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.