Monday, 31 March 2008

Reality bites

Back to work - it's quite tiring after 10 days off! We farewelled our Director who's off for 4 months sabbatical/study leave. I spent the morning catching up on 80+ emails, a bunch of support jobs, and then got back to my endless documentation effort on the UCTL web site, writing a Blackboard user guide.

Sunday, 30 March 2008

Liar, liar, pants on fire

I've been reading a great article by Dominic Lawson of The Independent, about Hillary Clinton's latest lies:
She made the remarks in a speech at George Washington University – that's George Washington as in "I cannot tell a lie, father".

The speech was to an audience chock-full of generals and admirals – and Mrs Clinton was clearly determined to demonstrate that she was up to being their commander-in-chief: "There was a saying around the White House that if a place... was too dangerous, the President couldn't go, so send the First Lady instead. So that's where we went. I remember landing under sniper-fire. There was supposed to be some kind of greeting ceremony at the airport but instead we just ran with our heads down to get into the vehicles to get to our base."

When reporters and others who accompanied Mrs Clinton on that 1996 trip protested that nothing of the sort happened, she grimly stuck to her tale: "We had to be moved inside because of sniper fire. There was no greeting ceremony. Now, that is what happened."

Unfortunately for Mrs Clinton, after a few days of her increasingly irate dissembling, CBS started broadcasting its 12-year-old tapes of the then First Lady landing at Tuzla airport.

It showed the following : No sniper fire. No running for cover – heads down or otherwise. Instead we see Mrs Clinton – accompanied by daughter Chelsea – taking part in a charming greeting ceremony, receiving a bunch of flowers from an eight-year-old girl.

Clinton claimed she "misspoke" - and was suffering from sleep deprivation. (So much for the "Who would you trust to take the 3am phone call?" commercials.)
"You know, I think that a minor blip, you know, if I said something that, you know, I say a lot of things – millions of words a day – so if I misspoke, that was just a misstatement."

This clip shows Hillary's obfuscations and just plain bullshit, as she tries to divert attention to the plane flight to Bosnia and away from the events on the tarmac.

Other Hillary fibs;
"The role I played [in the Northern Ireland peace process] was instrumental."
Hmmm, the spokesmen for the Ulster Unionists and the UK government are too polite to call her a liar, but they are very uncomfortable about this claim.

On Sept 11 2001, she was worried because daughter Chelsea "was jogging in the neighbourhood of the Twin Towers". Not so - Chelsea herself said she watched the events on TV.

You can read more about her claims, and a psychiatrist's assessment of her condition, here.

Saturday, 29 March 2008

Crazy Guy tells all

Read all about it! The journal for the bike trip, at Crazy Guy On a Bike, is more or less complete. I'll do some photos on Flickr in the next day or so as well.

Friday, 28 March 2008

Back from the coast

We bailed out from Greymouth right after lunch - I rode over the bridge into town ( warning - very bike-unfriendly approaches to the town from the north) and after lunch and an assessment of the weather forecast (lousy) we drove via Blackball and Moana back to Christchurch.

After visiting Blackball, we cut across via Stillwater and Moana to meet the main highway at Jacksons. After that we rolled up through the Otira Gorge and the obligatory viewpoint over the viaduct, and were back in Christchurch by 5.15pm.

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

On the road - Day One

I'm not inclined to multi-posting after a day's biking, a good meal, and several glasses of cab sav, so you'll have to click here to read all about it.

Are we having fun yet? You betcha!

Sunday, 23 March 2008

An autumn workout

Another 34km today, but with hills this time. We rode up to the Sign of the Takahe then back down, just for fun. Then across the foothills with a smaller climb at Murray Aynsley (must look up the origin of that suburb's name) and through Woolston to the eastern ring road.

When we got to the Avon I decided to head for home, as I had some twinges in my right thigh and the back of my calf. It may just be my leg complaining at having to stretch a bit more, after I raised my seat about 2cm - that definitely gave me more power on the hill, but if I keep getting twinges I'll drop my seat back to where it was.

A rest and packing day tomorrow, then on Tuesday we're off into the wild west.

Saturday, 22 March 2008

Lazy day

Following a moderately alcoholic barbecue with the Schroeders and Hutchings here last night, the day began with a lie in; 8.30am, that's late for me. A slow breakfast, the weekly supermarket visit, and other domestic dramas filled in most of the day. Heather went for a spin on her bike, I biked to the pub and back for a teatime beer.

That's Easter Saturday in River Rd. It's a full life...

