Wednesday, 29 October 2008

They are all honourable men...

Caustic comment from James Howard Kunstler on the Big Farkup;

Mr. Hank Paulson will have to answer why his own firm of Goldman Sachs set up a special unit to short its own issues. It will be edifying to see how they answer.
In the meantime, however, millions of Joe-the-Plumber types will have gotten their pink slips, slipped helplessly into foreclosure, watched the repo men hot-wire their Ford pickups, and eaten down the kitchen cupboard to a single box of Kellogg's All-Bran (which had been sitting there for eleven years infested with weevils). They will be watching the official proceedings in the federal courtrooms with jaundiced eyes as they hunch in their tent cities, in the rain, sipping amateur-brand raisin wine bartered for a few snared rock doves. How long before the hardier ones among them venture out to Easthampton with long knives and matches?

So it's not just Obama the socialist (warning, right-wing-greedy-is-good TV commentator), it's outright Bolshevism heading our way! Maybe. Why don't the free market advocates admit that when the shit hits the fan, everyone's a socialist?

Monday, 27 October 2008

Good vs Evil on TV3

A couple of clips of interest on TV3's website.

First a nasty incident on Mount Maunganui, where some kids beat up a paraglider pilot because he confronted them about throwing stones at his chute, trying to collapse it.

Then the good side; a Hamilton man tricks a thief into revealing his identity and gets the stolen gear back.

(Warning: I have intermittent results with TV3's video clips. They will play sometimes and just spin their wheels at others. Clearing the browser's cache seems to help at times. If anyone knows how to guarantee consistent results, please let me know.)

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Harry and the helmets

After twenty years (give or take) of compulsory bike helmets, Transport Safety Minister Harry Duynhoven is wondering if the helmet laws deter people from cycling. They probably do; after all, people in Europe cycle in huge numbers and don't wear helmets, and commuters want to arrive ready for work with minimal fuss. And Japan's mothers on their mamachari bicycles carry groceries and kids in huge numbers, with hardly a helmet to be seen.

There is a move to encourage cycle friendly cities world wide, and in these cities there probably is not a need for helmets. The cyclists have enough numbers to ensure motorists can't ignore them, the traffic lanes are sorted to accommodate them, and the cyclists are mostly low speed commuters.

But in New Zealand it's different. Our population is much more dispersed than in Europe, cities have only a few bike lanes, drivers feel that they should go first and everyone else should give way, many cyclists are riding at higher speeds for fitness, and we don't have the concentration of commuters to force motorists to be take their turn.

Personally, I'd wear a helmet anyway. These photos show a helmet I was wearing in July 2007 when I was hit by a car. I was unconscious for 10 minutes and the helmet was broken into three or four pieces. If I hadn't been wearing it, I would have added a fractured skull to the fractured pelvis and crushed vertebrae which made the second half of the year so difficult. I still have very minor signs of concussion, mostly just a bouncing sensation after riding in a lift; I hate to think how my cognitive functions would have been affected if my skull had taken an unprotected blow.

Yes, that's blood on the pads. The force which smashed the plastic shell and the foam must have been considerable - it's a good thing my skull didn't have to dissipate that force!

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Werk, wook, week

It's been a stressful week, what with the Moodleites and all, but Friday is in sight. One thing is certain, projects like our LMS Review get to a decision by a series of assumptions, accidents and misunderstandings. My faith in human decision making, on a large scale at least, has been diminished. It seems that consultation breeds confusion, that apathy distorts the results of surveys then bites you in the arse, and wherever we go it will be a muddle. On the small scale, humans are fantastic decision makers (watch someone referee a netball game, or ski bumps, if you doubt me) but when the cerebral cortex gets involved in complex decisions, the possibilities multiply to make inactivity the only logical option.

Allow me to explain. We are evaluating two LMS's (Learning Management Systems) to select a winner. A team of 8-10 people has toiled away all year installing servers, creating courses, and running a trial. At the end of the trial, everybody loves the new system and dislikes the old one. Well, surprise!

