Saturday, 30 December 2006

The Queen

We went to see the Helen Mirren movie about the Queen and Diana's death tonight - it was an interesting look at the situation, assuming that there was some historical accuracy to the story. Tony Blair came out of it better than I expected he would. But in the final analysis I'd have happily waited to watch it on TV one Sunday night.

Sanding and preparation for painting the living room has been the day's other activity. We have a way to go yet, but as the plans for the project are all in Heather's head I await instructions, as always.

Friday, 29 December 2006

Sailing adventures

Yesterday was the first calm sunny day for weeks, so Schroeder and I decided to go for a sail and try out our spinnaker for the first time. We got to Lyttelton to see a 5-10 knot southwesterly, just right for a first attempt; but by the time we had rigged the boat around 12.30 it had gone to a 15 knot easterly! You can see the change in this screenshot from the excellent Port Company weather station site.

We decided to give it a go anyway, so we sailed upwind past Parsons Rock telling ourselves that it really wasn't too strong a breeze, then we turned onto a run and hoisted the kite.

The first problem was the halyard, which was very stiff and difficult to pull. That's probably just friction and should dissipate with more use and lots of silicone spray lube - the halyard has been doing double duty as our boom topping lift, so it's a bit set in its positions. We had no trouble getting the pole out, and a small twist in the sail sorted itself out as soon as the wind filled the sail.
Scale comparison of a Quintet 6 (left) and a Noelex 22.

There's a more serious problem, though; a Noelex 22 spinnaker is too small for a Quintet 6, even though the Quintet is a slightly smaller boat. Also the halyard exits a lot higher up the mast than on a Noelex, so the little spinnaker waved about high in the air. We could not get the pole and the clew to meet, so the clew flew uncontrolled about 2m from the pole, and the halyard was still about 30cm from the mast. With the spinnaker flying free like that, we didn't have as much control as we'd have liked, so the downhill run was spent keeping the boat under the spinnaker, rather than following a definite course.

Earlier this season - Impulsive going to windward.
Anyway, we had some spectacular surfs down waves, planing along with the GPS indicating about 9 knots. Getting the spinnaker down went fine. We took the camera, but we were so gripped up keeping the wavy kite in control that photos didn't happen. Now we have to decide if we want to purchase a new or used full size kite, or see if this one can be extended.

Wednesday, 27 December 2006

A day of rest?

Not exactly...

I went to work this morning and spent a quiet hour backing up databases, then installing new license keys for both versions of WebCT/Blackboard.

Back home, we have begun emptying the living room, in preparation for painting. This has so far amounted to removing all the furniture apart from the sofa, which will be trundled to the unused end of the room as painting proceeds. Then we moved all the books from the shelves either side of the fireplace, and stacked them, in order, on the floor of the spare bedroom. After that we had a cup of tea.

Tuesday, 26 December 2006


Freeze a jolly good fellow, h'pray h'pray h'pray - another year bites the dust, and I'm feeling distinctly older. It was a quiet day, with grey overcast and a mixture of easterly and north-wester winds ruling out sailing - so we went shopping and bought a new vacuum cleaner at half price in the sales. You know you're beyond help when you spend your birthday buying a vacuum cleaner; I thought buying a lawnmower marked the end of my wild days, but a Kambrook Jaguar is worse.

Then we had lunch in town with Merv & Nicky Sarson, though we had trouble even finding a place that was open. Thanks to the Holidays Act, businesses have just given up and declined to open in the face of a double hit of overtime pay plus days off. I'm all for giving employees a decent deal, but this one has definitely backfired. Even our local pub was closed, so Schroeds and I had to resort to the Bealey Avenue Speights Ale House for a tea-time birthday drink - three pints of 5% Distinction was quite enough for us.

Xmas past

Santa and reindeer.

Christmas Day was a rapid whirl of kids, food, drink, and wrapping paper. More photos.

Monday, 25 December 2006

Ho ho ho

Christmas day has started with grey overcast. Let's hope it stays dry, at least - for some reason of family dynamics known only to a chosen few, we have a large group of people arriving at our place for a lunch. The preparation seems pretty casual (i.e. everyone says that someone else is bound to bring item X, and "it'll all be right on the night") so I'm sticking to my department - the barbecue and a bottle of shiraz.

We haven't done anything about presents either - since we tend to buy what we want when we want it, being given something you don't need seems a bit superfluous. Besides, in the last 3 weeks we've had a holiday in Sydney and a second break in Golden Bay, so we're feeling pretty well treated.

Then there's the question of my birthday (fifty-mumble) tomorrow. I'm hoping for a nice day to go sailing and have a picnic.

Saturday, 23 December 2006

The big picture

A great shot from shuttle mission STS116, showing the northern South Island and Cook Strait behind the spacewalking astronauts.

Powerful magic

This happened three weeks ago, but I'd missed it until now. (Thanks to the good news-spotting of Logan Moss.) If you're one of those who think we live in a rational and enlightened world, read on;
Road-spraying 'releases spirits'

04 December 2006

A police-led initiative of spraying water on
state highways to release the trapped spirits of
those killed in motor crashes has been declared a success.

Yesterday a special police convoy carrying Maori
elders sprayed 10,000 litres of Waikato River
water on SH1 and SH2 in a bid to free the spirits
of crash victims.

Dick Waihi, iwi liaison officer for the
Counties-Manukau police district, today said the
operation had been successful.

"About 35 people turned up to support us," Mr
Waihi said. "It was very successful.

"It was a first for the country and we have had some
really good feedback."

Maori elders consider the combination of blessed
river water and prayers to be a trigger for the
release of the spirits of those trapped by violent
deaths on the roads.

Water was pumped from the Waikato River into a
tanker at Tuakau by the New Zealand Fire Service.

From 5.30am the convoy drove south from Mt
Wellington to Mercer on SH1, and then along SH2
to Maramarua.

The ceremonial spraying was interrupted at Mercer
and Maramarua, where a karakia was performed.

Mr Waihi said the 2½-hour exercise was cost-free,
with people donating labour and resources.

Despite the prayers, Mr Waihi said the exercise
was non-religious and not just for Maori fatalities.

"Some people don't have an understanding why we
are doing it. They should find out more about
Maori protocols before making comment."

