New Year Musings

It was interesting to poke around the Wild Land website the other day to see how the content has evolved over the last couple of years. The writing style is still largely the same, but the content has altered. There is less “parish pump” content being used on quiet days and the historical stories have become more focussed.

Otherwise, Wild Land is pretty much continuing along the theme that I initially envisaged ”“ covering earthquakes, eruptions, history and weather events in New Zealand and the South Pacific.

One thing that stands out is how us small players go to great lengths to acknowledge sources and apply credit where it’s due. Whereas the big players on the Internet, grab and go. Last year it was two servers named “huge” and “vinson” at Victoria University of Wellington who were grabbing handsful of content from my Tawa weather station and socking it away. Efforts to find out who was behind the data grab and what it was being used for were fruitless. The grab continues this year, but the servers have changed their name.

The issue here is not so much that the data is being grabbed, after all that’s why I put material on the Internet, but whether the source is being acknowledged. Netiquette doesn’t apply to some of these big institutions, it seems.

Mind you, not all of us small players are honourable, either. I’ve found material from Wild Land cut and pasted into a number of forums in an attempt to inflate the ego of this or that poster. But patience wins out with these “Hooray Henries” as they quickly run out of puff and are discovered for the plagiarists that they are. In most cases, my peers are honourable and provide links back to content or an appropriate credit line, which is sufficient.

Is this really worth it? is a phrase that has popped up a few times over the past couple of years. Is there anybody out there? The answer is given by analysis packages that provide statistics on the number of visits, how long people stay at the website etc. But the old “stats, stats and more lies” line always applies. Weblog and Webaliser were given the heave-ho late in the year when it was discovered that many of the claimed visits were actually robots. This conjured up a vision of my writing for a bunch of automatons while the rest of humanity got on with life. Crikey. No audience.

The number of robots accessing websites is phenomenal. The useful ones which index content for search engines or for hot links are acceptable, but why a robot would want to listen to an on-line radio station is a mystery until you realise that they’re programmed to just grab content presumably to make a buck somewhere else.

The replacement analysis package, Awstats, was an ego crusher as the number of actual human visitors reported plummeted. But facing the truth showed just how dynamic the number of visitors each day was. A steady core of about 50 visitors pop in to Wild Land each day to see what’s up, and if nothing is posted for a day or so, they’re off to other sites and numbers start to decline.

What it did show, was that Wild Land is used as a reference site. If a tectonic event happens in New Zealand or the South Pacific traffic jumps dramatically, as the Raoul and Ruapehu eruptions and recent Gisborne earthquake showed. The day after the magnitude 6.8 quake off the coast of Gisborne, the site received 600 visits from people looking for information. The historical information on Gisborne quakes of the 1930s and 1960s was just as popular as the notes on the latest event.

But being a reference site is hard slog. Compilation of monthly reports on weather, earthquakes etc takes time. Time that could be better spent elsewhere if no-one actually reads the report. This aspect of Wild Land is under review at the moment. The absence of the weather and geological summaries for November 2007 is simply due to pressure of other work (the book manuscript takes priority) and newsworthy events are written on the fly.

Most fun is had with the whimsical stories about past events, bug invasions etc that are used as filler stories when Mother Nature takes a break from assailing us with storms, earthquakes, eruptions and other exciting matters.

Cretins are active on the Internet in increasing numbers, trying to post comments to lure readers to porn or drug sites but Akismet and other automated measures catch most, and few get through. Frustration continues with the turkeys who keep posting fake entries into the site logs making it appear that porn and drug sites link in to my sites. Why they persist is beyond me. Surely they realise that the website owner (who’s the only person likely to check the logs on a regular basis) won’t be interested in following the links back. And the network analysers that study site linking on the Internet will filter these bogus sites out anyway. Perhaps I’m missing something here.

I was thinking the other day, with the end of the year rolling around, about doing an item on people who should get a special mention for their contribution to humanity during 2007. Well, the research would take a lot of time, and I noticed a cluster of aphids on a leaf of one of the pea plants late yesterday. A quick jet of water dealt with them, but I need to check out the other plants as the tomatoes are setting flowers, the celery is in a growth spurt, and one of the lettuces showed me a gnawed leaf. And there’s that bit of blackberry that popped up near the fern….

And there’s a couple of chapters of the book languishing….

So, I’ll be brief (audience sighs in appreciation). I have to take my hat off to Sysop, the very patient host of my sites who answers my inane questions and keeps tweaking the boxes of bolts to keep things running securely. I hear the snap of Arkwright’s till every time there’s a spike in traffic, but the bills haven’t arrived yet. Ale helps.

My nomination for New Zealander of the year is Celia Lashley who has devoted years of her life to saving our future generation of young men. During 2007, she has provided many insights into what is actually going on in the heads of our youth, and has set lightbulbs glowing in the minds of the rest of the population as we realise “Oh yeah, that’s right!” I know she hasn’t acted alone in this area, but as a spokeswoman and interview subject, she has contributed a wealth of hope for the future of our country. Take a bow, Celia.

My nomination for community of the year is Gisborne (don’t call me Cyclops!) I am impressed at how the community and authorities have worked together to turn things around following the magnitude 6.8 quake on December 20th. The people up there have got on top of the situation in spite of a traumatic experience and considerable damage. There are plenty of stories of stoicism, including the businessman whose premises were red stickered and his house burnt down, but he is still looking after loyal customers. The very absence of wailing and gnashing of teeth from the East Coast has a downside though ”“ the smooth transition has meant that most of the rest of New Zealand seems to have moved on to other matters, overlooking the trauma that residents have been through.

And now, 2008 looms. Will it be the year that the overdue Alpine Fault jars the country? Or will the Wellington region, where thousands of people live within 10 km of an earthquake fault that is expected to deliver a 7th magnitude punch, get a shock? It seems that there’s good news on this front too. The Wellington fault, which doesn’t creep as pressure builds up, it simply goes “bang!” every 500 to 800 years may not be as primed as was thought. A paper reviewing quake risk for the region arrived on my desk the other day, and it could well be that the magnitude 8 Wairarapa earthquake of 1855 has delayed the Wellington Fault’s next act. More on that soon.

In the meantime, though. Keep those kits well-stocked and ready. Earthquakes may be high profile affairs, but New Zealand’s biggest risk is from flooding. It’s best to be prepared. New Zealand is, after all, a wild land.

Happy New Year to you ”“ and thanks for visiting Wild Land.

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