Sunday, 30 December 2007

Holiday preparations

Packing to go for a two week holiday. No pressure...

Saturday, 29 December 2007

To Sumner and back by sea

Today we finally did a sailing trip I've been thinking about for ages. We left Lyttelton's inner harbour at 10.45, after motoring in to the shelter of the harbour away from the chop so we could locate Schroeder's glasses, which he'd misplaced when applying sunscreen. It was building to 15 knots or so at that stage, and we left the harbour into a long port tack across to Diamond Harbour.

Three or four more tacks took us past some Hectors Dolphins and on to Godley Head at the north side of the harbour entrance, where we met a big rolling SE sea - with today's NE wind chop on top. That caused us to rock and roll somewhat as we eased sheets to a broad reach and sailed past Taylor's Mistake and Whitewash Head to Sumner Bay. In a light 20 footer, we were being bounced about quite a lot - if we'd been on a 40 footer we'd have said "Not too choppy today."
Once at Sumner, we hove-to and ate some lunch, but we were still slopping about a lot so we didn't hang around for long. We made a brief leg out to sea to gain some leeway to round the heads, then sailed back to the harbour. As the wind had built to nearly 20 knots, we opted to forgo the spinnaker and instead poled out the jib for a rolling surfing ride back down past the cruise ship to the inner harbour, where we lowered the sails before motoring back round to the club at Corsair Bay. Now I can go on holiday with happy memories of a great day's sailing.

Friday, 28 December 2007

More biking, sailing postponed

I rode 7km to Bottle Lake Forest yesterday and rode the tracks for an hour or so. Even though the signs are pretty good, I still managed to get a little lost on the last leg of the southern loop heading back to the carpark. It was a really nice ride, so I'll definitely go back for some more exercise over the summer.

Later in the day I went shopping for clothes. I purchased underwear and socks, a couple of shirts, and a pair of $100 Levis, taking less than an hour to spend $220. I should really buy a pair of shoes too, but that can wait. I can only stand so much shopping time in a week - I have sometimes bought an item that isn't really right, just to get out of the horrible retail environment. The idea that people would go to a mall voluntarily, for fun, appalls me - I guess I'm (yet again) showing my age.

We've postponed our sailing till tomorrow, partially to suit Stu's domestic arrangements and partly because the dying southerly is keeping things a little damp and cool. Tomorrow will be a much nicer day, as the next ridge of high pressure moves onto New Zealand.

Wednesday, 26 December 2007

It's my birthday

We're celebrating my 59th birthday by mooching about the house doing nothing much. A cold southerly front arrived about 6am. The showers have been passing through about every 20-30 minutes and are not predicted to clear until evening. So it's a pretty dismal day, suitable for doing boring tasks that have been put off "for a rainy day".

I've re-done my links list on the right hand side of the blog page by breaking them into separate lists. It took ages - why couldn't I just put sub headings into a single list? Anyway, it's now a lot easier to find stuff. If this weather keeps up, I'll be forced to attack the filing cabinet in the study...

Later - plans are afoot for a big sailing day on Friday 28th - the long planned day trip out of the Lyttelton Heads and around to either Sumner (that's Plan A) or Port Levy, if the wind is too much from the north. Either way, I'd like to get us several km off the coast and out into the ocean swells, to give Schroeder a reality check about keeler sailing - before we commit ourselves to something bigger than we wanted. Watch this space.

And I forgot to mention our fancy Christmas dinner - it was terrific. The food and the service was everything you'd hope for $100 a head, and we really enjoyed taking several hours to sample and relax as we progressed from seafood entree to dessert and coffee.

Tuesday, 25 December 2007

Merry Christmas and a Happy Birthday

As an event, Christmas is a bit of a nonentity around here. I woke about 7.30 and had breakfast; Heather emerged about 8.30 and went out to water plants. Our presents are both cycling related. Mine is a very nice new handlebar bag for my road bike, and Heather has new cycling gloves - but we bought these several days ago and didn't bother with wrapping them for giving today.
Gregor's new handlebar bag clips off and on very easily.
The big event today is our Christmas Dinner, at the Crowne Plaza Hotel. It is not cheap, but the menu looks superb, and best of all, we don't have to do anything except show up and eat. Alice will join us for that, and will probably stay the night.

