Friday, 13 January 2006

Some thoughts on the harmony of men's interests

Did it ever occur to you... that there is no conflict of interests among men, neither in business nor in trade nor in their most personal desires — if they omit the irrational from their view of the possible and destruction from their view of the practical? There is no conflict, and no call for sacrifice, and no man is a threat to the aims of another — if men understand that reality is an absolute not to be faked, that lies do not work, that the unearned cannot be had, that the undeserved cannot be given, that the destruction of a value which is, will not bring value to that which isn’t.

The businessman who wishes to gain a market by throttling a superior competitor, the worker who wants a share of his employer’s wealth, the artist who envies a rival’s higher talent — they are all wishing facts out of existence, and destruction is the only means of their wish. If they pursue it, they will not achieve a market, a fortune or immortal fame — they will merely destroy production, employment and art. A wish for the irrational is not to be achieved, whether the sacrificial victims are willing or not.

Taken from Ayn Rand's novel, Atlas Shrugged. I couldn't have said it better myself -- but I will keep right on trying.

More: Quotes, Ethics, Objectivism


A joke at the heart of Climate Change

It's hilarious, really, isn't it. Why am I laughing? If you haven't heard already, here's the joke: plants are implicated in the 'global warming problem.' Here's how: Methane is roughly twenty times more powerful than carbon dioxide in trapping the sun's heat -- it is the third most important greenhouse gas behind water vapour and carbon dioxide -- and a new scientific study has just discovered that "living plants may emit almost a third of the methane entering the Earth's atmosphere. The result has come as a shock to climate scientists." This is a genuinely remarkable result," said Richard Betts of the climate change monitoring organisation the Hadley Centre." [Source, The Guardian]

I swear I am not making this up. Living plants, especially 'deep-rooted' plants such as trees, contribute about one third of the atmospehere's methane, with the Amazon Basin itself responsible for a hefty proportion. Cow farts and rice paddies are largely responsible for the other two thirds. Notes JunkScience.Com (who note also that the potential temperature saving by the year 2050 so far achieved by Kyoto is 0.001412424 °C):
So, in the space of a couple of weeks we've had temperate forests harvesting too much sunlight and warming the globe, high latitude forest trees getting 'skinnier' and absorbing less carbon than guesstimated and now, tropical forests as a source of the much more potent greenhouse gas, methane. Anyone get the feeling wannabe energy rationers are getting really desperate to deny there could be any possible avenue to mitigate warming other than ceding control of energy?

Anyone noticed that, despite the gales of hysteria, the alleged warming of ~0.7 °C over the 20th Century is about the same as the error range on estimated global mean temperature? Anyone noticed that, while atmospheric carbon levels have measurably increased and global temperature has probably increased, crop yields have more than kept pace with human population growth from ~1.7 billion to over 6 billion while hunger has declined? Anyone noticed that during this time developed nations have returned marginal farmlands to forest and wildlife habitat? Anyone figure the global picture may not be quite as bleak as wannabe energy rationers would like to paint it?
Maybe now we might see an end to the environmentalists' call for an Anti-Industrial Revolution. I look forward instead to environmentalists' demands for the following:

Linked Articles: The forgotten methane source - Max Planck Institute
Global warming: Blame the forests - Guardian
The assault on forests as carbon sinks continues - JunkScience.Com

A Valkyrie passes

'It's not over 'til the fat lady sings.' That popular line refers to the earth-shaking final scene of Wagner's four-day opera cycle, 'The Ring,' whose end is signalled in a glorious conflagration set alight by a generously endowed Valkyrie known as Brünnhilde. The soprano playing Brünnhilde needs to be generously endowed because she must be able to spend three days leaping around the scenery while still having the lung-power to be heard all the while above a 120-piece orchestra.

Birgit Nilsson (right) was undoubtedly the loudest Brünnhilde ever heard, and arguably the greatest ever recorded -- she was undoubtedly the Brünnhilde of the twentieth-century. And she has just died. She made the role of Brünnhilde her own and, for her, the fat lady has now sadly sung. Says The Telegraph:
Birgit Nilsson, who has died aged 87, was considered to be the greatest Wagnerian soprano of her day; she had a rock-solid technique and a voice of such soaring, unforced power that it was able to cut through the massed forces of a Wagnerian orchestra with ease, yet a purity of tone which enabled her to switch to the most delicate pianissimo.
I'll be playing Act III of Siegfried today in tribute, particularly 'Heil, dir Sonne!' (Hail to the Sun!) [Listen to the first twenty seconds here]. Farewell Birgit.