Today the managing committee were presented with the facts to inform their decision, but it took a long determined battle to get those facts free from value judgments and naked enthusiasms, with all credit to my workmate who continued the fight when I'd given up. (Monomaniacs can be very persistent when corrected, and erratic at the same time, so I'm glad there were two of us to carry our side.) Now the committee is left with the facts, and growing rabbit-in-the-headlights expressions. They have so much information that they're stopped dead in their tracks, and I don't envy them.

Next is the "believe surveys and get bitten in the arse" part. We asked the trial participants what they thought of the new system. Being primates, with a love of innovation and a strong social group loyalty, they reported that the new bananas from their new friends tasted a lot better than the old ones. They were also keen volunteers, so they didn't need much support; we have now extrapolated the time we spent on them to give us a campus-wide estimate of support needs. I wonder how accurate that prediction will be.

Then comes the apathy. We have 500 or more teaching staff who, if they've thought about the LMS review at all, hope that it won't happen soon. Most will swear blind that they've never heard of it. They will be told inNovember that we're about to start a year long project to switch to a new system, and they'll all simultaneously push their heads further into the sand. (Metaphorically speaking, though the image is appealing.) Come the first day of the teaching semester, and they will arise, demanding instant courses with easy setup and no training required. And we will wonder who's bitten us in the bum. We will say things like "Where did they come from?"

There'll be tears before bedtime, as my grandmother used to say.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Happy cycling

I nearly shredded a bike tyre this morning, right where my own driveway meets the street. Some low-life had thrown a beer bottle out of a car last night, and I spotted the glass just in time to stop. I gathered up the garbage, reflected on the sorry state of my fellow humans, and continued on my way.

Not that the other streets of our fair city are that good, anyway - on a Monday morning most main roads are just covered in glass fragments from the weekend drink-drivers' bottle chucking. 

Monday, 20 October 2008

Weekend fun

We had a quiet weekend, with no sailing because of a strong southerly on Saturday. Owen Cambridge from Dunedin visited and went home on Sunday, towing a 5m fibreglass runabout fitted with a 125hp outboard motor. It's going to be a culture shock for a long time yachtie, but he'll enjoy it, I'm sure.

Heather has continued on her recovery, and is going to work today. She may not last a full day, but she's ready to start - and the school is ready to have her back too, as the year marches on with ever more reports to produce. Alice is planning to move into a flat next weekend, so I suppose I'll be required for trailer duty.

Friday, 17 October 2008

Last day fun

Lots of drunk students, as predicted. Many were asleep by lunchtime. Here are some photos from my phone.

Lots of students dressed up; many came in teams dressed alike, but not this lot.

This young lady decided to have a wee lie down on the banks of the Avon, near the Staff Club.

A student who decided to take a sleep on the dusty verge of Ilam Road - he's still got his phone, in case he needs it.

The queues for the portable toilets were building by 1.30pm.

Two "team" members talking to a security guy while waiting for their pals.

The week that was

It's been a busy week, with lots happening at work. The weather has been good enough to bike each day, though Thursday morning required a small gamble, which paid off. Heather is driving the car quite comfortably, and has started swimming each day - she finds swimming is easy, though slow, and aqua jogging is a bit of a challenge, but it's doing lots of good for the hip and buttock muscles. She'll probably start back at work next week, doing half days at least.

Today is the final day of classes, so the University will go into semi-lockdown at lunchtime when the big "tea party" at the Students' Association starts. The Central Library and the computer workrooms will be restricted, and watched carefully to keep the drunks out. Near the UCSA building, rows of portable toilets were set up yesterday, and the campus will fill with drunk aimless students as the day goes on. Isn't higher learning a wonderful thing?

Monday, 13 October 2008

Politics can be fun

Not really, that was a trick. Clever, eh? Almost as clever as Maurice Williamson. (Below)

More politics; 
Still, you have to laugh:

The week begins

Lots to do today. Getting back from an absence has its own load of tasks; turn off out-of-office email reply and the voicemail message, then start on the email deluge. Usually I start with voicemails, then I can get rid of the routine stuff in about 30 minutes, and a few support questions take another 30 minutes. Then comes the more difficult stuff; budget alterations, papers for meetings, applications for grants. Then it's lunchtime.

