Friday, 30 May 2008

Friday flash

We are off to Dunedin on Saturday, to meet up with a predicted southerly front - no, it's really to visit my old friend Jim Guthrie and see how he's recovering from a hip operation. He has Parkinsons, and has had a year which included brain surgery, followed by some nasty side effects, then an old climbing injury caused such hip pain that he needed a replacement. He's putting up with an amazing amount, I just watch in admiration as he copes with all this.

Last night I saw Shine A Light, the Scorsese Stones movie - and won a T shirt, which was nice. I really enjoyed the movie, but then I'm a hard core Stones fan. It might have been a bit much for more casual viewers; the editing is extremely fast paced, and the shots are so tight, that sometimes you're flicked to a new shot before you've had time to absorb the previous one. Scorsese definitely played it as "Sir Mick and his backing band", which I thought was a bit tough. Especially as the highlight for me was Keith Richards singing "You've Got The Silver", with Keef & Ronnie on semi-acoustic guitars demonstrating "The Ancient Form of Weaving".

I know it's not sailing season here, but it is in France. Take a look at these shots of a foiler tri that will attempt to break the 50 knot sail speed record.

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Nearly dead

The dangers of cycling are nearly always created by drivers or pedestrians who don't think - like this morning on my ride to work. At one point I leave a busy street and enter a park, but this morning a lady in a tiny hatchback tried to get to a side street on my left as I neared the park.
The yellow line is me - the dotted bit is where I was going to ride next. As I started the right turn past the side street, the driver (red for danger, obviously) passed me - then she slowed, realising that I was doing 30 km/hr and was still close behind her. At this point she was about 3 or 4 metres ahead of me; I had slowed to a walking pace and was waiting for her to make a move. By now she'd realised her miscalculation and was frozen with indecision in the middle of the road, so I started cycling past on her left.

As I drew level with her, a car that she was blocking tooted its horn - and she took her foot off the brake! We travelled around the corner to the left together, about 30 cm apart. Once I had some room I stopped - and she drove off in a rush. If she'd waited 5 seconds for me to round the corner, none of this would have happened. I suppose she was late to work - but at least I hadn't been run over (for the fourth time in two years).

Other news; we're going to Dunedin this weekend to see our old buddy Jim Guthrie who has Parkinsons and has just had a hip replacement, then it will be skiing soon I guess.

Monday, 26 May 2008

Motoring on

McLaren, Hulme, Amon, Dixon. New Zealand does seem to have the knack of producing motor racing champions. Which is odd, when I reflect that we may be watching the last 10 (definitely the last 20) years of hydrocarbon fueled recreation like the Indy series, Formula 1, A1 GP, or even the unspeakably bogan V8 Supercars. And rallying, sadly.

Goodbye too to jetskis, trailbikes, quad bikes and snowmobiles. No more jetboats, and very few helicopters or airliners - or chairlifts. Campervans will be used as sleepouts all across the ticky tacky landscape of a world without oil. And no more leaf blowers (but more chainsaws, to cut the firewood).

Of course, the world won't be totally without oil - but the oil will be owned by America and Russia (more or less, though it will be interesting to see how China emerges from the Oil Wars of 2014-2019). What will NZ have to pay for a litre of 91 by then?

Hello to sailing, cycling, ski-touring, and tramping. I knew these recreations would win out in the end. Now, how can we get to Lyttelton to go sailing?

Saturday, 24 May 2008

What to do with the waterfront

Two views on how cities should manage their (currently) under-utilised waterfront areas.

NY Mayor Bloomberg, greasing up to London's new Lord Mayor, Boris Johnson;
While much attention has been paid to how we also sought to adopt a London-style congestion pricing plan, we have studied many other areas of London’s experience, especially the rise of Canary Wharf, which has provided a model for our efforts to revitalise Manhattan’s Far West Side, currently home to train yards and warehouses.

Jim Kunstler, talking about life after the truck & trailer units have stopped rolling;
We also have to prepare our society for moving people and things much more by water. This implies the rebuilding of infrastructure for our harbors, and also for our inland river and canal systems -- including the towns associated with them. 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). Right now, programs are underway to restore maritime shipping based on wind -- yes, sailing ships. It's for real. Lots to do here. Put down your Ipod and get busy.
(More on Kunstler at

So what's it to be - posh apartments, cafes, and bike paths, or working wharves and maritime trade? We don't want any more of those scruffy "train yards and warehouses", do we?