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Short week

It's the end of the week already, and it's only Thursday. I've had one of those weeks where every time I pause between tasks, someone gives me another task - my to-do list is longer now than it was on Monday. And I've had toothache - something is inflamed and tender in the root of a tooth that cost over $1000 to cap last year, so I'm off to the dentist this morning. I've been keeping it under control with painkillers and Voltaren, but with Easter and our biking holiday coming up it has to be sorted today. I can understand why my parents' generation just said "Take them all out".

Later- Abscess lanced and drained, antibiotics started, ho hum.

Sunday, 16 March 2008

On yer bike

Heather and I did a 59km ride today, to Lincoln and back. That was really nice, in cool overcast weather, and we just got Heather home with her third puncture in a week. We're getting our bikes serviced on Wednesday, and we'll definitely add a kevlar tyre and a new tube (plus a spare) to the list.

After we got home we went to QE2 and sat in a spa for 30 minutes - which also sorted our shower unavailability problem. Hopefully the shower will be sorted tomorrow. (Especially as we have guests on Tues-Wed nights.)

Roast chicken, red wine - think I'll be asleep by 9.

Saturday, 15 March 2008

Weekend again

A middle aged decision was made very easily this morning - instead of going early to Lyttelton and racing till 4pm, we'll go later and try some rig changes. The wind has picked up from 9 to 13 knots in the last hour, and is steadily increasing, so it will be a solid 20 knots by start time. That's OK for a short race, but a long race in a solid breeze is a lot less fun, especially for a nearly-60 skipper with a back that grumbles after hours of stacking out.

We want to sail, though, to sort out our heavy weather rig. We discovered several weeks ago that a reefed main gives us really good performance without the heel angle and the heavy helm, and we are experimenting with methods of strapping down the clew to give a flatter sail shape. We also want to try some changes to the way we rig jib sheets, and may even try our smallest jib, which we've never used. Until now, we've always said, "If it's blowing that hard, we'll stay home, we're not silly", but in fact we may get pleasant sailing even on a really windy day.

An interesting seminar yesterday from an Erskine visitor, Professor Robert Kraut, from Carnegie-Mellon's Human-Computer Interaction Institute. His research is on social interaction on the internet, collaboration online, and "the wisdom of crowds" as shown in sites like Wikipedia. He is doing statistical analysis of the quantity and quality of Wikipedia posts, and the social processes behind these. All of which links very nicely to this cartoon, which Russell Brown posted on today's Public Address.
NOON

Sailing's off, due to Schroeder having taken on a job that's turned out to be a bit bigger than anticipated, and to the waste pipe from our shower parting company from the tray. Heather has gone to get a replacement connection, so that when the plumber gets here on Monday he's got the gear and can put it all back together. For the next two days we'll cope OK.

I'll go over to Lyttelton after lunch and replace our jib sheets, do a bit of a tidy up in the cabin, and pump up the tyres, so the club can move Impulsive to make room for Optimists - there will be heaps here over Easter for their Nationals, so we're making room for them.

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Funny times

Prince Charles visits Bob Marley's widow Rita - who is now basking in the reflected glow of sanctimony as Bob is treated like a saint. That's Bob of the big spliff and Miss World on the side, in case you didn't connect the dots. Not that I have anything against the rastaman, it's just that he's being revered like Gandhi - why? To appease the West Indian voters in the UK? Heavens no...

Work gets stranger as the Moodle zealots assemble the illusion that "Will we do a Moodle trial?" is a genuine choice. It's starting to look like "You'd better have a darn good reason for not going with Moodle" - especially since the academic staff know what they don't like about Blackboard/WebCT, but all they know about Moodle is that a few people say it's treefick. The frying pan always gets more votes than the fire, I notice.

The more cynical I get, the more I am right, I notice. Like Gary Player, the South African golfer, who said in 1965, “You know, it’s quite amazing. The more I practice, the luckier I get.” (That's also attributed to Thomas Jefferson, and various others, I found out with a micro-google.)

Sailing on Saturday, either to Sumner or a long harbour race - either should be good fun. There's a 15 knot NNE forecast on Saturday, which would give us a fun ride home, with a gybe at the Heads.

Bike ride on Sunday, only two weeks till Reefton!

Monday, 10 March 2008

Safe biking - in Christchurch?

Not always, as this video shows. (I initially embedded the video clip, but something was weird and it just wouldn't play, so you'll have to go to YouTube to watch it, sorry.)

Exaggerated? Not at all - to begin with, it doesn't show the carpet of glass left on city streets after the big boy-racer blowout last weekend. Or the yobs who drive up beside you and spit, or throw bottles. (I've had the former, friends have had the latter.)

