Thursday, 31 July 2008

Wet and wetter

The Avon was really full this morning.
What a wet period - we've had about 10 days of rain! That's so unlike Christchurch. We had planned to ski on Tuesday, but that was cancelled, and I'm still not sure when it might be OK for us to get at all the fresh snow.
From the Mount Hutt web site; de-icing the lifts earlier this week.
It'll be great when we get there, I'm sure. At present, it looks like Monday might be a nice day, between even more fronts.

Monday, 28 July 2008

Sad news from a great place

In the weekend, a 19 year old tramper/climber fell to his death down a gully close to Liverpool Hut in the West Matukituki Valley, in Mt Aspiring National Park. I used to know this area well, as I was frequently dashing up and down the West Branch in the first ten years I lived in Wanaka.
Google Earth view of the valley head, showing the Liverpool track on the left. (Click the picture to enlarge.)

The group were intending to do a winter climb of the normally-easy East Ridge of Mt Barff at the head of the valley, opposite Bevan Col. I climbed this route with Jim Guthrie, as part of a mountaineering course in 1976-77.

Jim Guthrie climbing Mt Barff at the head of the West Matukituki, on a Mountain Recreation climbing course, 1977. From the left, Mt French and the Breakaway, the Quarterdeck and French Ridge, and Mt Avalanche in the background, above valley fog.

The climb to Liverpool Hut is not straightforward. After a steep climb to the bush line, the track climbs over a steep tussock covered ridge, then sidles down and across the head of a gully to meet the ridge where the hut is situated, well away from the large avalanche paths in the vicinity. It seems that the fall happened in this gully.

Liverpool Hut (and its tiny toilet) seen from across the valley, on the French Ridge track.
The ridge before the hut is at the lower right corner of the photo.

A photo gallery on Picasa has some excellent shots of the area taken in summer by a tramping party. This is the first of the series; it looks back down the valley, and gives a good idea of the steepness of the valley sides.

Of course, summer photos cannot convey what it must be like in winter snow and ice. The tussocks are unhealthy enough in summer rain, so they must make a lethal sliding surface in winter. This is a sad end for a keen young mountaineer, and his family, and yet another warning about taking care in the outdoors.

Sunday, 27 July 2008

Bed time

Our late 80s waterbed was drained and dismantled yesterday, followed by some serious vacuuming and cleaning, before we unpacked and set up a new bed. It is a conventional base and inner-sprung mattress, so we lost the six large drawers that were in the waterbed's base. That also meant buying a new drawer unit, to take the displaced clothes - which in turn meant a major throw-out of old garments as storage was rearranged.

The new bed has a furry woollen overlay, and a queen size electric blanket with individual controls. After the first night's sleep, I can say that it is firmer than the waterbed, but not unpleasantly firm. I fell asleep with the electric blanket on low, and woke at 3am with a raging thirst, so there are still some tricks to learn.

Now I have to tidy up the old bed and advertise it on Trademe. I'll put a $1 reserve on it, as I really just want it gone; making money is not the point.

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Whale oil?

On Yahoo news today;
"The Arctic Circle holds an estimated 90 billion barrels of recoverable oil, enough supply to meet current world demand for almost three years, the U.S. Geological Survey forecast on Wednesday.
The forecast comes as Russia is competing with Canada, Denmark, Norway and the United States to grab a chunk of the huge energy resources in the Arctic, an area growing more accessible due to global warming melting the ice."

That's more than all the known reserves of Nigeria, Kazakhstan and Mexico combined, and enough to supply U.S. demand for 12 years. Oh well, that's all right then, we can forget about Peak Oil. And with all that ice gone, drilling in the Arctic is a lot easier than it used to be.

Meanwhile back at the ranch; The second day of the databases course was really good. The abstruse theory of week 1 was applied to some practical examples in the labs, and we had good fun with our first attempts at SQL retrievals.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Rude rage

As I biked to work today, I came to the corner of Kilmarnock St/Kahu Rd with Straven Rd, to find that a car was parked over the bike space at the front of the left-turn lane. I wheeled between the waiting cars and passed the offending bomb, occupied by a rough looking yobbo in a beanie. Seeing his window was open half way (probably to let the smoke out) I called "Hey, you're on the bike park!" and rolled ahead to park on the pedestrian crossing.

