Monday, 26 February 2007

Sumner from above

Originally uploaded by gregor_ronald.
Looking down on Sumner from the Summit Road, after biking up through Mt Pleasant yesterday. The view was worth the sweat!

Today was our first day of teaching with all courses using the new Blackboard (WebCT 6) system, and it coped fine. We can't say that for the rest of the University of Canterbury, though; a major power sub-station blew, plunging the NE corner of the campus into darkness and stranding students in lifts. Lecture theatres couldn't operate, computers stopped (prompting the geniuses in admin to send an all-staff email to the victims, explaining how they were going to fix things), and hundreds of people phoned the IT Helpdesk to ask why their computers weren't working - in the dark. All this on a day when the temperature reached 33 deg C. I went to the pub to rehydrate.

Big bike ride

I chose noon on Sunday, the hottest day for weeks, to go for a bike ride. Clever, eh? I rode out through Linwood to the estuary and around to Ferrymead, where I took my life in my hands and turned right up Mt Pleasant Rd. After 500m of struggling to find a rhythm, I stopped at the top of the first brutally steep section. When I'd caught my breath and restarted, I was fine, and plodded up the ridge at about 6 km/hr. After 50 minutes I'd reached the top, at the Summit Road, feeling pretty darn pleased with myself. Then it was all fun; a long fast downhill cruise to Evans Pass and a stop for an apple, then another three high speed minutes down hill to Sumner. I carried on through Sumner and cruised back to town, finishing a 35km ride and several hundred metres height gain in 2.5 hrs. this was including apple and photo stops, I'm no speed merchant!

Saturday, 24 February 2007

The missing week

Work has been full on, but with two of us we've pretty much kept up. I hate to think how it would have been without Jess being on the team. We've been invited to join dozens of last minute crises, but have managed to keep some distance and maintain a sense of proportion. Handling client requests through the IT Helpdesk system has meant that jobs don't get forgotten, and that they are processed in order - much better than the ad-hoc "squeaky wheel" process that prevailed before.

Yet another Saturday with no sailing; it's grey and damp, though clearing. We're planning a long sail tomorrow, hopefully with lots of spinnaker handling to sharpen our systems. I'd like to get round to Sumner if possible.

The weather looks promising. The Recreational Marine forecast says "Outlook:Sunday:Northeast 15 knots rising to 20 knots for a time in the afternoon and evening. Fine."

That's a bit stronger than we'd like, but still manageable, and should let us do some decent mileage.

At last, I have downloaded photos of last week's classic car parade.
A 1948 Series E Morris 8, the predecessor of the Morris Minor. My first car was one of these, purchased for 110 pounds in 1967. Note the "suicide" front doors, which were the cause of many nasty mishaps.

A small but enthusiastic crowd applauded lustily, as the afternoon gained momentum. Rovers were especially popular, as Malcolm (on the right) is a specialist Rover car dealer.

Wednesday, 21 February 2007

A plan is formed

I'm planning a solo bike tour after Easter, doing a circuit from Reefton via Westport, Punakaiki, and Greymouth. I've started a tour journal at CrazyGuyOnABike.

Sunday, 18 February 2007

Weekend fun

Our first sailing day for a couple of weeks. For once we made the right choice - we decided not to sail in the Aquarius Cup race which started at 11am, and instead drove to Lyttelton at 12 to go for a day sail and try the new spinnaker. As we arrived we could still see the fleet drifting between Battery Point and Parsons Rock, half way up the harbour. The dying southerly was replaced by a 10-15 knot easterly as we launched Impulsive, and we enjoyed champagne sailing conditions for an hour and a half, on the windward beat to near the Godley Heads.

We tacked and started our run, and up went the spinnaker - everything worked really well. The sail is still a little shorter than desired, but it fits pretty well, and is very manageable. The panels (see photo at left) are blue and white, making a rather attractive sail visually. We were clipping along at 12-13 km/hr on the GPS, and came back down past the Naval Point Club in about 45 minutes. Once past Western Light we hardened up to a reach, and planed across towards Cass Bay.

Bringing the kite down was easy, and we have worked out a way to stow the spinnaker pole along the boom so subsequent hoists will be quick and efficient. We haven't gybed the spinnaker yet, but that should be pretty straightforward as well. We can do it all without having to put a crew member forward of the mast, which on a small boat with fine bow sections is quite detrimental to handling. I forgot the camera, so these photos will have to do.

(Photo - the previous Noelex 22 spinnaker flew very high and wasn't stable.)

Sunday morning has started with a thick mist, as Alice and Theresa go to QE2 to compete in a women's triathlon. Heather has gone as support mum. The mist should burn away to give a fine day - we plan to set up tables and chairs on our front lawn this afternoon to watch the annual classic car parade trundle by. We've invited some friends and should have some great fun reminiscing about cars we have known.

Friday, 16 February 2007

Where did it go?

The week, that is. When I haven't posted for 5 days you know I've been busy. Like now.