'Townhouses in the sky' - Santiago Calatrava

Architect-engineer Santiago Calatrava has unveiled plans for a tower of "townhouses in the sky" for lower Manhattan, immediately adjacent to the Brooklyn Bridge -- itself a pretty inspiring piece of work.

Interestingly, the crystalline "townhouses in the sky" barely picks up on their neighbour, the Bridge, at all, whereas Calatrava's project for a new rail terminal at the World Trade Centre site (below) does almost explicitly, and beautifully.

(You can see a QuickTime video of this Twenty-First Century Grand Central at Calatrava's own site. Look for the WTC PATH Terminal, and click on the 'Video' link.)

Linked Article: Calatrava, Sciame proposed tower sculpture for the Seaport

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Thursday, 12 January 2006

Careful with that harpoon, Eugene!

Want to jump on to the back of whaling boats and spike their harpoons? The entertaining Generation XY blog has conveniently linked for you a game put together by Greenpeace to give you some practice. And once you've had your fill of all that political correctness, you can get out the Hawaiian Harpoon and do some serious fishing. Sadly, no game as yet apparently to give you practice with sinking whalers by ramming them with a 'can-opener,' or shooting at said rammer with the guns of a Japanese frigate. Until then, visit the XY blokes to get your kicks with the games he has linked.

While we're talking entertaining blogs and insanity, if you've ever been entertained by the certifiably insane unhinged brain-damaged delightfully contrary ravings bayings at the moon opinions of one Oswald Bastable, then you owe it to yourself to give his novel a go (serialised online here). Appropriately enough for a novel about time travel, you have to start reading from the bottom of the page. If it's half as convulsively endearing as Oswald's daily posts, it'll be worth your efforts. I plan to start downloading and printing it out just as soon as I install a new printer cartridge.

And of course I couldn't mention whales, novels and dripping wet political correctness without giving you a link to an online copy of Melville's great novel Moby Dick. "Call me Ishmael..."

[UPDATE: Samizdata contributor James Waterton makes socially responsible whale-meat of the arguments against minke-whaling. "Soft-headed, shallow and emotionally driven," he calls the points raised by Greenpeace's eco-pirates. And you thought I was harsh.]

Links: Whaling Games
Novels - Meddlers in Time, Moby Dick.

Still flowing. Still in the zone.

More information on the concept of Flow - what sportsmen call 'being in the zone,' and what psychologists call a state of being in focused attention (about which I previously wrote here): here's a short interview with Mikhail Csikszentmihalyi (Dr Mike), answering questions on his work with Flow and a few more of its applications, this time for education. Money quote:

Q: Why aren’t teachers creating more of a Flow-like atmosphere in school?
A: First of all, schools are a recent phenomenon. We have had 200,000 generations who grew up without schools and they learned perfectly well. In the last six generations, we developed this method of teaching, which we call school, and it’s a pretty sorry experiment at this point...
This is a subject not just of academic importance. 'A typical day is full of anxiety and boredom,' says Csikszentmihalyi. 'Flow experiences provide the flashes of intense living against this dull background.'
It’s the name we give to the experience that people report when they are completely involved in something, so they forget themselves, forget time. It seems to be the kind of moments when people feel the most alive and their life is the most meaningful. Over the years, I’ve [tried] to see whether it’s possible to transform everyday life — whether in school or family — into something that resembles the state of Flow.
Unlike many psychologists, who view every positive human attribute as somehow a negative -- work hard and you're obviously 'craving the approval denied you in childhood'; become a successful artist and discover that Freud declares that you simply want to mould your own faeces -- Csikszentmihalyi's studies work at "providing further insight on what makes life prosperous and full." His Quality of Life Research Centre was founded with that explicit aim. Amongst the online research papers there is one giving more detail about the concept of Flow, and how it can help transform education for the better.