Then tomorrow is my 59th birthday; not much to be said about that either...

Sunday, 23 December 2007

Biking fun

This morning I threw my MTB in the back of the car and drove out to McLeans Forest Park to try the bike track. It's an easy 10km ride, with great banked corners among the trees, excellent signposting, and best of all, it's one way so you don't meet people coming at you.

The McLeans Island track is aimed at parents and kids, and it's fantastic for that market. There were people with two year olds in kiddie seats, 10 year olds on their own bikes, and lots of parents. The track is huge fun, with a few small challenges to provide excitement, but nothing to freak out beginners.

I doubt that I'll go back there for a while, it's a 25 min drive to get there and Bottle Lake is just a few km from home. But I'm glad I've seen it.

Saturday, 22 December 2007

The end is nigh

End of the year, anyway. Yesterday was my last day at work, and with so little to do I left at 2pm. Now I have 4 weeks of relaxation stretching out ahead of me, until I return on the 21st of January. I'll make the most of it too; with the battering my body has taken this year, I really need to recharge my batteries.

I'll buy our Christmas groceries this morning, then think about a few presents, and practise my relaxing a bit more.

Some good things I've discovered on the net recently;
And it's the summer solstice - mid winter in the Northern Hemisphere of course.

Thursday, 20 December 2007

Christmas toys

We got an office full of toys today, beginning with three HP 530 laptops for use by UCTL staff who need to be mobile. The MacPersons have mostly got laptops already, plus screens & keyboards for use in the office, so we bought 3 PC laptops for Windows users; they'll be used for doing demos, taking to conferences, etc.

But the big news for me was the arrival of my new HP desktop PC. The first good sign was the weight; it is HEAVY! That means quality, I always say. I plugged it in (no noise from fans at all) and tested the video outputs. With minimal fiddling, and several thanks to Jess, we had two screens working, so that was Positive Step 2. I soon had it hooked up to my other gear (Logitech USB headset, Seagate USB 500GB external hard drive, Palm Tungsten PDA, etc) and started installing software for the third time in 6 weeks. (Don't ask...) It went pretty smoothly, and by 4pm I had most of the system back the way I wanted it.

Its Core Duo CPU is a quantum leap faster than my old P4. Google Earth renders lots faster, proving the bottleneck is not the network, as I'd always assumed, it's the graphics rendering. The twin 19" LCD screens with the tower case behind are great, and access to the back of the case is still easy.

And it has both a DVD player and a DVD-R drive! No floppy drive, but 7 USB ports, a 160GB disk, 2GB of RAM. Ooh ooh, more power, to quote Tim the Tool Man Taylor.

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

The IT Delusion

It never fails to amaze me that people I regard as experts in their particular field of IT can have "nonoverlapping magisteria" as Stephen Jay Gould put it. He meant two parallel, but only occasionally intersecting, worlds of rational and religious belief - that humans can simultaneously believe in cause and effect, and a magical reality with no physical proof, and that both viewpoints have areas of life where that view is valid.

I don't have his ability to reconcile the two views. I spend many moments in my working life wondering "How can Joe Desktop spend an hour tracking down a tiny error in a router configuration file because he knows there must be a cause, then believe that the world 'just happened' because a spiritual being said 'Let there be light'?"

Every day in the IT industry, people follow a rigid belief in causation and physical logic. Then quite a lot of them go to church and celebrate the great Christian mysteries; creation, the trinity, the resurrection, even the virgin birth if you want to go the whole hog.

What goes through their minds as they go off to sleep? "Maybe tomorrow printers will go on printing with no toner." "Maybe tomorrow will be the way to heaven." "Maybe tomorrow binary number arithmetic will be easy." Maybe even "I said my prayers tonight, so tomorrow's backups will work for the first time this week."

I don't like "nonoverlapping magisteria" - I prefer "cognitive disconnect" - placing the blame in the human brain, where it belongs. There are no "magisteria" - they're just words coined by a biologist who didn't want to offend Christians. I am describing the ability of the brain to believe two things at once - that print queues follow the principles of computing, and that humans follow the Lord of Abraham.