A strange phenomenon is the frothing-mouth motorist who thinks that because a cyclist got ahead of him at the lights, he can extract revenge by passing too close, cutting the cyclist off, and so on. On one side is a dent to some imagined pride, on the other is a genuine chance of serious harm. Some people have some bizarre notions of fairness.

Sunday, 9 March 2008

P.S. I'm outa here

In today's news we heard of a Christchurch guy who fell asleep in a movie, and was left there by his fiancee. He awoke at 3am and set off all sorts of alarms as he tried to get out of the building. Now he's not engaged any more.

And why did he fall asleep? He'd worked a 14 hour day as a courier driver, then gone for a run, and eaten a roast dinner. That's enough to put most guys to sleep - but his girlfriend chose the movie, "P.S. I Love You", about a woman whose husband died of cancer, but had left messages to be delivered to her after his death, providing redemption and personal growth for the grieving wife. Jeez, I'd fall asleep in something like that, even if it was shown at 9am after a good night's kip.

Anyway, not only has he escaped marriage to a woman who wanted to pick the movies and be the centre of attention, he's also escaped having to go to more mawkish chick flicks. Lucky guy!

We had a Mexican meal at Alva Rados last night - it was very reasonably priced, and the food was really good. But on a Saturday night it was hosting several big groups of 20 or so 20-somethings (probably because of the BYO and the prices) and after a couple of glasses of wine the girls were all screeching at each other, so it was awfully noisy. We went for a stroll through town afterwards, and were home about 10.30 - we must be getting old...

Who can explain this charming little news story? I can - there's a lot of nutters around these days.

Woman cyclist assaulted, thrown off bridge
Sunday, 09 March 2008

A 63-year-old woman was punched and thrown off a bridge in Remuera, Auckland, this morning.

The woman was riding a bicycle over the southern bridge in Waiatarua Reserve when she was punched in the face by a man standing on the bridge, said Detective Sergeant Jason McIntosh.

"The male picked the woman up and threw her over the bridge into the water below. He has then thrown the woman's bike at her while she was in the water."

The man is described as Maori or Polynesian, aged 30 to 40, 193cm tall and of fat build.

Police want to hear from anyone who saw the incident.

Saturday, 8 March 2008

Sailing - the best yet

Schroeder and I left town at 12, and had the boat in the water at 1.00, in about a 5 knot easterly. It was a beautiful warm day, and the first time all season that we've had our big #1 genoa up. We just charged to windward, through some big wind shifts. Past Parsons Rock, we turned downwind and hoisted the spinnaker - that went beautifully, even with a twist which shook itself out, and off we went back down the harbour. We took the sails down in Cass Bay, then motored back (into a sudden increase in wind strength), and tidied everything up by 4pm.

Friday, 7 March 2008

Interoperability - or something

I've spent several hours in a meeting looking at a presentation one of our guys is doing for a "Moodle vs Blackboard" presentation on Monday - we then went through it feature by feature and took ages to get agreement about what we'd say to the academic staff. It's amazing how people can get a fixed frame of reference when it comes to this stuff - myself included, I must admit. Anyway, we have a big year ahead of us.

Among this busy debate I managed to discern the following, from which I'll attempt to distill a principle.
  • All LMS systems have similar features.
  • Teachers can make courses that are content-pumps or models of constructivist pedagogy, in any LMS.
  • Differences in online quizzes are only of interest to the train-spotters of this world.
  • Good teachers will use any platform to deliver their course, bad ones will mumble along and wait to be told.
  • Unless we really need the results within the LMS (and that can even be catered for with some clever development) it makes sense for the cutting edge stuff to be happening in cutting edge add-on applications, and not to wait for the core LMS to pick the best-practice examples.
Which brings me to the big word - "interoperability". When it comes to LMS's this means to me:
  • Open standards for import of student data. End of story.
  • Open standards for course content, ie SCORM and IMS (IMS includes students, too)
  • An open platform for quiz creation - hello, IMS, are you listening?
  • Export of data in a format everyone can read: CSV files of marks, XML where it's needed, standard Java applets for presentation.
  • Content; standard Doc-to-HTML converters, agreed video formats, seamless content export.
Or am I a dreamer? Let's try an example.
  • A staff member wants to put together a course in programming in Perl.
  • The content comes from a bunch of RSS feeds that provide both "how-to" advice and discussion on the direction of the language's development.
  • The question database is from a textbook publisher, with 200 questions for each topic in the book.
  • The lecturer sets up weekly homework quizzes using subsets of these questions. (In fact the quizzes may have come with the questions.)
  • The teacher adds an assignment link with an assignment drop-box pointing to an online shared-code site. Here students from all over the world compare assignments and swap code. Each code fragment that is copied from this site carries a "watermark" tag so anyone can see that it's not original - the onus is on the student to explain why they chose this piece, and what it does. The final submitted assignment goes on to a wiki where Perl programmers from all around the world can comment (or not) on the source code and the chosen solution. (And re-use it under the GNI licence.)
  • The final test and assignment marks go out in an XML file to the course's governing body. After processing, this is passed on to an international Perl-teaching site, where software amalgamates the data into a standard database of question-topic-concept-results.
  • In a year or two, we all have a set of data showing which teaching strategies worked. And a bunch of essays (assignments) about Perl which comprise a new, ever-growing, "wikiperlia".
  • All because we all spoke the same language...
The principle? I don't give a hoot about purist Open Source zealotry - that's as idealistic as the Values Party. I do give a very large hoot about Open Standards; can your program talk to mine? Yeeha to XML!