Speaking of the NYC Mayor, where to now for Hillary Clinton? Surely not...!!!

More weekend news:
I'm off this morning to buy a ticket to see Shine A Light, Scorsese's latest concert film about the Rolling Stones. This afternoon we hope to go to Lyttelton and pack the boat away for the winter.

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Good things

Alice has a Toyota Starlet, paid for, licensed, and her very own. That is a result of Jess having her newly imported Toyota Carib; it's called "trickle-down economics". We had a significant meeting at work today, and hopefully the demarcation lines for Moodle admin are now more clear. There's snow on the way - generally life is looking positive.

Monday, 19 May 2008

There goes the neighbourhood

Oh no, they're going to put Windows on the OLPC, the "$100 laptop". It adds $10 to the cost and requires more RAM, but it's Windows, so politicians will like it. (And it's much more likely to get better black market sales.)

The OLPC is an idea that's not going away in a hurry. Cheap mass computing for the Third World, preferably robust and portable, will be as useful as fresh water and roads. When it really takes off, it may not be in this form, but it will happen one day.

Predictably, the open source zealots, led by Richard Stallman, are as angry as a mullah with a pork chop. But a strongly worded response from Ivan Krstic points out that any software is better than none, that open source does not always mean better, and that the reality of politics will often trump technological purity.

"At the end of the day, it just doesn’t matter to the educational mission what kernel is running Sugar. If Sugar itself remains open and free — which, thus far, has never been in question — all of the relevant functionality such as the ‘view source’ key remains operational, on Windows or not. OLPC should never take steps to willingly limit the audience for its learning software. Windows is the most widely used operating system in existence. A Windows-compatible Sugar would bring its rich learning vision to potentially tens or hundreds of millions of children all over the world whose parents already own a Windows computer, be it laptop or desktop. To suggest this is a bad course of action because it’s philosophically impure is downright evil."

Worth a read if you're interested in computers and education.

As time goes by

Every Monday morning, we analyse the logs of the previous week's activity on the Blackboard server, and graph the results. Apart from it being good discipline, I'm not sure why we still do this; it started when we had capacity and overload issues, but they have faded away as the Blackboard developers cleaned up the application code. Every week in the term time, we get a result like this:
I suppose it is quite useful; we know that Monday and Tuesday are busier than Thursday and Friday, that Saturday is the quietest day of the week, and that there's a spike in usage after dinner each weekday evening. It also shows that the active users in dark blue are less than 25% of the total users; many students have the system running but are not actively clicking. Maybe they are reading something, or watching lecture videos (which are hosted on another server and don't show in these stats). We can't explain why the Monday and Tuesday "Last 5" (active users in the last 5 minutes) line does violent rises and falls, then on the other days it's more consistent. Maybe we get a lot of users just checking in for a few minutes then logging off again?

Saturday, 17 May 2008

Does this make sense?

It looks like the US is building up to the Oil Wars...There is no mention of any moves to cut domestic oil use, stop the sprawl of suburbia and SUV driving, or any other conservation measures. The attitude is just "keep that oil flowing, because we don't know how to live without it" - to get to the WalMart, cart the kids to sports, power the jetskis, drive to the Nascar races, and to hell with the future. And how cities like Phoenix or Fargo can remain habitable without air conditioning or gas heating is an issue the US has not started discussing yet.

There'll be tears before bedtime...

Friday, 16 May 2008

The invalid

Heather had a mole excised from her foot yesterday, so she's lying in state on the couch for a couple of days while it heals up. She has remote desktop access to her work PC, but hasn't felt the urge to start working so far. Besides, she doesn't work on Fridays.

Alice will get a car next week, when Jess gets her newly-imported Carib, which was being put through NZ compliance today. Alice is buying Jess's Starlet, which will mean she's ready to move, if she can get a job to move to, after her current job expires in June. It's complicated.