Anyway, I see, on a daily basis, people who simultaneously believe that things happen for a reason, and that things happen for no reason. It makes me nervous - what on earth will they start believing next?

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Summer weather

Looks like we're in a La Nina phase for the summer; check here for daily updates on the Southern Oscillation Index (SOI).

The NZ Met Service says: "This parameter (the number of isobars between Tahiti and Darwin) has been rising over the past three months and is now indicating that the atmosphere is indeed in a moderate LA NINA mode. A recent summer that behaved similarly was 1999/2000. If you can remember the weather you had around the turn of the millennium then that's much the same sort of patterns we are looking forward to this summer."
That was a particularly grey and damp summer in Canterbury, as I recall.

The NZ Met Service article goes on to say; "
Typical weather patterns in a La Nina summer are larger-than-normal anticyclones taking a path across Tasmania and the South Tasman Sea. Some of these will then cross central New Zealand bringing periods of sunny warm dry weather, and others will slip around the seas to the south. These high-pressure systems then re-intensify east of New Zealand and bring a period of humid northerly or easterly wind that usually culminate in a period of rain affecting mainly northern and northeastern parts of the country for a few days.

Between these anticyclones the intervening troughs of low pressure with fronts and low pressure centres are likely to mainly roll in from the north Tasman Sea. Some of these troughs may be preceded by a northwesterly flow stretching back to Australia, bringing rain to the Southern Alps but exacerbating the fire risk in eastern South island areas with hot, dry, and gusty conditions. Some may well be followed by a few days of cooler south or southeasterly flows with welcome rain to eastern districts.

In a La Nina summer we are open to whatever weather systems the tropics to the north and northwest may send in our direction."

Sunday, 16 December 2007

Quiet weekend

Saturday was a dirty grey easterly until after lunch, then Heather Alice and I biked into the Art Gallery and Library. Home for dinner, nothing on telly worth watching, and that was the day over - and it was our 32nd wedding anniversary, too.

Sunday got hotter by the hour, and even now at 9.40 pm it is still in the high 20s. We went round to Chris and Frances's place for farewell drinks and nibbles - they're off for 3 weeks in Northland. Home for cold meat and salad, and that's the weekend over. Like a metaphor for the human condition, really; short and not as unpleasant as it might have been.

Saturday, 15 December 2007

We have the technology...

But technology doesn't make good videos. I produced two Camtasia videos the other day, and they are BORING! I'll have to put some work into simplifying the scripts and brightening up the delivery.

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

New Gadget Blues

A new piece of gear was waiting on my desk this afternoon; a Logitech ClearChat USB headset. It is a pair of padded medium-quality headphones plus a nice microphone boom, and under Windows XP it just worked. It has volume controls and a mute-mic button available on the right earpiece, doesn't need any installed drivers - nice!

Not within Camtasia, though, which is the reason I'd bought the gadget. Hmm...

Back to Control Panel. I noticed that I had drivers installed for the now-unused proprietary sound card (I've already forgotten its name) so I uninstalled them and rebooted, in case they were still holding ports open. No better, but at least they weren't taking up RAM any more.

Back into Camtasia Recorder - I finally thought to open View>Toolbars, and hey, there's one named Input Device! Enable the toolbar, click Microphone, quick test video, thumbs up, off to the pub. WHY would you release software with the most useful toolbar hidden? It shouldn't be that hard...

Monday, 10 December 2007

Just thinking

One thing leads to another on the web, which I guess is why it is called a web in the first place. I followed a link from Arts and Letters Daily to an excellent piece in The Times by Brian Appleyard, "Why don't we love science fiction?"

That essay on why the British have always been sniffy about SF mentioned
Fredric Brown’s story "Answer" - a brilliant little one-page story about the super computer that was asked if there is a god. Once you've had a quick read of that, what do you now think about the internet? Is SETI actually the first step in the machines' march to total control?

Or maybe the machines that take us over will be small and cute?

Time for bed...

