Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Taj-Mahal of dog kennels

The dogs have needed a new kennel for some time. The old one was a leaky home and with only a layer of thin 3-ply plywood between the inside and the elements, it was cold in winter and baking hot in summer. It did get insulated at one point but that home improvement was reduced to atoms by you-know-who.

Recent house renovations yielded some leftover gib-board, some insulation and some roofing iron. When the builder said "why don't you use the iron to make a kennel?", a summer project was born.

Except this wasn't to be any old kennel: this was to be the Taj Mahal of kennels, albeit one made almost entirely from leftover and recycled material.

To start, we needed some timber for the framing and some screws. Luckily, in a fit of pre-Christmas generosity, the local hardward didn't charge for cutting the framing (el cheapo fence railings) and gave me a trade discount on the framing and the screws. Thanks, guys, and a happy new year to you.

The frame was made (one that needed some additions and modifications to the original design as it transpired) and the leftover gib was used to line the inside. By the way - when a builder says cutting gib is easy, the bit left unstated is "if you have had practice and know to cut through it in one go."

Not having made a kennel - or anything else substantive for that matter - before, some things were likely to be forgotten, and indeed they were. Namely the kennel roof and floor (doh!). Fortunately these could be cut from the outside of the old kennel. The problem with the old kennel is that it was built by the dogs' Grandad, and in the manner of Kiwi Dads and Grandads was massively overbuilt for what it actually needed to do. It eventually had to be dismantled with a three pound hammer, although we managed to unscrew the little eve over the entrance and reuse that.  We also managed to reuse the original kennel floor.

Anyway, the roof and floor were put in and, because I wasn't nearly as competent as I thought, some other scraps were used to put in the corners to cover the gaps and help keep the gib in place. Then, insulation. 

The back yard faces north so gets very hot in summer. However, we're also in a frost pocket so it gets very cold in winter. So insulation is required to keep the boys with their thin terrier coats warm in winter. There was enough insulation left over to do the roof and the upper part of the exterior. 

So having done all this, then came the REALLY hard part: cutting roofing iron to size and screwing it to the outside of the frame. We only have a pair of old tin snips, a tool equivalent in sophistication to a cold chisel or a club. In the meantime we'd given up on the cordless drill and bought an electric one. Tip for young players: if you're doing something repetitive and difficult just get an electric drill. 

The recycled roof iron looks cool in a rustic sort of way. We didn't bother to repaint it so it has the patchy unevenness of the iron and its paint over the years. 

About this point it dawned on me that this thing was heavy and was probably going to need to be craned into the back yard. It didn't in the end but now that it has its roof on it sure won't be going anywhere in a hurry.

Last job was cutting the roof to size and screwing it on, and landscaping the small area behind the kennel. Not because I think dogs need landscaping but because the plants give shelter and cool everything down in summer. So here in pictures:

Kennel lined, inside painted, being inspected by passing chooks.

The roof gets its insulation

Front, partly clad with roofing iron, showing insulation.

Getting there...in place with roof and recycled eave from previous kennel, now painted and looking way sharp.

And showing plants. (My guess is that these will be destroyed by the idiot dogs before they have a chance to get established.)

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Messaging for science

At some stage over the Xmas/New Year holiday break, news websites Stuff and the NZ Herald both featured, on the same day, articles about Kim Kardashian and Kanye West expecting their new baby, alongside articles on how scientists had underestimated the rate of melting of the Arctic ice sheets and were now revising estimates of sea level rises to a new figure of 1 metre by 2100.
Guess which of these got top billing? Guess which stayed on the webpage the longest, and had the most follow-up reporting? Why yes! The reality show and sex tape star (google it yourself) baby story.
Guess which of these will have the greatest impact on the everyday lives of millions of people including - gasp!! - New Zealand beachfront property owners? (here's an interactive map where you can plug in 39", ie a metre, into the box and see what areas will be flooded and how many millions will be displaced).
Clearly, sea levels rising 1m due to anthropogenic climate change is like, meh, whatever. 
But why? the article in the Herald (sourced from the UK's Independent) has, in its first paragraph, words like 'catastrophic', and 'glaciologists'. Who? There is no questioning the concern of the scientists involved in the study: "The impacts of sea-level rise of this magnitude are potentially severe, implying a conceivable risk of the forced displacement of up to 187 million people within this century." This is strong stuff for a scientist. 
But perhaps they need to rethink the way the message is conveyed to the general public. Talking about a conceivable risk, even one that displaces close to 190 million people, doesn't quite grip the public imagination - or a newspaper editors, for that matter - like the thought of Kim and Kanye adding to an already overcrowded planet. It's not that the scientists' message is unimportant, it just needs to be packaged in a way people understand.
So I suggest doing away with long confusing words like 'catastrophic', 'inconceivable' and 'magnitude' and go for something simpler, with an attention-grabbing headline: Kim and Kanye's baby drowns in climate-change induced flood! - followed by a paragraph expressing concern that this could happen if we keep burning fossil fuels and the ice caps continue to melt at a rate higher than previously thought likely. Same message, different packaging.
Or we could demand our media to stop being so attentive to the needs of the current crop of policy makers and politicians who think that:
  1. Climate change doesn't exist;
  2. If it does exist it won't affect us much and there's not much we can do about it anyway;
  3. If it does exist and we can do something about it, doing something - anything - would be too expensive for National's core farmer supporters so we'll pretend it doesn't exist anyway.
In other words, put Kim and Kanye in the 'Entertainment' section where they belong.

More evidence against junk food

Thorax, a publication of the British Medical Journal, has just published a paper linking high (>3 times per week) fast food consumption in children with increased severity of allergic asthma, eczema and rhinitis (allergic inflammation of the nasal passageways). Here's an excerpt from the BMJ press release:
Eating three or more weekly servings of fast food is linked to the severity of allergic asthma, eczema, and rhinitis among children—in the developed world [...]
The findings prompt the authors to suggest that a fast food diet may be contributing to the rise in these conditions, and if proved causal, could have huge implications for public health, given the popularity of these foodstuffs.
The authors base their findings on data from more than 319,000 13-14 year olds from 107 centres in 51 countries, and more than181,000 six to seven year olds from 64 centres in 31 countries.
The teens and the children’s parents were formally quizzed on whether they had symptoms of asthma (wheeze); rhinoconjunctivitis (which produces a runny or blocked nose accompanied by itchy and watery eyes); and eczema; and their weekly diet.
After taking account of factors likely to influence the results, the analysis showed that fast food was the only food type to show the same associations across both age groups, prompting the authors to suggest that “such consistency adds some weight to the possible causality of the relationship.”
It was associated with current and severe symptoms of all three conditions among the teens— across all centres in the participating countries, irrespective of gender or levels of affluence. 
Stolen from Jessica's Health Blog
A fuller article can be found here.
This research has been led by two paediatricians from the University of Auckland, Professor Innes Asher and Phillippa Ellwood.
This is a hugely important piece of research, and the results strongly suggest that as cash-strapped New Zealand families replace fresh fruit and vegetables with junk food, they may be compromising their children's health. It also begs the question of why the government continues to pussyfoot around with regulating the junk food industry, especially advertising to children.
The BMJ's media release has been picked up by Radio New Zealand. We look forward to this being the top headline, with due credit to our local researchers, in New Zealand's papers tomorrow. Or will they be too afraid of offending their advertisers?

Happy new year!!

Looking a lot like they do the rest of the year, except it's summer and the window's open.
Have a happy and safe new year, everyone