Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Work, weather, winter

Work is revving up as we approach the trial of Moodle. We have heaps to do, and we still have our day jobs of course. Still, the next phase of the trial is interviewing the staff volunteers to ascertain their course style, level of use, level of expertise, etc; that should be pretty interesting. And it will get us out and about; I've become a bit office-bound in recent years.

We want to get a good cross section of courses and users, and that's not a simple task. Add to this the hassle of running all our admin through Moodle, when it's still being tweaked into shape by Bruce (I'm supposed to be assisting him, but when will I get time?) It's too easy to make catastrophic mistakes in Moodle - I'll offer that as a first observation.

It's the first anniversary of our move into the Law building, and my colleague Jess is holidaying with her sister and niece, riding the Central Otago Rail Trail. They would have copped today's southerly front while out on one of the trail's most exposed sections, but a text message at 4pm said they were drying out in front of a big fire at the Hyde Hotel. Sounds pretty good to me.

As autumn progresses, the trees on the campus are looking spectacular, though the sky has been a bit grey and not terrific for photography. I'll keep the camera with me for a few days, though, and see what I can catch.

Saturday, 26 April 2008

Long weekend

With Anzac Day falling on a Friday, it seems that half of Christchurch has headed out of town, mostly to Wanaka. I am tossing up whether to go for a bike ride in the countryside, or go sailing, or just have a quiet day around home, or...

I have put some time into developing a Moodle course, to try out the system's features. As the trial of Moodle with some classes will begin in June, we're going to have to get up to speed with it pretty quickly.

Thursday, 24 April 2008

I got them old PDA blues again

Well, I did this morning. After two days I had totally banjaxed my PDA. Two installs of an Odyssey network client (which steadfastly refused to acknowledge any wifi in the vicinity), two trial setups of backgammon that I tried to uninstall but which remained (partially) installed, and general weirdness more suited to Windows 95 had somewhat dimmed my view.

Today I did a hard reset to wipe the thing back to its birthday suit, and reinstalled most of it. I got wifi working with our less secure network, but I still can't get the main wireless network's settings into it - the options just aren't there. Anyhoo - whether I'm at work or at home, my calendar, address book, and email are with me. If email can't send right away it waits till I'm back in my office and sends next time I sync. Nice. I forgot the most essential app of all - Handy Shopper! I'll have to zip out to work tomorrow to install it and beam its database over from my Palm.

It's interesting to see what some major web sites have done to accommodate PDA screens. Google, Gmail, and Amazon seamlessly slip on their PDA suits. Arts & Letters Daily does a very slick job of keeping its look and feel. Public Address becomes one long column; I think it's the same bug that we had with Blackboard and IE, which Blackboard Support blamed on an IE CSS stylesheet parser problem. Except that eventually BB fixed it, not Microsoft. I've been having a similar issue with Moodle and the Turnitin plugin; it's a long story that I won't bore you with, but it all revolves around whose fault it is when two systems suddenly stop singing in harmony. (Hint - point at the other guy and say it's his fault.)

Anyway, we haven't quite got to the seamless XML-based "Write once, publish many" world we were led to believe was in our post-DHTML future. CSS didn't help all that much, and all the DSLT and XSLT in the world still won't get there. What renders best on PDAs? Plain old basic HTML 1.0!

Monday, 21 April 2008

New gadget

This is a nice piece of equipment that fell into my lap today. It's an HP iPaq 2790, about 18 months old but in perfect order. I mentioned to my manager that my little Palm PDA was falling apart, and he said "I never use my iPaq, do you want to try that instead?"

I haven't mastered the settings for wireless access at work yet, but I have it configured for internet access at home pretty easily. The hardest parts were remembering the admin password for my router so I could check the WEP settings, and typing in the incredibly long passphrase with the dinky little on-screen keyboard.

An interesting side note; I took it outside to test the wi-fi range (I can go from the back fence to the river bank) and I encountered three other networks! One is named "tonyblack" and is properly protected, but the other two have not been changed since the routers were brought home from the shop. My guess is that if the SSID hasn't been changed, neither has the admin password or the WPA password. In fairness to their owners (who I'm pretty sure I can identify) I won't say any more. Should I visit and offer to make them secure, or is a local hacker such an impossibility that we don't need to worry?

Sunday, 20 April 2008

Sailing - one last time?

We headed off with warm clothes and lunch, and launched the boat in a flat calm. Knowing that an easterly would fill in after midday, we motored over to Diamond Harbour to inspect a section of sewer outfall waiting to be towed around to South Brighton.

Schroeder took the helm, and I was happy to be the forward hand for the day. The breeze didn't get much over 5 knots, and it was pretty shifty at times, so we sailed an eccentric course towards the heads.

