cleaning products ... Hang on a minute, a crow's trying to attack my duck."

Pyett's modest weatherboard is dwarfed by neighbouring "mcmansions". She has two ducks in her backyard, six chickens, six quails and three guinea pigs.

There's not much lawn to mow. Instead there's a jungle of bananas, oranges, peaches and passionfruit. Sweet potatoes ramble. Ponds overflow with water chestnuts and glossy taro leaves.

The garden looks random but has been carefully planned: chickens run in the food forest, fertilising trees, keeping down pests such as fruit fly, and getting fed by the forest in return. In summer grapes clamber under eaves, shielding the deck from the sun; in winter they lose their leaves and let the sun through.

Pyett, 45, is a teacher and practitioner of permaculture, a design system for sustainable living. Devised in Australia, it has been advocating backyard organic food, energy-efficient homes and less harmful agricultural methods since the 1970s. And an increasing number of people are starting to listen.

Plenty of permaculture methods have already been adopted by the mainstream. Gardeners mulch their gardens to save water and improve their soil; they fight pests with companion planting rather than chemicals that obliterate everything in their path; business is booming in the supply of water tanks and grey water systems.

As awareness of environmental issues grows, so do the ranks of permaculturists. Rising oil prices, water shortages and food safety are in the newspapers almost every day. Crucially, permaculture doesn't just diagnose what's wrong with the world - it suggests how to fix it.

Pyett's introductory courses at Ryde TAFE and the Sustainable Design Company in Curl Curl teach students how to establish productive ecosystems on their acreages, backyards or balconies. She also helps run Permaculture North, a group of "permies" based north of the Harbour Bridge.

The group had been plugging away for more than 10 years with little increase in numbers. Then, in the past year, membership more than doubled. Now more than 100 people cram into a hall in Lindfield each month to hear talks, plan projects and coordinate campaigns for changes in government policy.

Pyett says permaculture's growing profile in the media has helped; since 2003 it has had a regular spot on ABC TV's Gardening Australia.

"People are essentially good and want to do the right thing by the planet," Pyett says. "When they hear about permaculture they think, this is it. It makes perfect common sense."

Perth-based Josh Byrne is Gardening Australia's permaculture expert. "There's a huge amount of interest in what I'm doing," Byrne says. "People have become aware of shortages of water, chemical use, passive solar design - these are coming into the mainstream."

The type of person doing Pyett's courses is changing. "I've seen more professional people coming through wanting a new direction in their life," she says.

Brett Hart is one of those people. A 61-year-old office administrator from Castle Cove, Hart completed Pyett's course this year, about 20 years after first seeing permaculture's co-founder, Bill Mollison, talk about the subject on television. "It takes me a long time to get round to things," Hart says. "I'm not a rabid greenie. In fact I'm an enemy of the greenies in some ways. I'm just an ordinary suburban dad. But, I've got a deep inner feeling about permaculture. I wonder what's going to happen to us on this little planet and permaculture could be an answer."

Gardening Australia editor Brodee Myers-Cooke has seen her readership change in recent years. "These new readers are health-conscious and environmentally aware," she says. "They are young families who want to grow food as a money saver but they also want to know it's healthy.

"A few years ago most laypeople wouldn't have heard of permaculture. Now you'd be hard pressed to find a person who hasn't heard of it, even if they're not sure what it is.

"People are trying it. They're excited about growing their own crops in the suburbs. People are realising their backyard is a resource."

Growing veggies is one thing, but some permaculture philosophies are more confronting: convert your car to run on vegetable oil; set up community credit unions to bypass the banks; consume less. Are people ready to accept them?

"With global warming, climate change, global dimming and the peak oil crisis we will have to make fundamental changes to the way we live," Pyett says.

"They can be forced on us or we can take them on voluntarily. People need to start practising permaculture wherever they live. It will save the planet."


Canadian environmentalist David Suzuki has said: "What permaculturists are doing is the most important activity that any group is doing on the planet."

Bill Mollison describes permaculture as the world's biggest aid agency. Permaculturists travel the globe, teaching in some of the world's poorest and most inhospitable places.

Geoff Lawton, 51, of The Channon in northern NSW, is the managing director of the Permaculture Research Institute, a registered charity. He has taught in about 20 countries and is currently visiting former students in Jordan, where he has helped farmers near the Dead Sea turn their land in one of the saltiest and driest regions on earth into oases of productivity.

He says 750,000 students worldwide have taken the two-week permaculture design certificate course and permaculture is used in more than 400,000 projects in 120 countries. "It's all working as a decentralised, wild system breeding its own teachers," he says.

"We're mimicking the function of global weeds and germinating wherever there is damaged ground - and there is more all the time. In Third World countries permaculture is tried and tested fast by local people on the ground with real-time needs - which is understandable if your kids are dying."