Waikato road policing manager Inspector Leo
Tooman had no problems with the initiative.

"Anything that helps is worthwhile, isn't it?",2106,3888120a10,00.html

Some questions occur to me;
  1. When this exercise was pronounced a success, what did that mean? Were the spirits of the dead freed from the Waikato tar-seal? If so, where did they go?

  2. How long will this magic spell last for? Will it need to be repeated after the "killer road" claims another five victims? Ten? Annually? How do they know?

  3. The road policing manager who said "Anything that helps is worthwhile..." seems to think that this will make roads safer. How?

  4. Will Maori and the Police repeat this munificence now they've ascertained (somehow) that it was a success? The Kawarau Gorge has had several fatalities recently - spraying water on that road at 5.30 on a winter morning would be a boon to the trapped souls in that part of the world - and to ice skaters.

This belief in primitive superstitions reminded me of another web classic that deserves a repeat airing; here is the famous letter to Dr Laura Schlesinger, "Why Can't I Own a Canadian?"
To finish a round of mumbo-jumbo and pie-in-the-sky, I just have to share this, from The Onion.

Right, enough silliness, on to the practical stuff. Like this;

Thursday, 21 December 2006

There and back

We had a pretty painless getaway from Golden Bay; we had the house emptied, sheets changed (ours off, theirs back on), floor vacuumed, and everything shut down by 9.15am - we had lunch in Murchison, drove through rain near the Lewis Pass, and returned to Christchurch at 4pm. I promptly drove over to a Fendalton bar where our end-of-year drinks were happening - it wasn't exactly a riot, but it was nice to sort out a few more details and wish people Merry Xmas.

Wednesday, 20 December 2006

Last day

Tomorrow we say ta-ta to Tata beach and drive 5 hours back to Christchurch. Today a northwest front moved up the West Coast and arrived at Golden Bay about 10am.

The wind band could be seen approaching across the bay, and the hills near Farewell Spit vanished in the mist.

Ten minutes after the wind arrived, the waves started breaking on the beach.

Our plan to go rowing around the islands gave way to lying on the sofa reading, followed by lunch and a drive into Takaka to look around the shops; 30 minutes was plenty for that activity.

As all students of South Island weather know, the north-wester is followed by a cold southerly front, and this should hit the Lewis Pass about the time we're driving across to Canterbury tomorrow. Snow to 600 metres, says the forecast; I'm glad the chains are still in the boot. It's a funny way to end a summer seaside holiday, though.

Tuesday, 19 December 2006

More holiday news

Yesterday we biked 5 or 6 km to Pohara, where we had coffee at a great cafe and bought a few groceries, then biked back, with several side trips for sight seeing. The old Tarakohe cement works, now crumbling away, is a great subject for photography, though I obeyed the warning signs and didn't get too close.

In the afternoon we swam, and rowed the 3m alloy dinghy from the house around to Ligar Bay and back.

Thursday, 14 December 2006

Counting down

Two more days in my working year - then on Saturday we head to Golden Bay, renting a house right by the sand at Tata Beach. We are going on a 4wd bus trip along Farewell Spit on Sunday, then the rest of the week is just time to lie about doing nothing, exploring the area on bikes, and generally relaxing.

Yesterday we spent the afternoon interviewing for a second Educational Technology Consultant, to share my workload. I'm sure we've made a good choice, though either of our top two candidates would have been fine in the job. One candidate was spectacularly unsuitable, though, which goes to prove that qualifications on paper definitely don't tell the full story.

Monday, 11 December 2006

Back to work

But not quite back to earth. Today was spent in low orbit at a planning day for the new UCTL. A very skilled facilitator led us through some pretty fruitful activities that helped us define where we're going and what we'll do. As always with such sessions, we ended with as many questions as answers, but at least we have some topics for discussion.

I sense an academic-techo split at present, but when the two new academic staff arrive, both with strong e-learning credentials, the game will be over. There will be a 17 person unit by February next year; a Director and Deputy Director, two admin staff, 5 academic staff, two educational advisers, two CCE e-learning admin and support, a video scripting/filming/editing guy, two Educational Technology Consultants (me plus another) to run WebCT and do other stuff - I think that's the list. Oops, forgot John, the surveys guy.

It's a real day at work tomorrow, though with the Teaching and Learning Committee Xmas lunch to keep us entertained.

Sunday, 10 December 2006

Sydney photos

As promised, an edited subset of the 300+ photos we took is now viewable at Flickr. Click here to go to the Sydney photo set.

Wednesday, 6 December 2006

Across the ditch

We're in Sydney this week, enjoying the big city and its warm weather. Expect a flickr-fest on my return this weekend...

Wednesday, 29 November 2006

We survived Borat

We saw the Borat movie last night, and we're still recovering from some scenes - especially the fight in the hotel, which I won't even attempt to describe. The bravery of Sacha Baron Cohen was amazing - for example, standing in front of an Atlanta rodeo crowd and singing, to the tune of the Star Spangled Banner, his Kazakh National Anthem. "Kazakhstan greatest country in the world, All other countries are run by little girls, Kazakhstan number one exporter of potassium..." I really thought he was going to be dragged out and beaten up. Mind you, they loved him when he praised "George Bush's War Of Terror" - but by the time he got to "Bush will drink the blood of every person in Iraq" they were getting nervous, and the anthem was the tipping point.

Monday, 27 November 2006

Richard passes through

Richard prepares to leave
Originally uploaded by gregor_ronald.
Our old buddy Richard Weatherly arrived by Kawasaki 750 motorcycle on Saturday evening, drenched from the West Coast northwest deluge, and left for Dunedin on Sunday morning.

We have been thinking about some cycling trips on the West Coast - but we would try to pick the weather patterns and go when a NW has just cleared. As this is an El Nino phase of the Southern Oscillation, it might not be a good idea though, with the westerly fronts about 4 days apart. Maybe next year.

Sunday, 26 November 2006

At the mall

The Palms mall on a pre-Xmas Saturday brings out the odd aspects of humanity. Firstly, the classy parkers - I suppose if you have an Audi you're entitled to park anywhere you want, and as badly as you want.
And the teenage trouser-sag; not the most egregious example I've seen, but if he put his cellphone in his pocket his trousers would fall down for sure. He's not in the league of the Japanese snowboarders though.The trousers have a checked panel that mirrors the checked boxer shorts, for stylistic effect. But why?
LATER - It's dawned on me that the checked panel below the checked boxers is a conscious attempt to fool the eye of the casual observer. It makes the pants look more low-rider than they really are, provided you wear checked boxers and go along with the whole silly gangsta-badguy ethos. And I thought Mick singing "Sympathy for the Devil" was naff...