Near the heads we got quite a steady breeze for a while, then at 2 pm we turned for home.
The downwind leg was a mixture of a flat run and a broad reach, as the wind direction moved between east and north. The spinnaker behaved really well and we were back at the jetty by 3pm, just as the day cooled off.
This was pretty definitely the last sail of the season, and it was a lovely way to finish.

Saturday, 19 April 2008

Things that me me go hmmm...

Some days it seems that there's all kinds of bad stuff happening in the world; here's a random list.
And it's raining...

Friday, 18 April 2008

Bikes and weather

Today was a bit of everything. I had a strong head wind on the ride to work, and I was in a hurry because we had a restart of the servers booked for 8 o'clock. (Nothing serious, just rearranging databases.) It was a bit cold and rainy again on the way home, but at midday it was warm - one of those "four seasons in one day" days.

Saturday looks like shopping, and if Sunday is fine, as predicted, we'll sneak in another sailing day. Every one counts at this time in the season.

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Alice's big day

Today is Alice's graduation ceremony - the weather this morning was rainy so we improvised some photos in the open doorway of the sunroom, with the garden behind. We go to the Town Hall about 1pm after dropping Alice at the Arts Centre for the start of the procession. I hope we can watch the procession at some point then enter the Town Hall just ahead of the graduands.

UPDATE: Although the weather improved, the procession didn't happen. As it turned out, we were seated in the auditorium by 1.20pm anyway, and wouldn't have been able to see anything outside. The ceremony went well, with much pomp and importance. I did feel sorry for Prof Nilakant, the Acting Dean of Commerce, who had to read out several hundred names, about half of them Chinese. He had obviously practised well, and even managed a long Thai name that would have stopped most professional broadcasters in their tracks; it was a marathon effort. So Alice is now a B.Com in Management Science, after doing about 1.7 degrees' worth of papers, and switching majors from Physics.

Sunday, 13 April 2008

Sailing one more time

Schroeder and I went sailing yesterday, maybe for the last time this season. We made a snap decision on an improving autumn day, and had the boat in the water at 1pm. We sailed in a lovely 15 knot breeze, and headed for Purau to catch up with Chris Hutching in his boat Henry Salad. We'd arranged to contact each other by cell phone, but good old Chris had left his phone in his car, and we didn't find him.

We took some time to clear out all the gear from the boat, as I've been caught in the past with condensation and mildewed jackets, lifejackets, etc. So our season is more or less over, though the boat is still fully rigged. If we decide to go again, we'll have to take clothing and lifejackets with us - and sails! Though I may put the sails back in the boat after laying them on the patio for a good drying and check for wear; they take up a lot of room in the garage.

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Autumn falls

The week after daylight saving ends, and all tests in Blackboard now close off when they're supposed to. I'm not 100% sure about the fate of date-specific items created while we "went to Nukualofa" for 2 weeks. (I had to set our time zone to Tonga for the 2 week gap.) We apply a bunch of service packs this weekend; hopefully among those fixes there's a Java DST patch. Still, we might be installing Blackboard v8 before the end of the year, and we know that has cured this problem.

In the meantime, a beautiful autumn is settling in outside our office windows. Last year at this time we were about to move in, and we had a damp cold autumn, but this year's Indian Summer is doing wonders for the trees - it's much more vibrant already.

Sunday, 6 April 2008

Daylight saving ends

The last day before early nights return was a bottler - beautiful blue skies and no clouds, 18degC. Just perfect for mountain biking around the McLeans Island track - it's 10km of lovely swinging curves around pine trees.

A lazy afternoon around home, roast beef, dark early - winter is on the way.

Saturday, 5 April 2008

Domestic bliss

The dishwasher developed a leaky door seal, which led to swollen chipboard in the end panel of the kitchen bench; the seal is fixed, but the repairman discovered that the door latch needs replacing as well, so he'll be returning with a new one. The joinery factory is making the third end panel in eight years. And I had back to back appointments with the dentist and the hygienist yesterday morning. I don't even want to think about how much they all add up to.

At work, the formal decision to proceed with a Semester Two trial of Moodle has been made (not that there was ever any doubt), and we are turning ourselves inside out combining Blackboard admin and support with learning Moodle, and trying in vain to find easy ways to move material from Blackboard to Moodle. It might be open source software, but that sure doesn't mean it uses open standards...

I had hoped for a near-final sail today, but it's forecast to continue showery. Maybe a bike ride would be a better idea. Or a movie.

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Boot camp

Bright eyed and bushy tailed for an 8.05am reboot of the database server, followed by a reboot of the web/application server, in the hope that this would dispel the genies that have been bugging us the last few days.

It seems fine - everything is crisp and fast today. We may schedule a regular weekly reboot just to keep things tidy.