Saturday, 30 June 2007

America's Cup nerves

I videotaped last night's fifth race in the AC series, and watched it at breakfast time.

I was feeling quite smug until the first downwind leg, when it all went pear-shaped. Torn spinnakers are a fact of life, especially when they are as light and heavily stressed as these, but what tragic timing.

Will ETNZ now manage three wins on the trot? Stranger things have happened. I'm going to bed by 10pm, to have 2 or 3 hours' sleep, then I'll get up and watch the race. It just might make the difference...

Thursday, 28 June 2007

Less is more

In terms of web page design, less is definitely best. I've spent the major part of the last two days changing the branding on our development Blackboard server, in preparation for doing it on the live server next week. Here's the old login screen;

What's wrong with it? Well, it's rather busy, no-one reads the fine print on the right, the "Forgotten your password" link doesn't work for our method of checking passwords, and it still says "WebCT" in several places. So I spent most of yesterday, and another hour or two today, tinkering with the sample login pages Blackboard supplied, and finally got this to work;

There's still minor tweaking to be done, and I may get a call from the university's Branding Police, but at least I know how to do it. There are many items to change, at many levels; the task requires two computers, so I can be logged in as the system admin on one, and as a basic user on the other, to check the login actually works. I wish it was as simple as changing a conventional web page, which is what we did in WebCT 4, but because CE6 is a different design, all these things live somewhere deep inside a SQL Server database.

Tuesday, 26 June 2007

The morgue

Our workplace is severely depleted, for the first half of the week at least. I guess the rest of the campus is too, but it's been so wet and cold I haven't felt like taking a look.

Bill was away yesterday but is back now, Linda the administrator has flu, Jess is on holiday in Queenstown, Alison and Billy are back seeing family in the UK and the US, Mike's in the UK somewhere, and Derek and Alan are at E-fest till Thursday. Oh, and Bruce, but he was home today minding a sick child.

That leaves John the surveys guy, Glen and me in the e-learning corner, Keith in his corner office (though I didn't see him, maybe he stayed home), Sally till lunchtime, and Bill. Kaylene is part time, and I'm not sure when she does/doesn't work. Not what you'd call a unified workplace, though Bill, Glen, and I managed to go for afternoon tea together.

I've quietly got everything together for a test of the re-branding options on our test server. The documentation is ambiguous, as always. In between I've dealt with a steady stream of user support issues, but generally it's pretty quiet inside the office, as well as outside.

Sunday, 24 June 2007

Winter weekend

After a moderately alcoholic Friday afternoon (one of Schroeder's Lunches) I spent Saturday doing some quiet shopping (new bike lock at Kathmandu, and some nice Merino thermals from a factory sale) and went to bed early. I got up at 12.45 and watched the first America's Cup race then went back to bed. I won't do that tonight though, it's left me a bit dozy today.

Heather and I went for a 30km bike ride today, to Halswell and back via the base of the Hills, then a quiet return around the Heathcote via Ashgrove Terrace etc. I've got a few aches and pains tonight, which shows I'm not doing enough mileage - especially with skiing rapidly approaching.

Thursday, 21 June 2007

Winter's here

Tonight is the winter solstice, and here comes the first decent southerly of the winter - just in time for the school holidays. (The picture shows the Christchurch rain radar at 5pm today.) It's been snowing quite heavily in Central Otago, causing a couple of serious road accidents.

As you can see from this infrared satellite photo, there's a substantial southerly airstream pushing polar air over the South Island, and there's more snow forecast for Saturday.

Still, we haven't lost any lakes recently, like they have in Patagonia. You'd have to be pretty careless to lose a lake, wouldn't you? It's not as if you can put it down somewhere and forget about it, which is how I usually lose things.

Monday, 18 June 2007

About UCTL

Originally uploaded by gregor_ronald
Time to tell you something about our department at the University of Canterbury. UCTL stands for the University Centre for Teaching and Learning. All universities have a department with similar functions; basically we try to improve teaching practice around the university.
(Click the photo on the right to go to a Flickr set of photos.)

We're a small department of 16 or so; we begin with a Director and Deputy Director (my long term manager Bill Rosenberg, who was transferred from IT when I was also moved), and an administrator. There are three academics who carry out research into good teaching practice and run seminars for lecturers on lecturing techniques, assessment, graduate supervision, etc. Another person does all the admin and statistics involved with course surveys, and we have a staff member doing institutional research projects; retention rates, outcomes for ethnic groups, Ministry returns, all that fun stuff.