Sunday, 9 December 2007

Weekend fun

Sailing first; we launched the boat to take part in a series of sprint races yesterday, but when we hoisted the main, the 25 knots of wind caused the sail to flog badly, and a batten pocket ripped. Down came the sail, which I mut admit is getting rather elderly, and we motored about the harbour basin eating lunch and looking at the trawler fleet, then took the boat back to the yard. Our sailing season is not going very well so far!

Late in the afternoon we drove to Southshore for a party at our friends Julian and Alma's house which is nestled in a sheltered hollow in the sand dunes beside the beach. It's a great spot, but it's a long way home after drinking, so we'd planned to catch a bus home and collect the car in the morning. At the party we met Lianne Dalziel, the Minister of Commerce, and her husband Rob, and after signing up Heather and me as Labour Party members for the first time since 1980 (Lianne whipped out a membership book from her handbag, she must do this on a regular basis) they offered us a ride home in her government-provided Prius. It is a spooky feeling to slide along city streets in total silence, though Rob reckoned that the actual fuel mileage is no better than a small hatchback.

Ater breakfast I'll take a bus and go to retrieve the car, then I'm not sure what we'll do with the day. But first, another cup of coffee...

That was 7am - at 9am I walked along the block and caught an Orbiter bus to the Eastgate Mall. I had a 25 minute wait there, but that passed pleasantly with some reading and listening to National Radio on my headphones. Then the #5 Southshore bus took me to New Brighton and down to the car. An hour had passed, but I'd travelled across half the city for $2 - that's a pretty good deal!

On the drive home, I diverted to a huge Mitre 10 store and bought a new padlock for the boat trailer coupling; the old one had been snapped off by a clumsy manoeuvre by someone from a park near us. (At least that's our assumption, based on the badly bent evidence.)

After lunch Heather and I drove to Lyttelton, where Heather went for a walk, while I painted the decks of the cockpit, then oiled the tiller and most of the wooden gunwales. I couldn't oil beside the decks I'd painted, so once the paint has dried I'll apply more oil a number of times over the next few weeks, until it is all fully impregnated and preserved. I'm darned if I want to keep sanding and varnishing woodwork, for no good reason other than appearance. Oil will preserve it just as well.

Then I made a salad from spinach and lettuce leaves from our garden, went to the pub for an hour, and came home to cook dinner. After a beautiful day, I am now reflecting on what a nice weekend it has been - I wouldn't be dead for quids!

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

New work PC - coming soon

Below is the spec for my new work desktop machine, which should be delivered before Christmas. It will also have dual 19" LCD screens. Zoom zoom zoom, as they say in the Mazda adverts!

We are also getting some HP laptops for use by UCTL staff, as well as the HP/Compaq Tablet that seems to have become mine as well. We are spoiled for choice!

Here's the new PC's specs:

"The Super Performance PC is at the high end of the HP Range. Boasting the Intel Core 2 Duo (1066FSB) Processor, and DDR2 667 Memory, and giving you the option to add a high performance graphics card, this PC is ideal for the serious user, either as a high end workstation in a department or for the serious gamer or home user."

The numbers;
As well as the Core Duo CPU and the 2GB of fast RAM, it has a 160GB drive, a DVD-RW drive, and an array of ports. Surprisingly, it sports an RS-232 serial port, a parallel printer port, and a couple of PS/2 connectors; some of those I thought were legacy ports for which you'd buy a converter card, but they're on board.

There's no floppy disk though; it's the first PC I've ever had without one. (Later - I realise that's not true, the iBook I'm using to type this has no floppy drive.) But to make up, the HP has 8 (eight!) USB 2.0 ports. There's a sign of the times...

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Busy week

It should be quiet at this time of year, but we've been doing daily training sessions for academic staff at AFIS, as the whole department has decided to adopt the use of Blackboard for their courses. I had to create about 30 courses from a template last Friday, after presenting the template and customising it on Thursday.

We're doing hands-on work with the staff's own courses in workshops this week, then we'll follow up with personal visits to each person over the next 10 days to catch any problems on their own PCs and give more instruction. The hope is that this approach will lead to a more solid uptake of the system and less lip-service to online teaching.

Sunday, 2 December 2007

Summer days

Yesterday I took a few photos around the garden and of the river across the road - everything is so green and lush at present I could not resist.