Thursday, 23 November 2006

One step forward, one step back

Forward - better than expected progress on migrating courses from the old WebCT system to the new "BlackCT" - WebCT 6 is now branded Blackboard Learning System.

Yesterday I finished moving the Semester One courses, apart from actually assigning lecturers to their courses. We are awaiting delivery of a script that will do this, and anyway the departments make so many changes that there's not much point in doing this step until January or February. I'll start today on moving the Whole-Year courses, following a similar system. I have until late January to complete this, so there's no need to panic.

The backward step - more accurately, walking on the spot - is that Telecom have checked the home phone line and say there's nothing wrong with it. That's the problem with intermittent faults, I guess.

Just over a week till our Sydney trip, starting to get revved up about that. We get back from that for a week of meetings, interviewing job applicants, and end of year lunches, then to Golden Bay for a week. Then it will be Christmas, about which the less said the better.

Saturday, 18 November 2006

Computer tinkering

In preparation for the arrival of an external hard drive purchased via Trademe, I installed a USB 2.0 card in my PC this morning. The card cost $21, from a suburban computer dealer who operates out of the front of his house. Installation was simple, once I figured out which slot I could empty. I ditched a serial port; with 4 new USB ports as well as the two USB 1.1 originals, I think I've got enough connections.

I've certainly got enough cables. I just pushed the PC back in the corner and they all vanished - magic! One day I should unplug everything and tidy it up.

The first test of the new ports was to transfer this shot from the camera - much faster!

Friday, 17 November 2006

Telecom, and other thoughts

Telecom's Broadband people replied to my email, saying that as I use another ISP, who in turn use Telecom, I should start with Snap and the University. Which one of these is my ISP is rather moot, but we'll see. So I'm passing the crackle and pop problem to Snap. (Sorry for the pun, couldn't resist.)

Rain has arrived. So much for a day off...

A day off and Telecom "broadband"

It's Show Day, Canterbury's provincial anniversary, and a public holiday. I celebrated by buying a 250GB Seagate external drive on Trademe, for $184. Now that our main household PC has a 160GB data drive, which contains all our photos and other info, I've been nervous about backups, so this will do the job and have another 90GB to spare. For 74c/GB!

Back around 1997, we were saying "What would you do with a 1GB drive? Are they worth the $800 price tag?" It proves that making predictions, especially about computers' speed and capacity, is a fruitless occupation. In 1984 in Wanaka, when I was just getting into computers (Apple ][e, Kaypro 4, CP/M, 200Kb floppy disks, 64Kb RAM, woo hoo!) I saw a tourist wearing a T-shirt that said "A bigger hard disk and more RAM. Sorry, what was the question again?" I asked him where he got the shirt - Comdex was the answer. Comdex is more or less dead, but the T-shirt saying still holds true - especially with Windows Vista on the horizon.

Speaking of T-shirts, I bought two from Atom Apparel this week. One has the message "I'm blogging this", the other says "C:\DOS - C:\DOS\RUN - RUN\DOS\RUN" Well, I think it's funny...

My ADSL line is getting heaps of static and dropouts - I'm going to pester Telecom until I get a sensible answer. I have to reboot it every day or so, after it drops synchronisation and then fails to re-establish LCP (Link Control Protocol, the service that keeps the connection alive and synchronised).

As this log file excerpt shows:
Fri, 2006-11-17 06:41:00 - Initialize LCP.
Fri, 2006-11-17 06:41:00 - LCP is allowed to come up.
Fri, 2006-11-17 06:41:02 - Loss of synchronization :633
Fri, 2006-11-17 06:41:32 - Loss of synchronization :634
Fri, 2006-11-17 06:41:58 - LCP down.
Fri, 2006-11-17 06:42:01 - Initialize LCP.
Fri, 2006-11-17 06:42:01 - LCP is allowed to come up.
Fri, 2006-11-17 06:42:02 - Loss of synchronization :635
Fri, 2006-11-17 06:42:32 - Loss of synchronization :636
and so on...

There are lots of crackles and pops on the line, and the dial tone has hesitations quite regularly. So much for Telecom's "Max Speed" broadband deal. Though the advert does say "... as fast as your phone line allows" in small print, I see.

Maybe there's something to the increasingly frequent stories that Telecom has "Done a TranzRail" and sacrificed infrastructure maintenance in favour of shareholder dividends. The stories say that even with unrestricted speed through the exchange DSLAMs, the copper wire network is too old and creaky to handle the traffic. So I get synchronisation errors while their shareholders get a dividend cheque, and CEO Theresa Gattung gets around $3,000,000 a year. Farewell Milton Friedman, you can leave knowing that your monetarism lives on in the work of others...

As soon as UC and Telstra Clear can sort out broadband terminating at the UC network, I'm switching to their PhoneLine, Digital TV & HighSpeed Internet package.

Sunday, 12 November 2006

A small cycle trip

We went hill climbing this morning, up Hackthorne Rd to Cashmere, past Victoria Park to the top of Dyers Pass, taking 3 hours for the round trip - with several stops. Still, we both felt good, didn't find the hill climb too horrible, and generally thought it was lovely.
Heather climbing past Victoria Park.

Gregor at the top of the hill.

Saturday, 11 November 2006

A night out

We had a fun evening with assorted members of the Schroeder family at a little Italian restaurant not far from home, in Stanmore Road. They have a BYO wine licence, and just do pizza and pasta - we got lots of pizzas and everyone just grabbed slices till they were done. With lots of wine and talk, of course. Prices were excellent - pasta dishes $8-10, pizzas $15 on average, but huge.

I'm impressed with the way that the north end of Stanmore Road has developed some funky food places as the character of the neighbourhood has changed. Ten years ago it was run down and seedy, but as blocks of flats have been built, the area has also acquired bakeries and cafes; now there are at least half a dozen restaurants ranging from very good Thai and Indian restaurants to Italian and basic Kiwi-pub, at Henry Africa's. There's Sweet Jane's Wine Bar, Ma and Pa's Bakery, several good fish & chip shops, and a butcher who makes his own award winning bacon. All within walking distance of our place - nice!