Linked Articles: Using ‘Flow’ and creativity to motivate learning in school and home
Clapton on Robert Johnson: In the Flow
Student Engagement in High School Classrooms from the Perspective of Flow Theory

Health, wealth & nannying

Popular Mechanics magazine has judged the top fifty inventions of the last half-century, and they're online here. And here's some tables (for the US) showing what such inventions have helped bring about -- historically significant rises in life expectancy across the course of the last century. Stephen Hicks, whose site has these links, describes the dramatic rises simply as "fruits of the Enlightenment."

And just to prove that Stephen regularly has all the links that are fit to print, here too is a meditation on wealth and how to make it -- hint: wage slavery is out; and allow those who make it to keep it -- and "Job seeking advice to start the year off right: Responses in an Interview for a Nanny Position That Will Almost Certainly Sink Your Chances of Getting the Job." Sample response:
I personally favor the French view that it is a mark of cultural sophistication for young children to imbibe wine. And I hate to drink alone.
SuperNanny. Not.

Linked Articles: Top Fifty Inventions,
Actuarial Study (Part V, Results),
How to Make Wealth,
Responses in an Interview for a Nanny Position That Will Almost Certainly Sink Your Chances of Getting the Job


Waiheke Project, Organon Architecture

An unbuilt 1991 project for a ridge overlooking Oneroa. Maybe one day... :-)


Wednesday, 11 January 2006

Bloggery & elsewhere

I've just added two blogs: the BioNuclear Bunny -- tagline, "Our future is Biotech and Nuclear. Embrace the change. Embrace the Bunny" -- and local blog Kete Were, which I don't think will be embracing the Bunny any time soon. Say the Kete-ers: "We have Baskets. Of Stuff." Test their claim.

And here's another thing: G-Man is upset because I've demoted him in my blogroll from 'Libz & Elsewhere' to just another Compulsion Touter. My reasoning is that he's clearly a supporter of the Association of Compulsion Touters. He disagrees. What do you think? I guess he is one of the few bloggers out there who at least doesn't have me linked as a Right Wing Blog, which is something to be grateful for I guess, but he was so unfair to poor what's-her-name, wasn't he.

Oh, and if you hadn't already heard, Lindsay Perigo is back on air at Radio Live over the summer. Listen in this week on the nine-to-noon slot. This morning he's interviewing both Tibor Machan and Don Brash. Ring quickly.

Linked Sites: BioNuclear Bunny, Kete Were, GMan Inc., Radio Live

Farewell Tana

2005 was a great ride for All Black fans, and Tana's brilliance was one of the reasons. Farewell Tana. You've given us all some great memories -- shame we can't afford to keep you here.

Opening a whole new can of whales

We eat cows. The Japanese eat whales. The only difference is that cows are privately owned, and whales are much larger. Despite the hand-wringing over the killing and eating of whales , it's no more or less barbaric than the killing and eating of cows.

Here's what really is barbaric: trying to stop whaling by sinking whalers with a 'can opener' -- as the self-appointed Sea Shepherds have done nine times before. Meeting these efforts with defensive force -- as the Japanese whalers have now asked their military to do -- is simple prudence. Good for them. When you're being rammed by a ship with a 'can-opener' attached, being piloted by people intent on sinking you, why wouldn't you defend yourself?

In that context, Jeanette Fitzsimon's call to have a New Zealand frigate sent to protect "the safety of our citizens on the protest ships" is worse than stupid. Much like she is really. Best she stick to marketing her Green Organic Defoliant.

[UPDATE: Robert Winefield's comment below on Green inconsistency is worth highlighting:
The fact that Fitzsimmons wants the RNZN to fight the Japs over a bunch of sodding whales just shows you how idiotic she and her minions are. Do the Greenz not provide the Minister for Disarmament from within their own ranks?

Sure, let Osama and Saddam rape, kill and torture MEN, WOMEN and CHILDREN in Iraq and Afghanistan and it's "How dare anyone raise arms against them."

But harm one hair on some blubbery sea-beast... and it's "let's send in the navy!!!"
Idiocy indeed.]

More Conservation that's Not PC


Consider the trees...

Tuesday, 10 January 2006

Get rid of Queen St's trees

A storm in a 'tree-cup' going on in Auckland's Queen St over the holidays has had all sorts of people saying all sorts of nonsense -- the politically correct at loggerheads with the politically conservative over the architecturally stupid.