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

A day in the life

At 7.40am a silver Toyota Trueno with two 17 yr old yoofs pulled up in the right-turn-only lane beside me at the North Avon Rd/North Parade corner. I was second in line. The lights changed and the kids went straight ahead - "Har de har, that was a good trick" - while the rest of us braked hard and pulled left. It's a good thing there were no cyclists on the left of the road, they'd have been caught up in the mess. I got the car's number, so the first thing I did at work was to report the little scroats.

Let's all do this - in a way it's reviving social disapproval, that much maligned force that was wiped out by the forces of postmodernism and revisionist history. The more these toads are sneered at and refused jobs, the less clever their "lifestyle choice" will seem.

Let's give selfish pricks, of any age, a hard time. Get in the habit of noting numberplates, or at least looking at them - you never know when it might be useful.

After that it was visiting a lecturer to help with a big online test on Friday plus a bright idea about how to give him a practice course and writing the instructions for this, some routine course setups and stuff, lunch, adding info to a wiki for the 2pm meeting, then 2 hours choosing the courses for our LMS trial, and writing the "Dear John" emails to the ones that weren't selected.. Quite a busy day, really.

Sunday, 11 May 2008

Today's crusade - Got a spare brain?

That's what I feel like asking cyclists I see with no helmets. Or worse, with a helmet on their head but the chin strap not done up; what on earth do these people think they are achieving?

I have a friend who carries a helmet in his saddlebag and puts it on when he sees police. He says that he'll put it on if he's riding somewhere dangerous. Yeah, right.

The last thought that will occupy the minds of these people, as they hurtle head first towards a concrete kerb, will no doubt be "I wish I'd put my helmet on." Or in the case of the on-but-undone, "Oh look, that thing rolling across the road looks just like my helmet." Then it's wheel chairs, diapers, and learning to talk again.

Here's what a cycle helmet can look like after cycling in a "safe" area, where my friend would not wear his helmet.
The helmet broke into three pieces. I had a mild concussion after this crash, and a year later I still get mild vertigo in high speed elevators - the lift stops and my head keeps bouncing.
If the helmet hadn't taken this blow (yes, that is blood on the foam pad) then my unprotected skull would have absorbed the energy of my 100kg, 20km/hr impact against the concrete traffic island. Do the arithmetic on that, helmet skeptics.

Friday, 9 May 2008

Template again

Back to a 2-column layout. Indecisive? Moi?

Thursday, 8 May 2008

Another template

Why the boring all-in-a-line layout? Because it works on my iPaq. If it turns out that I don't use it on the PDA all that much, I'll set the template back to something a bit more pleasant to the eye.

Much Moodling at work, including server access as of today. I will be spending a lot of time with the admin guide at, I think. I wish I liked it more, but its interface is still pretty amateurish and it just doesn't seem ready for prime time yet. Still, it has progressed amazingly over the last two years, so here's hoping that Moodle 2.0 will bring it up to parity with the others. Blackboard are certainly pouring money and effort into their next version, with an Ajax interface and other good Web 2.0 tricks.

Saturday, 3 May 2008

What to do on a cold wet day

Go to the Antarctic Centre, of course! Heather had a promotional freebie for two people, so off we went this morning for the first visit in 10 years. It was fun, but there was a lot of waiting around for some things like the penguin feeding.

I took some videos on my digital camera (and posted one to YouTube), as the light was too dim for stills - flashes had to be turned off to avoid frightening the penguins.

We also tried the Antarctic Storm experience; you go into a room at -8C and they crank the wind up to 40km/hr - that takes the wind chill to about -26C. It was like a bad day on the Mt Hutt chairlift.

Cold start to the weekend

I awoke at 6.30am to hear hail rattling on the windows, after a rainy night. An hour later there was still enough to be worth a photo. This first southerly blast will probably last another day, as it is being fueled by a low between NZ and the Chathams, hauling a southerly airflow up the island.

Since Christchurch is situated right beside the L and the southerly wind arrow, we can take the hint. In fact as I'm writing this at 8.15am, more hail is bouncing off the skylight in the kitchen ceiling. It looks like we're in for a quiet weekend, focussing on indoor pursuits such as grocery shopping and changing library books.

Mount Hutt is getting close to opening, though somehow I can't get into skiing mode in May.

Here's a good idea to force motorists to think about cyclists - Ghost Bikes. Imagine if we put a bunch of these around Christchurch, I bet it would make people think a bit more about how vulnerable cyclists are.