Thursday, 9 November 2006

The weekly dash

Seems like the weeks are going faster, maybe it's because the days are longer. Or something. Work is saner than it was, as academics are all marking exams and students are gone - exams ended today.

I've been working out a way to get to Shellharbour, south of Wollongong in NSW, to see my cousin, whose husband died last week. Getting to Sydney is easy, we're booked to go there anyway for Ascilite and LAMS conferences in early December. The only free night we have is the Monday, so we're going to do a dash via subway to the Central Station and take a train to Wollongong and Shellharbour. We'll have two hours to have a quick meal and a catch-up, then back to the train to Sydney. It's so easy - firstly the trains exist, secondly they have a superb web site with timetables and information. It will be a good test of mass transit to test my eco-principles, too. And we'll get to see my cousin, of course, which is where this exercise all started.

The coast south of Sydney, generally known as "The Illawarra", is a pretty neat area.

It has terrific beaches and a rugged shoreline, warm weather, and cute little inland historic towns. Sydney is a two hour train ride, Wollongong is a good sized city with a world class university (regardless of Monty Python and The Bruces) - it's like California without the Yanks. In fact, with the same latitude as LA (34 degrees), and a coastal plain with a vast dry interior, the climates are very similar.

Sunday, 5 November 2006

More exercise

We went our separate ways for exercise this morning. Heather first went to QE2 to act as support clothes-minder for Alice and Theresa, who were doing another Contours women's triathlon. Then she came home, changed clothes, and went out for a 25-30km bike ride, coming home saying she really felt that she is gaining in fitness.

At the same time, I biked to Sumner and climbed Evans Pass, a 200m vertical gain. It is a consistently steep gradient, with few places where the slope backs off. I took a couple of short stops on the climb but felt good when I finished. I considered going down to Lyttelton then returning, but sensibly decided to leave that for another day.

So we had a pretty slow afternoon, doing a few errands, a trip to the library, and some stuff around the house.

Saturday, 4 November 2006

WebCT 6 training continues

Training continues
Originally uploaded by gregor_ronald.
Derek Chirnside has done a lot of training sessions for WebCT 6 in recent months. He's got another month of training to go, then we can get back to thinking about our real jobs.

Wednesday, 1 November 2006

I never thought...

Oh dear, I'm watching a Fair Go story about a woman who ran up a bill of $8000 on her 3G mobile phone. I'm not surprised; the Fair Go home page, 105kb, costs $5.25 at 5c/kb - and you'd probably return to a home page like that several times in a browsing session. And if you surf remote sites, they may take a month to bill Telecom, who pass the account to you (plus a handling fee, I bet) - and you get zapped another several hundred dollars, months later!

"I can surf the internet on my mobile" - yeah, but make sure you're on a corporate account, real people can't afford these rates.

Sunday, 29 October 2006


Originally uploaded by gregor_ronald.
A map of the 20km counter-clockwise cycling loop for the Sarah Ulmer "Ride and Stride", Jan 21st

Weekend report

Busy weekend - the supermarket scramble happened about 9am Saturday, then at 11 I drove to Lyttelton to crew for my workmate Neil Chandler on his very competitive Noelex 22 Jaffa. We had a great race and won line honours in Division 2 by miles, in fairly strenuous conditions.

This morning we had a quick breakfast then headed out about 9.30 for a preliminary look at the course for a cycle event on January 21st that Heather's thinking about taking part in. She thinks she'll do the 3-lap 60km course, but in the non-competitive "cruising" section. It's a ride we've done quite often, along Lower Styx Rd to Spencerville and Brooklands, then back via Stewarts Gully and Marshland Rd.

Thursday, 26 October 2006

Computers galore

I thought I should take a photo of the collection of computers in my office.

The PC is my main workhorse. I like the dual screens - I keep Outlook mail and calendar running on the left, and Firefox running on the right, with 4 or 5 tabs open. Then I open a bunch of windows for Word, Excel, text editors, and remote desktop sessions to the WebCT servers.

The Mac is only two weeks old, and it's terrifically fast. I use it for Photoshop and Dreamweaver, and to do Mac support and testing. It will dual-boot to run Windows XP but I need it to be a Mac, not a sort-of PC. I also use it for the occasional blog post from work (pretty infrequent) and for a screen of info I want to keep up for a while - like a big copy-tray.

The HP tablet is a temporary visitor, for evaluation. It's one of a set of twenty that will either go in a high tech classroom or they may be loan machines in the Library, to encourage students to work wirelessly in small groups. I have all my SMART Board programs on it at present, and it's terrific for that use.

The test WebCT 4.1 server (an ex workrooms PC) is just for trialling patches and system tweaks - soon I'll be able to reformat it it and use it for something else - maybe a DyKnow server. All these computers make the room quite warm at times.

Wednesday, 25 October 2006

Schroeder's birthday

Schroeder's birthday
Originally uploaded by gregor_ronald.
Happy birthday Schroeds!

Tuesday, 24 October 2006

After the weekend...

... comes the week. I hit the ground running today, with a mad mix of course setups, meetings, more system admin, another meeting, plus lots of organising of next month's training for WebCT 6.

Tomorrow I have three meetings; redesigning a classroom space in Engineering, finalising Teaching Development Grant shortlist, and using the High Speed Network and Access Grid for teaching projects. Isn't that neat? Every one of them has lots of interesting possibilities, terrific people with great ideas, heaps of potential - and very little money. Still, there's a discernable shift in the culture since I started at UC in 2001. Teaching is no longer the poor relation; although research brings the grants, teaching brings the EFTs, if you want to be cynical.

I think there's a growing realisation that students have become used to teaching that is focussed, relevant, and well delivered, by teachers who are accountable for their results. It's not a desire to be spoon fed, but today's students expect their courses to make sense and be understandable. Which is where educational technology comes in. We live in interesting times...

Observed around Christchurch in recent days:
  • Students from the College of Natural Medicine all lighting up cigarettes as they leave for the day.
  • Woman speaking on cellphone tries to steer huge SUV one handed, round corner by Hagley Park - runs over centre plot, drops cellphone - and stops, blocking the lane. In 5pm Friday traffic.
I need some photos, this page is all text at present. I'm visiting Schroeder in hospital tomorrow after work, so I'll post a photo tomorrow night.