So I hope we can look forward to a world where Blackboard and Moodle allow each other to effect single sign-on, agreed on standards for student data and learning activities, and communicated with Government agencies aboout enrolments and grades in an agreed format. So a Moodle course could contain a quiz that was sent to the student as a Google Document, then formatted for a Word and PowerPoint presentation, and finally archived as an HTML document - while the authors lived anywhere from Portugal to Antarctica. And the students were in Wollongong...

More routine stuff:
I noticed a noise coming from my front wheel, and discovered a broken spoke. With touring looming closer, I took the wheel to the shop, to be told that these wheels had all been recalled some years back. Because I bought mine for cash from a dealer, I didn't get told. Anyway, all the spokes were rusting, and I needed a new wheel - $120. It is very sexy and black, I must admit.

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Days go by

The weeks slide by at high speed when the University is in full production. Support calls from staff, meetings, the great LMS Review, and my never-ending attempt to update the Blackboard section of the UCTL web site - all make the days whiz by. I've biked each day so far, with slightly grizzly hips and muscles. (Not as bad as Heather's hip, which will be replaced some time this year, after her visit to Ian Penny, the same orthopedic surgeon who did my hip replacement in 2004. More on this when we know some dates.)

Jess and I made some plans for our next projects this afternoon; a big system upgrade, more PowerLinks, and trying to defend Blackboard against the Moodle craze that is currently upon us. BB's newest development plans will be unveiled in a webinar tomorrow, but we've had a summary from a UK sysadmin who seems to have viewed the same presentation recently.

Sunday, 2 March 2008

A morning bike ride

The weather is forecast to turn rainy about midday, so at 8am I decided to take advantage of the fine morning and get some miles under my wheels after a week with no cycling. I rode up through Mairehau to QE2 Drive, where I met a warm NW head wind. This kept my speed down to around 20-22 km/hr through Northcote and out to Johns Rd by the airport. Once I had rounded the north end of the airport, I turned and had a side wind for several kilometres until I turned to head east, 20km from home.
The homeward trip was great, and I was doing 27-32 km/hr for a lot of the distance. I came down Waimairi Rd through Avonhead and Burnside, through the University, and in Fendalton Rd to the park, finishing along Bealey Ave, which is fairly quiet on a Sunday morning. Final total was 37.5km, at an average of 21.5km/hr - a good start to the day.

Saturday, 1 March 2008

When I become Emperor...

...my first act will be to outlaw hand held cellphone use while driving. I admit I've done it myself, but it is not safe, let's admit it. If you want to know why, click here.

The 8am going-to-work sight of self-important Fendalton executives trying to corner a Porsche Cayenne with one hand and hold a phone with the other is both hilarious and scary. Hilarious because it is such a joke to drive a high performance vehicle so badly, scary because you or I might be in front of them as they roll around bends swaying from lane to lane.

What about cycling with headphones on? It's not as obviously dangerous as driving and using a phone (don't even think about driving and texting) but it's similar - both isolate the road user from the environment, and eventually that will bite you. (Interesting debate on biking and iPods here. And here. And everywhere that cyclists gather, I suspect.)

I'm a week away from the anniversary of my broken-finger accident; maybe that's why I'm having safety-conscious thoughts. You don't want to need a Bicycle Accident Attorney - mind you, we have ACC.

First week over

We made it to the end of the first week of lectures, with a rush of support calls on Friday - one of the busiest days I've had for some time. The majority are simple; set up a new course, switch semesters, set up cross coding, and so on.

My cold abated as the week went on, though I hate to think about the quantity of stuff I've expelled through my nose in a week. This morning I think it's almost back to normal. Just as well, too. I've been too short of breath to consider biking, so I'll try to do some decent mileage this weekend, if the rain holds off. No hills, though - I think I'll do the 40km airport circuit.