The issue? A "controversial plan to cull exotic trees on Auckland's Queen Street" and to replace them with natives, announced by mayor Dick Hubbard and referred to since by those with the vapours as The Great Tree Massacre. To me, the whole thing is somewhat laughable, but one with an important point.

The bloody trees should never have been there in the first place. Years ago -- some two thousand years, in fact -- Roman poet Virgil declared "God made the country, but man made the town." Poetically accurate, it describes why Queen St should be void of trees. The precincts of the city should be the place wherein man's great works are evident, the transition from country to city being a continuum from nature's great works to man's. As architect Claude Megson argued when the bloody trees were first planted, it was evident the reason was an abject lack of imagination on the part of those planting them -- man's great works being few and far between both in the streetscape of Auckland's main street and the heads of the council's architects, another time-honoured dictum was followed: "When in doubt, plant a tree."

The problem is not whether the trees in Queen St are exotic or native; the problem is that Auckland's city fathers have all the imagination of an anaemic hamster. Take the chainsaw to the trees, I say, and apply some imagination to the streetscape -- and don't plant any more bloody trees in Queen St. Use your head instead.


Things I learned on my holidays, 4

Bonfires are back. New Years Eve on the beach at Whangaumu Bay, Tutukaka, and there were four bonfires, fireworks, lots of revels and lashings of alcohol. Great to see, as were the many bonfires on other beaches right across the horizon, all the way down to the Whangarei Heads.

Meddling busybodies were nowhere to be seen, and nor were any fire permits.

Reviewing Narnia

How do you write a film review?

Dianne Durante gives a Master Class by giving you a 'how-to' of her own The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe review.

Linked Article: The Chronicles of Narnia, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: Movie Reviews and How to Write Them

Too-fast growth is bad. Right?

It's probably unfair to pick on Jordan when he's still not returned from holiday, but hey, I never said I was fair. "I'm not fair." OK? Right then, on to the post: As an aside before leaving for his holidays, Jordan mentioned that "the economy is slowing down after five years of, perhaps, too-fast growth." Now that's a pretty common view, and one heard from many voices -- at least one of them emanating from the Reserve Bank. 'Too-fast' growth in productivity causes rapidly rising prices, and has to be stamped down into mediocre growth, or even no growth at all. 'Too-fast' growth is A Bad Thing.

Better no growth at all, says this view, than 'too-fast' growth.

But can it be true? In what sense can economic growth be 'too fast'? How can increased wealth production possibly be A Bad Thing? For RBNZ Governor Alan Bollocks, growth is 'too fast' when it somehow challenges his 0-3% inflation band -- and everyone knows that high economic growth causes inflation, don't they?

Well, they'd be wrong. The 'Philips Curve' and the Keynesian analysis behind it are what supports the 'Economic Growth Causes Inflation' Myth -- and they'd both be wrong.
This curve, now viewed by some as an economic law, was constructed decades ago and asserted that there was a "trade off" between unemployment and inflation -- that high inflation provided lower unemployment and low inflation created higher unemployment. But almost as soon as the Philips Curve became economic orthodoxy, actual experience contradicted it. Inflation coincided with increasing unemployment in the 70's, while falling inflation coincided with reduced unemployment during key periods of the 80's and 90's.

Keep the following in mind: Inflation is a reduction in the purchasing power of a unit of currency. As governments control currencies, they create inflation. Inflation can be observed by tracking changes in currencies relative to precious metals and other currencies. Over time, a currency's decline manifests itself in higher prices for industrial and consumer goods. An economy reacts poorly to the uncertainty and confusion of inflation, which hurts growth, and an economy responds favorably to the stability of low inflation, encouraging economic growth. In either case, an economy reacts to inflation and government currency policy; it cannot create it.
There you go then, and not so difficult to understand. Pity then that we have a Reserve Bank Act predicated upon a Myth. The Myth is made more so by a misunderstanding of what inflation really is; to remind you from above: "Inflation is a reduction in the purchasing power of a unit of currency," brought about by an increase in the money supply. The former is a result of the latter. Prices can rise for many reasons quite apart from monetary inflation; when a price rise is due to supply and demand reasons, it's called a price signal -- stepping on price signals distorts the market. It really is A Bad Thing.