Sunday, 22 October 2006

Gloomy Sunday

Not the movie that's been playing at the Academy for ever, but a grey cool day, like living in Tupperware. (Borrowing Bill Bryson's description of living in Britain.) I decided to spend a morning reading through grant applications while Heather went for a bike ride, and got a flat tyre. She called me and I drove over to New Brighton to collect her. Then I fixed her puncture and made soup and scones for lunch. That's a about a zillion brownie points...

The afternoon passed quietly, with a bike ride to the Palms mall to buy some headphones (my trusty old behind-the neck Sonys died) and get some magazines from the library. A quiet day, which will end with roast lamb, followed by an evening in front of Top Gear and Soul Deep on Prime TV. Old fart heaven!

Saturday, 21 October 2006

A day out

The predicted southerly change stayed away, so at 10am I decided to go for a ride. Half an hour to the bottom of the hills, and another hour climbing (with two stops) and I was at the Sign of the Kiwi at a bit after 12. Time for an apple and a good look around, then a flying descent in a building northerly wind. That's when I realised that my general-purpose do-everything glasses cause uncontrollable tears. I'm going to have to sort out some wrap-around glasses for the energetic rides.

So I guess I'll wake up a bit stiff and sore tomorrow, in time for a spinnaker test sail. Weather permitting. It's a hard life, being an active 57 year old.

Friday, 20 October 2006

The week that wasn't

When there's a post on Monday and nothing till Friday, you know I've been busy. Training sessions, new equipment, two demos of response-clicker systems, meetings, ...

Still, I biked 4 days this week, and plan to do some hill riding tomorrow since the forecast is no good for sailing. Heather doesn't feel up to hills yet, so I guess she'll have a day in the garden. I hope to sail on Sunday to try the spinnaker, and Monday's a holiday with no plans made yet - the kind of day off I like.

Then there's a folder full of teaching grant applications to read and evaluate for a Tuesday meeting. And a house to vacuum - it's a full life. Never mind, it's only five weeks till we have a week in Sydney, staying in a flash downtown hotel, for the Ascilite conference.

Monday, 16 October 2006

Big Mac arrives

My new Intel iMac is not as big as the massive theater-display Macs, but a flat 17" screen with all the brains tucked in behind the screen still looks pretty nifty.

Of course, the first thing I did was to run Windows XP, just to prove I could. It's set to dual-boot, with OS X the default OS; what Apple calls "Boot Camp" with their unerring ear for the hip, but not quite correct, slogan. Remember "Think Different"? Apple has never let accuracy get in the way of marketing. Though maybe that slogan isn't as ungrammatical as you'd think.

It is also possible to run Windows in a virtual machine, with direct access to the hardware even while MacOS is running. This requires a program called Parallels, and a Windows XP licence. For dual-booting, the University's Microsoft licence covers all machines running Windows; but when a machine is running Windows and OS X simultaneously, you have to pay separately. Since we just want Windows capability to run a few applications like Respondus, rebooting is worth the trouble, saving the best part of $400.

Minor points of interest; that hole at top centre is a webcam set for video-conferencing. It's all about me, after all - this is a Californian computer. And the little white thing at lower right is a remote control for videos etc, magnetically clamped to the side of the case. Cute.

Sunday, 15 October 2006

Weekend doings

We were placed 4th in the fleet for yesterday's race, on handicap. Admittedly our handicap is generous, but it's close to the official Quintet rating, which no doubt assumes that you have a spinnaker. So I take this as an indication that we punched well above our weight; and for a boat that's designed for light airs, scoring well in 20-25 knots with no spinnaker is an even better achievement.

Once we start using the kite and competing in Division 2, we won't get many wins, but it will be nice to compare ourselves to the Noelex 22s - I still think we'll be in the top half of the comparable boats, N22s and Farr 6000s. But we need some spinnaker practice before then.

Today Mark Schroeder and I went back to the boat at Lyttelton, to sort out a stuck winch. We succeeded after some nervous moments; lots of CRC and winding the handle got the winch moving, then we were able to dismantle it and give it a good clean and lube.

Change of topic: tomorrow will mark the last trip to/from Uni for my Mac laptop. Once the Documents and Applications folders (and probably a bunch of preferences etc) are transferred via Firewire to my new iMac, the Powerbook will come home and stay put. Then I have to pay for it. I'm looking forward to the new Mac desktop machine, especially the novelty of running Windows XP on a Mac. But first we have a big week of training to get sorted.

Weather again

What an interesting weekend, weather-wise. Friday was a strong north-wester, which turned to a southerly blast at 1-2am Saturday. By 9am the wind was a SW, gusting 25 knots at Lyttelton, according to the Port Company weather site. We got there at 11.30 to find that the wind was about 20 knots from the N, and by the end of our race it was a 15 knot easterly. The first leg of the race, especially in the gusts close to the hills on the north side, was rather "up and down". Once we got out into clear breeze in the centre, although it was very strong, we were able to trim for it, and we sailed quite well. We were too chicken to try our new spinnaker, though - first hoists should not be done in 25 knots with 30 degree direction changes in the gusts!

Today, the Met Service says "A strong disturbed westerly flow covers much of the country." Like this;

Friday, 13 October 2006

More gadgets

Another gadget-filled week. First is the arrival of a SmartBoard which can now be used for staff training. I've got that installed at UCTL, which will be my new department after Xmas.

This week I also ordered a new Intel iMac (17", 2GHz, 1GB RAM, 160GB disk) and a Palm Tungsten E2 PDA. My old Palm still sort-of works but its audio section has failed so it won't beep (or play music). Since I rely on it to tell me when I should be somewhere, it isn't much use without noises.

My present Mac laptop will be purchased for home, and I won't need to carry a computer to and fro. That will simplify my requirements for biking to work.

This morning I got both toys at once - the iMac and the Palm were delivered to my office, "Sign here", and there are two packages. I took the Mac straight to our support guys to have the standard UC Mac build installed, including Windows XP. Look forward to screenshots of Windows on a Mac - actually it may have to be photos, as the screenshots will just look like Windows - ho hum.