...from smh

Friday, August 26, 2005

Motorists face weeks of chaos

Sydney faces the worst traffic congestion ever in coming months, with the State Government warning that chaos caused by the opening of the Cross City Tunnel will affect most of the city.

The chaos expected in the CBD after the tunnel opens on Sunday could last as long as six months, the Roads and Traffic Authority says. The evening peak is likely to be so bad, it says, that commuters should expect hours of delays.

The western side of the CBD near the ramp to the Anzac Bridge will be choked, especially on Market Street because it will funnel most of the city's westbound traffic onto the bridge.

A section of Druitt Street between Clarence and Kent streets will be devoted to buses after the tunnel opens, forcing all traffic onto narrow Clarence Street and then onto Market Street. Market Street is expected to be so clogged in the evenings that traffic will be virtually at a standstill from the Anzac Bridge ramp back to David Jones on Elizabeth Street.

The Government has acknowledged that the road changes are likely to cause a traffic nightmare for many weeks, particularly because as few as 30,000 cars a day will use the tunnel initially.

The tunnel was designed to ease congestion in the CBD by taking 90,000 cars a day off the streets but it would be months before that figure was reached, said Paul Willoughby, a spokesman for the roads authority.

The traffic situation would get worse before it improved, he said. "We're bracing ourselves for the worst traffic problems we've ever had in the CBD."

The RTA is so worried about the traffic problems that from Monday, its most experienced traffic managers will operate an emergency response team modelled on the one used by the authority during the 2000 Olympics. The team will monitor special traffic cameras installed throughout the CBD and will be able to change the timing of traffic lights and to direct crews to areas when traffic banks up.

Mr Willoughby conceded that the team would not save motorists from long delays, especially in the next couple of weeks.

from smh

Friday, August 12, 2005

interesting article in todays smh...

Companies use tech analysis on themselves

The automated analysis of "unstructured" data is becoming remarkably agile at giving companies detailed answers to the age-old business question of "How are we doing?"

The tiniest of flaws in a massive forklift truck is crucial information for Ryan McLawhorn, quality improvement manager at NACCO Industries. If his cargo-vehicle division can detect common problems and fix them in the manufacturing process, it can save millions on warranty claims.

That's not easy with 80,000 claims rolling in every year. So McLawhorn turned to data-mining software that examines service reports for precise trends. For years he had software that could alert him, say, to a batch of wiring problems. But now he can be told if a certain wire often comes loose, and under what circumstances.

"It's really almost unlimited," he said.

The technology can be made to work not only on service records and other internal data, but also on the hue and cry of the internet, where products and corporate reputations are obsessively discussed in blogs, message boards and e-commerce sites.

Eastman Kodak uses unstructured-data analysis to spot connections in its own and its competitors' patent filings. Government agents use it to hunt for insider trading or linkages between terrorist groups. Mayo Clinic researchers use it to scan physicians' notes for evidence about the efficacy of treatments.

The breakthrough has been in getting computers to understand the content of the documents they scan.

Often by diagramming sentences as a grammar school student would, text-analysis programs can tell the difference between a blog that says a motorcycle is so fast "it smokes" and one that says the engine emits smoke.

Picking up on such details quickly is vital in an age when fountains of data gush every minute.

"Our technology, on a simple laptop, can read through Moby-Dick and analyse it in nine seconds," said Craig Norris, head of Attensity, the company that supplied NACCO's software.

In hopes of broadening the potential of this kind of software, several companies have agreed on a technological standard that will let multiple computing engines for sorting unstructured data work together.

The programming codes that govern the framework, spearheaded by IBM in conjunction with academic researchers and the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency, will be open source and freely available.

The cooperation is required because so many different kinds of unstructured-data engines have sprung up in recent years, driven in large part by the US government's demand for intelligence analysis. The CIA has funded several unstructured-data management companies, including Attensity.

Another CIA-backed company, Intelliseek, recently partnered with the Factiva information service to offer "reputation insight."

Intelliseek scans 4 million web logs and email list servers, and Factiva - a joint venture between Dow Jones and Reuters Group - combs news stories, radio transcripts and other media. Together they produce for companies a detailed analysis of how the public thinks about them at any given point.

For example, the most popular phrases relating to a company can be determined, and whether those terms are waxing or waning in significance.

Comparisons with competitors can be generated - as well as to a company's own business results. Who knows? Perhaps a seemingly unrelated bit of geopolitical news tends to boost sales. Or maybe early word can be gleaned about problems with a product that might lead to an expensive recall.

"The world has become more democratic. In the old days the company would issue a message, and the only alternative to that was, people could meet on the street and talk about it," said Randy Clark, marketing director of ClearForest, a data-analysis company whose customers include Kodak and government agencies. "Now those communications are pretty visible."

link to source doc

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