There are two experienced ex teachers who work directly with staff on projects, mostly to do with e-learning, but not exclusively. They run training sessions on the systems too. There are four of us techies; two developers from the now-merged College of Education, who run the CCE's home developed Interact system and do multimedia development, and two of us running the Blackboard e-learning system, plus participating in other educational technology projects.

My colleague Jess has been involved with getting audience response "clickers" operating and she has also been helping with analysis of our lecture video operations, and research into systems for capturing lecture video and audio. I've been involved with our use of the Turnitin plagiarism-detection system, but I'm probably due for the next project to come our way, as Jess is busy with her allocation of tasks. I've been training Jess in Blackboard admin, and overseeing our server issues, which have been rather a worry, so I haven't been idle. But there's very little left to teach her now, she's pretty much up to speed after 6 months on the job. March was a bit of a baptism of fire, with an exponential learning curve...

So - it's a pretty interesting place to work, and we have the added challenge of settling down a new department. Until January UCTL consisted of only 6 or so staff, so the dynamics are still shifting as we all learn our new roles.

Sunday, 17 June 2007

The awful truth

Microsoft really does rule the planet! (Click the graphic to see the action.)

We've looked at a couple of townhouses over the weekend, but we're not ready for that yet. I was going to go for a bike ride today but the weather's gone sort of mid-winterish again. (As it does in mid winter.) I think I'll read a book and watch a bit of TV instead.

The afternoon improved so I biked to town to get a DVD I'd reserved - but the previous borrower hadn't returned it yesterday, nor today. Selfish jerk; you'd think that people who rent the BBC series "In Search of Shakespeare" might have some respect for the give and take of civil society. I'd expect this kind of lawlessness from the scumbags who rent "Death Race 7", but the Shakespeare crowd tend to keep their cardigans in order.

Saturday, 16 June 2007

Week? What week?

Modern life, don't you love it? This week I organised a car WoF, installed two PowerLinks that didn't work (and spent hours dealing with helpdesks); Heather went home feeling wobbly on Thursday (OK now), my $50 bike lock fell off somewhere between the pub and home on Wednesday, yada yada...

It was nice to have a grey cold morning, so we could leave the curtains pulled across and just hibernate. I got out to the supermarket and library before lunch, then we went to look at a town house for sale in Linwood (lovely house, weird section, low-rent neighbours). Heather says no, I'm 50-50.

Monday, 11 June 2007

The end of Blue Dome Days

Weatherman Augie Auer's death was announced today. His passing has left the Climate Science Coalition without its public face and voice. It's a shame that some sectors of the media think that asking for more evidence, and taking a long term view of climate change than the current panic takes, marked him as a crank.

Sunday, 10 June 2007

School day tomorrow...

  Well, not quite. Our students have finished lectures, but they'll be hard at their study with exams looming. I think I'll be alone in the office tomorrow, as Jess's sister is finally producing baby #3, with many helpers in attendance. Even if baby arrives over night, I don't think Jess will be in the mood for work the next day.
  There are lots of tasks for me to do, though, starting with testing two Powerlinks for Blackboard and getting the issue of branding our login page sorted out. Those two ongoing tasks will do for starters. Then there's reports to read, projects to keep up with, and general busy stuff that happens in any week. I hope to sort out a training session with a Blackboard consultant too, so there will be a few phone calls to Oz this week.
  It's been a nice weekend, with Heather's sister Elaine here, quite a lot of driving around doing stuff, and general winter weekend activities - including a good kiwi hogget roast on Saturday night. Yum.

Thursday, 7 June 2007


A clean sweep to Emirates Team NZ in the Louis Vuitton finals - not what we'd have predicted when they began! So now it's on to the finals of the America's Cup itself, in a couple of weeks. In the meantime I can catch up on sleep...

Wednesday, 6 June 2007

The midnight watch; 4-0, 1 race to go!

I went to bed early and got up at 1 am in time for the start of Race 4 of the Louis Vuitton Cup. It didn't look great when Luna Rossa got away to an 80m lead half way up the first beat, but a left wind shift soon had the Kiwis in front. From that point they kept the Italians bottled up, and stretched out to a comfortable win. I lasted until the second windward leg, then started nodding off and retired to bed, pretty comfortable in the knowledge that the race was under control, and wasn't disappointed when I came out for breakfast and viewed the videotape.

Monday, 4 June 2007

Sail away

It's been a very pleasing end to the week, with the Kiwis doing far better than expected in the Louis Vuitton Cup finals against Luna Rossa. Last night's third race had a fascinating start, with both boats sailing backwards for at least a minute during the pre-start, then accelerating into the first beat. Once the race settled down, Team NZ showed that they were faster on all points of sailing, yet again.