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...