The Palm install went well - it should, this is my 3rd Palm, and just an update from my old dead-audio Palm Tungsten E2. Email isn't working yet but I'll deal with that next week. At least I have my shopping database running ready for the weekly supermarket run.

Monday, 9 October 2006

Spinnaker stories

When we got to Lyttelton yesterday it was blowing a 20 knot cold easterly, so we wimped out and just rigged the boat on the trailer and tried the spinnaker. My worries about it being flown from too high on the mast were justified, so we need to think about how we handle this. The end of the pole cannot reach to the end of the sheet if it's horizontal, so essentially the sail is able to flap around of its own accord, a metre or two from the pole. I am considering either releasing the downhaul so the pole can ride up closer to the end of the sheet, or having another metre sewn on to the bottom of the kite - which is probably the better alternative. But the pole adjustment costs nothing, so that's what we'll try first.

Saturday, 7 October 2006

Ready to go

A very productive day - Schroeder came round this morning and we fitted the blocks and cleats for the spinnaker sheets/guys, plus a downhaul block just in front of the mast. Then I gave the sun-damaged woodwork a sanding, and painted it all with Everdure. I may apply polyurethane varnish on top of that, but hopefully it will be a decent finish in its own right.

Tomorrow (Sunday) we hope to tow the boat back to Lyttelton and go for a shakedown sail to try the spinnaker. Weather dependent, of course.

Friday, 6 October 2006

Another week

"Oh, wow, techno-fear" said Neil the hippy. I know how he felt, after a week of iPaq, CPS Chalkboard, and a tablet PC. The chalkboard will probably have its uses, the PDA was more trouble than it was worth (I'm going to buy a Palm TX instead) and the tablet PC is growing on me. As they say.

Then there's the Smart Board which will arrive next week. And I may be replacing my Mac with an Intel MacBook. I'm up to my ears in packaging and instruction manuals, feeling dazed and confused. To keep myself grounded I created about 120 WebCT courses today, for UC Opportunity. They have 3, 4, or even 5 sessions per year, so I created cross linked sets of 3, 4, or 5 courses - on Monday I'll create the staff accounts and then begin the tedious task of enrolling them in their courses.

Thursday, 5 October 2006

Wet and windy

A week of wild weather has kept the bike in the shed. Boat maintenance has not gone to schedule. It's stopped raining this morning but the southerly clouds are still whizzing by - will I bike? I suppose I should...

At work it's been a bit more sane, with no training courses, so I've been able to catch up on CE6 system tasks. The new gadgets are taking a lot of time. I am less than impressed with tablet PCs so far, mostly on ergonomic grounds, but I'll reserve my judgment till we get them properly set up.

Tuesday, 3 October 2006

New toys

"He who dies with the most toys is the winner" says the slogan, and I could be in the lead this week. Take a look at this lot:

The little gizmo in the middle is a CPS Chalkboard, a wireless input pad, with a stylus that works like a mouse up to 30ft from the host PC. I collected that in a spot prize draw at last week's conference.

To the left is a brand new HP Tablet PC and its docking station. It's part of a set of 21 that we've acquired - we're supposed to learn to use them and think of a way to set up a whizzy electronic classroom. So far it seems pretty nice. On the right is an on-appro HP iPaq that we're testing as well.

Now - which one will I pick up and play with next?

Monday, 2 October 2006

Mac's back - again

A displaced Airport card was diagnosed and poked back in, and all is well with Mac's wifi. That'll be a few years of vibration on bike carriers, I guess. The bag I carry it in has great padding, but even so...

The boat goes for a trailer WoF tomorrow. Since it's lightly drizzling, I haven't done anything to the woodwork yet, but the boat is hooked up to the car and strapped onto the trailer. I just need to attach the lighting brackets in the morning and away we go.

Saturday, 30 September 2006

Messing about in boats

Boat preparation went pretty well today. We wire brushed some minor rust spots on the trailer and painted them with a chemical preventative. Then I sanded and painted patches where the hull needed a touch-up; the entire transom which had been in the sun, plus patches along the sides where we've rubbed on the pontoon. So the hull looks very smart, and the trailer should get a warrant without problems. The only worries are the actual wheel disks - the bits that hold the wheel studs, that the outside wheel & tyre bolt to - they have quite a lot of surface rust, and we couldn't really do much with them.

Tomorrow, weather permitting, we'll put up the mast and try the spinnaker for size. We can locate the blocks for the spinnaker sheets, then it's just a matter of drilling and bolting the fittings to the decks. I want to tidy up some paint in the cockpit before we finish, and the woodwork will be a project for the evenings next week. Then we can go sailing, and learn to handle the spinnaker.

Bye bye wi-fi

So much for wireless. My Mac laptop chose yesterday at the eFest conference to lose its connection to the wireless antenna - which is in the screen, so I suspect something's broken at the hinge. I could get intermittent connections yesterday, then nothing - dead. So yet again it will visit the workshop - I think it's got to the "throwing good money after bad" stage, personally.

Thursday, 28 September 2006

Posting from afar

I'm currently sitting in a session at a conference in Wellington called E-Fest - it's the e-learning conference for the Polytech sector, but with a heavy involvement by the Ministry of Education. The brilliant thing is that I have free access to Wellington's CafeNet - city wide wi-fi! I can do email and blog posts from inside the Town Hall!

Tuesday, 26 September 2006

Weather or not

What's the Southern oscillation up to? Will it be an El Nino summer? Or is it an "El Ninyo" the way some reporters now say it - I thought that was reserved for the opposite swing, "La Nina", or so my Spanish speaking informants assured me. It's become a usage like "ser-vie-ickal" cancer or "kill-ometers" - if it sounds peculiar it must be correct.

NASA reckons the Earth's getting warmer than ever.

It looks like sailing's a better option than skiing at this time of the year. I had been hoping for a last day spring skiing at Mt Hutt but maybe that won't happen.

Dunedin photos here. Photos of Moeraki too.

Saturday, 23 September 2006

Gone south

We're in Dunedin for the weekend; drove down from Chch Friday evening, and made good time. We had a rather ordinary meal in a pub in Oamaru on the way, but KFC would have been nicer. The main purpose of the trip is to set up Elaine's new PC - really an ex-Uni Compaq P2, but better than her present Digital 3000. The old machine doesn't talk to my USB stick, so it will be floppy disks for data transfer! Otherwise I may resort to Gmail to move the files, but over 56K dialup that might take a while.