It is only when prices rise due to monetary inflation that it is a problem. To classical economists, inflation is the undue increase in the supply of money above the rates that can be supported by savings. The RBNZ's 'basket' of goods and services by which they measure price inflation is not an accurate reflection of underlying monetary inflation -- a measure of the money supply is.
As long as consumer prices (as measured by the CPI) are not rising, or are rising only modestly, it is assumed that there is no inflation, or only very little inflation. Dr. George Reisman suggests that this is "..akin to saying that so long as someone shows no visible signs of illness, he has no illness - that his illness begins only when its symptoms become unmistakable." He goes on to say that "inflation does not come into existence when prices start rising noticeably, any more than heart disease or cancer come into existence when a person finally has a heart attack or experiences the acute symptoms of cancer. On the contrary, these diseases are already well advanced before their obvious symptoms appear."
'Too-fast' growth causes an increase in wealth, not an increase in inflation. What causes inflation is printing money, and only the central banks of government can do that.

Linked Article: The "Economic Growth Causes Inflation" Myth

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Things I learned on holiday, 3.

Lesson number three: bikinis are A Good Thing. A Very Good Thing. Accordingly, and with a hat tip to G-Man, I've assessed just exactly which attributes my own tastes prefer to see in one -- or even out of one. Something behind the eyes is always good too:
Curvy and Naughty
Raw score: 62% Big Breasts, 59% Big Ass, and 40% Cute!

Thanks for taking the T and A and C test! Based on your selections, the results are clear: you show an attraction to larger breasts, larger asses, and sexier composures than others who've taken the test.

Note that you like women overall curvier than average.

My third variable, "cuteness" is a mostly objective
measure of how innocent a given model looked. It's determined by a
combination of a lot of factors: lack of dark eye makeup, facial
expression, posture, etc. If you scored high on that variable, you are
either really nice OR you're into deflowering teens. If you scored low,
you are attracted to raunchier, sexier, women. In your case, your lower than average score suggests you appreciate a sexier, naughtier look. Kudos!

Recommended Celebrities: Supermodel Laetitia Casta and Actress Angelina Jolie.

My test tracked 3 variables How you compared to other people your age and gender:
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 72% on tit-size
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 71% on ass-size
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 16% on cuteness
Link: The Tits, Ass, and Cuteness Test

Monday, 9 January 2006

Happy 2006

Oh yeah, Happy New Year everyone. :-))

Anything important I've missed? Any New Year's Resolutions you should tell me about?

Bad news for NZ's economic freedom

The various Economic Freedom Indices are a pretty blunt instrument to my mind -- for some reason they still measure New Zealand, for instance, as a perfect one for property rights, despite the many well-documented abuses inflicted upon NZ's property owners by government's both central and local. However, like all such things, while the precise figures are questionable the trend across several years is important.

The trend for New Zealand's economic freedom is down.

In the latest 2006 Heritage Foundation Index of Economic Freedom, Godzone has slipped from the top three just a few short years ago, to its latest possie only just inside the top ten. The trend is down, and we're going down quickly -- we're seeing decreasing freedom here at home, even as many other countries including many former communist-controlled basket-cases find the freedom mojo. Libz leader Bernard Darnton blames Helen and her minions:

"New Zealand has slipped from fifth to ninth on the index and this government seems determined to push us lower," says Darnton. "Helen Clark has mused aloud about what a great example Sweden is. Sweden places 19th on the index—the very bottom of the 'free' category. Presumably we can expect our decline to continue under her guidance."

"Unsurprisingly," notes Darnton, "by far New Zealand's worst performing area is 'Fiscal Burden of Government', i.e. the amount of money the government steals in taxes from its productive citizens. We rank 101st along with economic heavyweights Swaziland, Ghana, and Vietnam."

Not good news to return to, then.

Linked Articles: 2006 Index of Economic Freedom
Report Confirms Libz View - Labour Choking Economic Freedom in NZ

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Taming the inflation monster

As you might recall, we ended the year wondering why the Reserve Bank of New Zealand is strangling growth in a bid to keep down the prices of property -- nailing producers and exporters and all the rest of us to a cross of 'price stability' that is itself a mirage. This, says Alan Bollocks and RBNZ supporters, is neccessary to underpin the currency and restrain the infltaion monster. "No!" say RBNZ detractors like myself: in focussing only on 'price stability' you're reversing cause and effect.