This set off the most amazing stream of invective from the driver, clearly not a graduate of an anger management course; "You old ****, get a **** up ya, get the ****** hair off your face, piss off you old ****" - for a minute or so. He even moved his car forward to bump my back tyre, but not hard. Seems he doesn't like criticism, over-50s, beards, and most of all, cyclists. Guilty on all counts. I should have got his licence plate, but I didn't have a pad and pen. I'll put them in my handlebar bag now, along with my #2 digital camera.

Deflation cycle

Happily biking to work yesterday morning, when a slight wobbly feeling turned to a very wobbly feeling - a flat front tyre was the cause. I was at the bridge into Hagley Park, beside Christs College, so I phoned Heather to come and rescue me. I had the wheels off the bike by the time she arrived, so it fitted in the back of the Mazda AZ3, then dropped her back at home and drove to work. By then the traffic was at its worst, and it took over 20 minutes to drive the length of Bealey Avenue.

I repaired the puncture last night. A piece of green glass the size of a grain of wheat was the cause - no doubt left from the weekend's drive-by bottle smashers. Why can't they sell morons their moron drinks in plastic bottles? They make rugby audiences drink from plastic, yet antisocial yoofs carry on smashing glass as they drive. Bah, humbug.

Friday, 18 July 2008

One week down...

The first week of a semester is always a mad-house, as we get involved in lots of academics' last-minute crises. Did they really not know they'd need a Blackboard course for their subject until 2pm on Wednesday? We've also had a couple of small downstream glitches after our upgrade earlier in July, so it's been quite a busy office this week.

A remarkable thing has been the lack of traffic on my morning and afternoon bike rides - especially in the morning, the roads are just empty. Because it is school holidays! It just shows how many parents are driving back and forth across town taking kids to school and ferrying them around sports/swimming/music/dance activities in the afternoons. Haven't they heard of bikes and buses?

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

School day tomorrow

That's what I said as I went to bed last night, and I wasn't kidding! Between 9.30am and 5pm we covered about 4 weeks of a 200-level Computer Science course on relational databases. Because this is University, real world examples are viewed as a bit icky, so the day was heavy on theory.
When we were good and dazed, we went to a lab and drilled ourselves on a quite sophisticated CAI system (CSSE call it an "intelligent tutoring system") that asked us to construct E-R diagrams. I left totally confuzzled, with visions of n-ary relationships dancing in my head.

There are two more Wednesdays in the course - and we get nice lunches. That's about all I can tell you at present.

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Home again

We left Wanaka in a major downpour yesterday morning, with hail and snow at the summit of the Lindis. The rain lightened up after Burkes Pass, and when we stopped in Fairlie for lunch the sun came out. By the time we were driving up SH1 back to Christchurch in warm sunshine, I was feeling a bit silly in my heavy clothing - it was a classic illustration of the Canterbury northwester storm pattern. (And adiabatic lapse rates, if you want to get technical.)

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Skiing memory lane

Today we skied at Coronet Peak, where we haven't skied for 10 years. We both began skiing at Coronet, so it has a special place for us - and thousands of other Southland-Otago skiers. It has such a variety of terrain that I never tire of skiing there, and the facilities just get better and better.
Me with the summit behind - taken from the Greengates chair.

The new base building is amazing - downstairs is a big open area, a bit like an airport terminal, with ticket sales and enquiries at one side and rental on the other. There are lifts and stairs to the upper level, which has several food service areas and a huge sun deck facing the slopes.

Heather with the Wakatipu Basin as a backdrop.
We skied all the main lifts, and had a great time until Heather's hip got a bit sad in mid afternoon. We were skiing hard, so I'm not surprised it objected to the g-forces placed upon it.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

On the snow

We had a reconditioned alternator fitted in the car by 2pm on Monday, and were loaded up and on our way by 2.20. We arrived in Wanaka around 7pm, after a beautiful trip on dry roads - though driving right into the setting sun near Fairlie was an unpleasant experience.

Today we went to ski at Cardrona, and encountered what is probably their biggest day so far this season. The snow was in great condition, and we had some really fun skiing, especially before the crowds built up around 12. Cardrona is a lovely area to ski, - even if it lacks the "oh-my-god-i'm-going-to-die" edge that can sometimes get you at TC.
Heather testing the snow quality in Captains Basin.