I want to visit Jim Guthrie a couple of times over the weekend too, hopefully get out and about to do a few things with him. And there's Owen Cambridge to visit some time - probably for a teatime beer and chat. We haven't had a good look around Dunedin for a while so it will all be interesting.

Thursday, 21 September 2006

For those who love freedom

That phrase is Bush code for "Those who agree with me" - the same people who ban stem cell research, want to repeal the First Amendment's separation of religion and politics, teach creationism, and ban books that contain unsettling ideas.

2006 BBW; Read Banned Books: They're Your Ticket to FreedomThe American Library Association is holding a Banned Books Week to expose this vestige of fascism. Here's a list from their web site.

The “10 Most Challenged Books of 2005” reflect a range of themes. The books are:

  • “It's Perfectly Normal” for homosexuality, nudity, sex education, religious viewpoint, abortion and being unsuited to age group;

  • “Forever” by Judy Blume for sexual content and offensive language;

  • “The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger for sexual content, offensive language and being unsuited to age group;

  • “The Chocolate War” by Robert Cormier for sexual content and offensive language;

  • “Whale Talk” by Chris Crutcher for racism and offensive language;

  • “Detour for Emmy” by Marilyn Reynolds for sexual content;

  • “What My Mother Doesn't Know” by Sonya Sones for sexual content and being unsuited to age group;

  • Captain Underpants series by Dav Pilkey for anti-family content, being unsuited to age group and violence;

  • “Crazy Lady!” by Jane Leslie Conly for offensive language; and

  • “It's So Amazing! A Book about Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies, and Families” by Robie H. Harris for sex education and sexual content.

Off the list this year, but on for several years past, are the Alice series of books by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, “Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain.

Tuesday, 19 September 2006

Busy busy busy

A busy couple of weeks coming up. We go to Dunedin on Friday night, to visit Heather's sister Elaine and other old mates - notably Jim Guthrie and Owen Cambridge. We'll take Monday off to drive home. Then it's work for Tuesday and Wednesday (with a big training course Wed pm).

After that I'm on a 6.45am plane for Wellington Thursday morning, for two days at E-Fest. And a night in Wellington, I haven't done that for a while. I'll catch up with Cam after work on Friday; he'll drive me to the airport and we can have a chat while waiting for my flight. I know this is peanuts for those business travellers who spend their days in Koru Clubs, but it's quite enough for me.

The weekend after that, 10 days away, will be flat-out boat maintenance, weather permitting.

Sunday, 17 September 2006

Sailing season is coming

Sailing approaches
Today Mark Schroeder and I dropped the mast and brought the yacht home for some pre-season tidying. I'll touch up some paint and woodwork, and we need to fit the blocks and sheets for the spinnaker. I may also make new seat tops for inside the cabin; the old ones are chipboard and moisture hasn't been kind to them.

Saturday, 16 September 2006

Mathematics and Computer Science building, University of Canterbury

Mathematics and Computer Science building, University of Canterbury
Originally uploaded by gregor_ronald.

This building is architecturally exciting, both inside and out. The higher mathematicians live in offices at the top of these towers, reachable only by stairs from the highest lift-serviced level.
Ever looked around the labour-intensive processes being carried out at a polling booth on election day, and thought that technology could help? Maybe it can, but don't buy Diebold voting machines! Some Computer Science students at Princeton have made a video about how easy they are to crack.

Photos again

Originally uploaded by gregor_ronald.
Testing again - this time I was in Flickr, and clicked "Blog This" - entered a few details about the blog (address, usercode, password), and whizzo! Photo posted.

Now I'll try something better, as that example is a rather ordinary photo. I'll be pleased when Safari's next update is released, it will be able to run the wysiwyg Blogger composer/editor.

Friday, 15 September 2006

One step forward...

Several steps, really. Today we had a farewell morning tea for the 9-month-old Educational Technology Services division of the IT Dept, as we are all scattered to the winds. Workrooms Group stay more or less intact, but join the now-huge Customer Services division. Audio Visual join Facilities Management, along with the mailroom and plumbers.

And Bill and I join UCTL - where we acquire a programmer/developer (who will maintain the CCE's Interact system while we decide what to do) and a multimedia developer from CCE, plus a video production guy, and an Educational Designer - Derek, who's been seconded to do WebCT training through the transition. We then hire a second WebCT admin, which will free me up for more investigative new-technology stuff. It's a shame I'm a bit of a cynic about stuff like this, but at least it means I won't go overboard. So we have an e-learning unit at long last. Dispersed across three buildings on two campuses a kilometre apart, for now.

I started planning for a week in Sydney, 2-8 December, attending first the annual Ascilite conference, followed by a conference about LAMS - a visual Learning Activity Management System. Heather will come till the Wednesday then she has to get back for the last two days of the term. I'll have the following week at work then we go on summer holiday to Golden Bay, and stay till almost Christmas. It's a tough life. We'll do a bit of eating, cycling, and sailing over Xmas-New Year, then I'll go back to work to get ready for a new teaching year with a new learning management system, and a new work environment. It helps keep me young...

Approaching NW gales permitting, we want to go for a bike ride in the morning - up the hills to the Sign of the Kiwi, and maybe further.

Thursday, 14 September 2006

Experimenting with photos

Here's a link to a Flickr photo:


Did that work? What did Blogger do to the size?

That's great, I can just put photos on Flickr and link from here - no need to upload to Blogger separately. I can just resize their display size to 400 wide and they fit the page perfectly.

Wednesday, 13 September 2006

When in doubt, reorganise...

Because many people, especially high up the management chain, don't know the difference between change and progress, a restructuring will always be an attractive option. We will be moved into a new administrative structure in early December.
  • Where will we be located? Don't know.
  • Will I still look after the WebCT and Turnitin budgets? Don't know.
  • What role will the transferred CCE staff have in looking after UC staff? Don't know.
I suspect I'll remain in this office for a fair while yet, though the IT Dept scavengers are circling. They all want my office because I've made it look nice - the one next door is identical but they all like mine better. Maybe I could auction it on Trademe.