Mike Shedlock suggests the worlds various central banks should do three simple things before they do us all a favour and self-destruct. While disagreeing with some of his detailed prescription, the general thrust of his recommendations is worth considering:
Instead of trying to achieve 'price stability' which ... is something that can neither be achieved nor measured , how about shooting for "money supply stability" instead? a.. Central banks should refuse to monetize government spending and trade deficits; b.. Central banks should let the market set interest rates; c.. Central banks should embark on a campaign of tightening reserves requirements over time to rein in fractional reserve lending Life would be so much simpler if Central Banks everywhere would stop trying to micromanage both prices and economic cycles. Quite simply, they are trying to achieve nirvana when nirvana can not possibly be measured, nor can nirvana be achieved in the first place with the policies they have in place. Of course if they stop doing these things, they will cease to be Central Banks in the modern sense, so perhaps they will get the hint and just close shop.
We wish. And as for that graph up top, just see the 'success' the US Central Bank has had in their number one job. Been really useful, huh?

Linked Articles: Inflation monster captured
One graph that says it all

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Things we all should have learned by now

Here's something to ponder as you gaily engage in debate: How much do you really need to know in order for your opinion to be an informed one? Not all opinions are equally valid -- uninformed opinion is less equal than most. In the 21st Century, there are some basics that an educated person really should know if they're to be considered educated enough to pound sand, let alone to survive in and comment knowledgably upon the issues that dominate our lives.

A friend has succinctly summed up on another list just what those basics are:
I believe that a well-rounded education includes a knowledge of statistics, a knowledge of the basics of differential and integral calculus, a knowledge of basic molecular biology and evolutionary biology, the basics of physics and chemistry, a reasonable grasp of the basic rules of logic, a reasonable understanding of macro and microeconomics including supply and demand, a basic knowledge of human psychology, a reasonable survey of Western Literature, a basic understanding of the history of Western Civilization, an in-depth understanding of the Constitutional heritage of the United States, a survey of Western philosophy, the ability to read sheet music and some knowledge of our musical heritage and the basics of at least one foreign language.
To that list I might add an understanding of basic ethics and the theory of rights, and a survey of the history of Western art. How does that sound to you?

Sunday, 8 January 2006

What I learned on my holidays, 2.

What else did I learn while I was away? Well, I learned that some bloggers don't even stop for Christmas or for intercontinental travel! Phew. That's dedication for you. I learned too that there is more than one perfect breakfast -- I found another.

This one is a version of fried eggs with what the Americans call Hot Biscuits (scones to you and me) and Gravy. For the biscuits, I used my usual wholemeal scone recipe and added pepper, garlic and more cayenne than normal. For the gravy, I used this recipe to make a beautiful vegetarian gravy (no animals were harmed in the making of this breakfast). Time your pots and pans right, and you have the perfect plate of early Sunday avo pick-me-up. Beeaauutiful.

Accompanied by a long glass of iced tea and Brian Eno's 'Another Green World,' it's another perfect Sunday brunch.

What I learned on my holidays, 1.

What a great holiday. I trust you've all enjoyed my absence.

Amongst my holiday reading was the new Anthony Burgess biography: mentioned is Burgess's enthusiasm for inventing what he called "life-threatening cocktails," and a recipe for one such is included -- with time available and the ingredients to hand, a number of our party felt compelled to try it out. Here, according to Burgess's biographer Andrew Biswell is how to make a pint of Hangman's Blood:
Into a pint glass, doubles of the following are poured: gin, whisky, rum, port and brandy. A small bottle of stout is added and the whole topped up with Champagne....It tastes very smooth, induces a somewhat metaphysical elation, and rarely leaves a hangover.
Rather like a Black Velvet with a depth charge then. And happily, I can report that both promises were fulfilled. The hangovers were all achieved by other means.


Claude Megson: The Norris House

Claude Megson's 1974 'Norris House' was one of his own personal favourites, and a delightful example of the 'two-zoned' house.

And it's for sale...