They have some problems with inadequate crowd management though, especially in the lift lines. It is too easy for busy lifties to just go "2 singles" and make up a 4-seat chair, so the savvy skiers soon went and joined the singles line. That's not what the line is for - we don't fill planes with standby passengers, and we don't reward people for queuing outside the main lines. They need to rethink their staffing and management of their two big high speed chairs - especially the queues and the way the chairs are filled. Then they can start on the totally ambiguous traffic flows in the new Captains Cafe.
My single wife in the faster-moving singles queue.

For all that, we had a great day, and by 3pm we were ready to quit. Now we've had showers, several glasses of wine, and a pasta and salad dinner; if I can stay awake for Outrageous Fortune I can go to sleep a happy man.

Monday, 7 July 2008

Nasty surprises

We ran the installation for the Blackboard CE6 to CE8 (there is no 7) upgrade yesterday morning, and it ran perfectly. Great, we thought, we'll take the outage notice off the login screen and we're out of here, in less than an hour for the whole operation. That minor change seemed to work, as the notice vanished from the screen - but logins stopped working! That was the nasty surprise.

We checked everything we could think of, and phoned the online support number in the US. We also started alerting other UC staff who would be needed to restore backups, to return the system to pre-upgrade status. Finally we were told that the bug we'd triggered was a "known issue"; in fact it has been fixed, but the fix won't be rolled out for some months. The cure was to turn off customised login screens, so we are back to the system default screen until the next patch comes along. We had used up a lot of nervous energy by the time we got away!

I had a second, though less critical, nasty surprise, when I prepared our Corona for a trip to Wanaka, to go skiing. The generator charge light is staying on, so I'll be taking the car to the garage at 8am, hoping to get that fixed quickly. It's enough to put you off technology...

Update: 1pm and still waiting for the garage to call. If it gets past about 3pm we'll have to call it off and go tomorrow.

Friday, 4 July 2008

Gone skiing

I'm almost on holiday - once we've installed an update for Blackboard on Sunday morning, I'll be totally on holiday. Heather and I are going to Wanaka on Monday, with skis on top, to join the school holiday crowds. Once you're on the snow, crowds don't matter - I always give up before the end of the day anyway. In between skiing days, we'll look after Kristine & Eddie Jones's animals - and their house. More later, probably with photos.

Good day for cyclists

Trucking companies nation-wide are protesting rises in road user charges by driving through city centres and blocking traffic this morning. That won't bother me as I bike; I presume the trucks will still stop for traffic lights, and my ride to work should be more or less unaffected. I hope the government doesn't give in; the rise in trucks and the decline of rail have been a sad tale of greed and incompetence over the last twenty years, and it just can't continue. The ultimate irony is driving in a queue of big trucks on the open road, watching a train with many empty wagons roll past.

There is a letter in today's Press saying that the government is taking us back to the 19th century by buying Kiwi Rail - people still think that some whizzy futuristic techno-fix will appear when oil becomes prohibitively expensive. Maybe Jetsons-style flying cars?

There may still be plenty of oil, but while we took 100 years to use the first half of the world's reserves, it is only going to take 30-40 years to use the second half. The oil companies know the end is coming - that's why they are letting their refineries decay, and not building new drilling rigs. "American refineries are just plain old. A new refinery hasn't come on line in about 30 years. Added to that is the increased complexity in the process – refiners are increasingly relying on sourer crude, but have to produce product to ever-stricter environmental standards. And, of course, refineries are complicated places."

And with our low-wage economy and distance from the world's population centres, what are our chances of competing on the world oil markets against the US or Germany? (Assuming the US economy can recover from the loss of wealth wrought by the sub-prime loans shysters and their financial "derivatives".)

New Zealand is likely to be oil-starved a lot earlier than Europe or America. Instead of trucks rumbling along SH1, we will need trains - preferably electric. Goodbye, Tiwai smelter, we need that electricity for the South Island main trunk railway. We'll need our ports back too - goodbye to the restaurants and apartments near the Viaduct Basin and the Wellington waterfront, we'll be building freight warehouses on that land.

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Cold for the time of year

It was seriously cold in some parts of town this morning. The radio said -2oC, but there were places along my bike trip where it was a lot cooler than that. Roads were covered in white frost, puddles and wet patches were frozen to glass, and cars were driving around with an inch of frost on their windows (apart from a dinner-plate sized clear patch on the windscreen). I was worried about sliding on the camber of the road, so when it was possible I moved from the cycle lane into the flatter car lane; even so, I had several alarming little wiggles from the back wheel. My toes were frozen by the time I arrived at work, but all was well, and the ride home was dry and comfortable.