Monday, 11 September 2006

Big day at UC

Late this morning we hear the final decisions regarding the fate of the IT Department. Effectively it is being gutted, and expected to do more with fewer staff. Many jobs will disappear and people will have to re-apply for positions. In some areas there just are no positions - e.g. student workroom support. My job is OK, though it looks like I'll be moved out from IT to our staff development unit, UCTL. The intention is to form an e-learning unit. However, if budgets don't follow me, how can I renew WebCT licences, investigate new technologies, etc? We'll know by lunchtime. Watch this space...

Well, the department is basically stripped of anything that's not core IT business. AV, e-learning, phones, maybe printery, which is yet to be decided, have all been removed. When I started at UC in 2001, they'd just finished a massive restructuring which brought all these IT-related areas into a single department. Now we strip them all out again - the wonders of modern management.

Amazingly, e-learning has done OK out of the final plan; we get a second WebCT administrator. It's been more and more obvious over the last year or so that at peak times one person can't keep up with admin, let alone train staff. Add the complication of WebCT 6's slower admin workflow and we'll really need two of us, especially next January-February. There is no mention of any e-learning advisers, though, so we're going to have to find them some other way.

The IS group have all been reorganised, so all their jobs are up for grabs - what chaos! All this is to happen before Christmas. No mention of details yet; budgets, physical location, names, all have to be sorted out. We may stay in our present offices for up to a year yet, but spend our days walking back and forth to UCTL. Oh yes, UCTL is now going to be reviewed, as its composition and purpose has changed drastically. It's a great time to be a consultant...

Sunday, 10 September 2006

Sunday musings

Hey, Christians! You should dress your kids in Armor of God PJs at bedtime. They'll love the warm feeling they get from having "Righteousness" emblazoned across their chest, and "Salvation" on the headgear.

A quick Google search for "christian merchandise" gives a scary selection of sites. One place sells lots of t-shirts, another has stuff imported from the Holy Land, such as Dead Sea Skin Care products.

My favourite items from that place are the laser engraved rocks from the River Jordan. Here is a "Christian Holy Rock from the Jordan River in olive wood Box." (Don't ask me why Box is capitalised, maybe it's a holy relic too.) It can't be a fake though, because it comes with a certificate.

I just hope these souvenirs from the Holy Land are checked for body parts and human tissue before exporting. We don't want our relics to be THAT real!

You can also buy "Breast Cancer Awareness Angel made from real stained glass, boxed with suction cup", Christian and Jewish software, and zillions of bible covers, colouring books, and "The Confident Woman: Start Today Living Boldly & Without Fear, By: Joyce Meyer". So get out your wallets and get yourselves some salvation! Otherwise you'll be left behind when The Rapture happens. Seriously.

Saturday, 9 September 2006

AP1 and other acronyms

A weight off the mind, with the long awaited installation of Application Pack 1 and a major patch, on our new(ish) WebCT 6 system. It all went smoothly, in 2 hours, including a database backup. I did full tape backups last night as well. Major upgrades are always a bit fraught, but having a duplicate test system is a great help. Practice makes perfect...

Now we have to see what the update can do. One I've already noticed is in the Discussions tool - blogs and journals!

Thursday, 7 September 2006

The week at work - and thoughts about bikes

Lots happening, with training courses, Derek away for a few days, and an impending major upgrade to AP1 on Saturday, but it's under control. Mostly. Though there have been moments this week when I've stopped and thought, "Wow, look at all the things I've done in the last hour." Never mind, it keeps me young. (Hollow laughter.)

In the middle of this, we've also set up SQL Server backup schedules (thanks to Chris from IS) arranged next month's training, had a team meeting, and eaten lunch. After lunch I did about three hours straight of email; as fast as I answered one, another arrived. Eventually I did something educational, checking out the question database in a new course. Busy busy busy...

Heather's been off work for three days, feeling generally crappy and with no appetite or energy. It's probably due to some new anti-cholesterol medication, so she's stopped that, and went back to work today feeling a bit better - though she's still not feeling too flash.

.::: ABOUT BIKES :::.
Alice had her trusty old Scott bike stolen last week, and has decided to buy (subsidised by an early Xmas present), a Sarah Ulmer Brand SUB LIME 1.0 - pretty similar to Heather's Specialized Sirrus and my Avanti Blade. Now we all have lightweight hybrid sports bikes with 700c wheels - is there a trend here? Two of my workmates have bought Blades, and they're just as happy with them as I am with mine. For sealed road riding, city and country, they're the best type of bike by a country mile.

However, if I had to have one bike only, I'd buy a top of the line hard-tail mountain bike for durability, and put slick kevlar-lined tyres on it. That would work well in the city and the country, though at a reduced speed. City riding is tough on a bike - kerbs, glass, other bikes and stuff bash into a bike, so a well set up MTB with touring carriers and mudguards is really the most versatile way to go.

As I have a basic MTB for the occasional rough trip or a Sunday at Bottle Lake, I have the best of both worlds - but the hybrid commuter bike does a steady 25 km/hr with very little effort on city roads, when 20 is a realistic average on MTB width tyres, and that does matter. On a sunny Sunday, out in the countryside with the mountains shining away in the sun, and the countryside spinning by under your feet, the lightweight skinny-tyre bike is the king of the world. Even when loaded for touring, as here, it's easy to spin along.

Tuesday, 5 September 2006

Back with Mac

My Powerbook's back in action, sitting wirelessly on my dining table. I have to reinstall half a dozen applications, but no big deal.

This Blogger editor in Safari is a bit odd - Blogger is set to show the wysiwyg editor, but it doesn't appear when I edit a post. Some research is required. Later - that was easy, Safari will support this in the next version.

We walked around the Magazine Bay marina in the weekend. The late winter light was nice, even if the marina's a bit empty.

I'm editing this in Firefox now, and the editor is much nicer in wysiwyg mode.

Monday, 4 September 2006

The Reincarnation of Mac

Mac is getting a $110 disk drive - but no CD/DVD - and will live to surf the net again. He'll continue as my second work machine.

A good step at work today - WebCT CE6 Application Pack 1 and its update patch are installed on the development server. I have applied to do the production server on Saturday morning. It adds a bunch of features, but I haven't had time to try these yet.

The Mac's dead hard drive - made by Toshiba.