Monday, 12 February 2007


"Here is the weather - tomorrow will be muggy, followed by tuegy, weggy, thurgy and frigey." (Goon Show, BBC, 1950-something)

Apropos of not much - it was a muddly day at work but after two meetings and other interruptions I actually got a bunch of jobs done. Communication in the office was reduced to Google Chat because Jess had laryngitis, and I wasted an hour troubleshooting web forms that were causing email loops on the Helpdesk server. It turned out to be quite OK after all - it was users entering "Mary Smith" as their email address that was the problem. I should be checking the form data, I suppose, but that would require PHP or something similar, which isn't installed on that server - and it's only a "Please set up a course" request, after all. Why doesn't the Helpdesk server check for valid email addresses, come to that? A simple email would do for course requests, if I could guarantee that users would supply accurate information; at least the form prompts them to mention the little details like user codes and course titles.

Life has filled up with other techno-teach goodies, like audience response "clicker" systems, and interactive whiteboards (and lectern units for bigger lecture theatres). We have training coming up for these systems, and we're also about due to start promoting Turnitin, to encourage lecturers to use it as their assignment dropbox (nothing to do with BlackCT's terrible dropbox implementation in CE6, of course). Oh yes, and to deter plagiarism.

Everything has to be ready for the 26th, two weeks from today - teaching begins and it all has to work. Blackboard/WebCT6, the Keepad clickers, the Sympodium units - no pressure!

Saturday, 10 February 2007

The end is nigh - maybe.

It's been a busy week, even with only two days at work. Between rushing up and down SH1 in a Honda roadster and doing a training session for Law staff, we've created heaps of courses and cross-coded many of them, Jess has moved the furniture (again), I've collected a repaired mainsail ($50 for an impeccable batten pocket and foot-rope repair, proving there's still value for money these days), and got to the pub to discover that the chiller had broken down, so they had warm beer and very few patrons. Eventful!

To balance out this happy chaos, try this pessimistic but sort-of positive advice for dealing with a world after peak oil;

"We'll have to return to traditional human ecologies at a smaller scale: villages, towns, and cities (along with a productive rural landscape). Our small towns are waiting to be reinhabited. Our cities will have to contract."
"We also have to prepare our society for moving people and things much more by water....The great harbor towns, like Baltimore, Boston, and New York, can no longer devote their waterfronts to condo sites and bikeways. We actually have to put the piers and warehouses back in place (not to mention the sleazy accommodations for sailors)."
Excellent common sense stuff.

Here in New Zealand we may see the welcome end of big dairying and forestry, and a return to local production for local consumption. That may also mean the return of the small local dairy factory making real cheeses, locally grown and refined rapeseed oil for (a few) diesel tractors and buses, and the return of rail transport. When it's not economic to ship alumina from Weipa to Tiwai Point then transport the aluminium to Japan, we'll get back Manapouri's electricity to electrify the South island main trunk railway - if it's still there, thanks to Toll and the trucking industry. We're all going to have to get used to living locally and eating what's in season - no more avocados and tomatoes in July. Expect to see helium filled airships carrying freight to remote areas, and wind-assisted freighters on the seas.

If you want to feel gloomy and have a giggle at the same time, try this article on how the religious right is re-imagining US history, following the advice of that well known believer George Orwell, “Those who control the past control the future.” Or, as the same preacher put it later in the piece, “ 'Those who control the present control the past.' He paused and stared at me to make sure I understood the equation. 'Orson Welles wrote that,' he said." Priceless. I wonder how he interprets the Bible, if this is an indication of his attention to detail?

Thursday, 8 February 2007


I spent Wednesday morning getting in touch with my inner self, courtesy of some strong laxatives and medical staff armed with a fibre optic camera - a colonoscopy is really very instructive. I have several diverticula, but apparently lots of people my age have those without any problems. The end. Or just a semi-colon?

Tuesday, 6 February 2007

There and back

To and from Dunedin, that is. In a Honda S2000 sports car, what's more, courtesy of Malcolm Field at Cashel Car Sales. It's a very quick car, pretty much in the same bracket as a BMW Z3 or a Porsche Boxster (according to those who know these things). We didn't go all that fast, but overtaking was a very quick and safe process, and the hills are made flat by the ample power, so the travelling was very smooth.

However, there are things to consider with 2-seat roadsters; sunburned ears and back of neck, the noise and wind is wearying, constant worries about speeding tickets, and where to put your stuff. This car had a decent rear boot, but inside the cockpit there was very little stowage space.

Another worry is that a performance car acts as a hoon magnet; every boy racer on the road was seized with an uncontrollable urge to pass us. Anyway, it was a terrific car for a trip, on a great weekend of perfect weather. And it delivered 30-33mpg, even with my frequent attacks of lead-boot syndrome.

We visited Heather's sister Elaine, who's about to go an a 6-month voyage around her children and grandchildren, and Jim Guthrie, our friend with Parkinsons Disease, who is becoming increasingly isolated as he gets out less, and people visit less. We can't do a lot except to visit and chat, but any contact is good. I'll post some Flickr photos of the trip in the next day or so.

Tonight I am preparing for a follow-up to last May's colonoscopy; those who know the process will need no explanation, and those who don't should remain in blissful ignorance. It will all be over by 10am tomorrow.