After lunch I was free to get on to the current projects; mostly to do with our trial of Moodle. I won't drag on about that now, there's bound to be a better time.

Saturday, 11 October 2008

Big day

My cell phone woke me at 5.15 am, and I quickly dressed, packed the last of my bag, and made a quick breakfast in the motel in Napier. At 5.50 on the dot, my taxi arrived and took me to the airport, and a very pleasant flight had me in Christchurch at 8.15 am.

At 11, I collected Mark Schroeder and we rigged Impulsive for our first race of the season. The race began as a 1-knot drifter, then a little localised breeze got the first dozen boats, including us, round the first mark well ahead of the fleet.

The wind then reversed after we'd spent 10 minutes under spinnaker, so down it came and we trimmed up for a long beat into a lovely 8-10 knot easterly. We did spectacularly well on this; the majority of the front bunch went over to the Lyttelton side of the harbour and short-tacked up that side, but we broke all the rules of yacht racing and went on a lone flyer out towards Purau. We got a great breeze, and met up with our buddy Chris Hutching in his little yacht Henry Salad (don't ask...) which was actually the reason we'd gone that way. It wasn't tactics, just visiting a mate, but we won't tell.

Anyway, we charged up the centre of the harbour under our big genoa, keeping up with a Young 88 keeler for most of the leg - that was good for the ego! As we got close to the top mark, Schroeds and I were saying to each other "We've done really well here", and we were right - we had put ourselves level with the leading bunch. Because of the slow first hour in the drifter, the committee shortened the race at that point, so a committee boat was waiting at the top mark displaying flag S (shortened course) and taking our times.

Left - Mark Schroeder, master of the spinnaker

That meant that the long downwind leg was not officially racing, though some who don't know the rules well were confused about this, we discovered later. We had some good spinnaker practice, drank beer, and told each other what a great day we were having, then arrived back at the club about 4.15. Then came the really good news...

As we were retrieving the boat onto the trailer, a race official came past and said "You guys have won both", then disappeared. When we got to the bar after tidying away, we found he was right. We won Division 2 on handicap, on our first official outing in the division, and we beat the entire fleet on corrected time - trailer yachts, sport boats, keelers, the lot!

Our lovely spinnaker (with wrong sail number)

So it's a tired, sunburnt, and happy chappy who's about to toddle off for an early night.

Left; see how far behind the other spinnakers are!

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Out of town

We had two extremely bumpy flights today, to Wellington then Napier. Now we're in a nice modern motel and about to go out for some food, then tomorrow is the 2008 Moodle Moot. Which is really a conference, but Moodleites like the Moodle alliteration possibilities. Not that they're a moody bunch of moos or anything.

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Weather or not

Yesterday was a classic Canterbury spring day, complete with northwest gale. There were branches broken off trees by the river, pollen and seeds from trees piled in the driveway, and no possibility of taking part in the Naval Point Club's opening day.

This morning has dawned calm and damp, but promises to clear later, so Schroeder and I will go to Lyttelton and rig the mast and mainsail, then reorganise the boat cover. If it looks good enough, and we have time, we'll probably go for a brief sail to check that everything is in place.

UPDATE: it was still raining around noon so we just went and raised the mast, rigged the main, and reorganised the cover. We thought we wouldn't want to sail - then the sun came out at 3pm, after we came home. At least we're ready for a flying start next week - after I fly back from Napier that morning.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Someone saves America

I thought John McCain's implied message "I'm the man who rescued the US economy" was bending the truth, but then I read this new-age self-improvement rant from Saint Barak.

"Let us unite in banishing fear ... we cannot fail," Obama said, directly quoting the former Democratic president from his first 'fireside chat' on the radio to Americans in March 1933.

"Today we cannot fail, we cannot fail, not now, not tomorrow, not next year," Obama said in the US Senate chamber, just over a month before his general election showdown with Republican John McCain.

"This is a nation that's faced down war and depression, great challenges and great threats."

"And at each and every moment, we have risen up to meet these challenges, not as Democrats, not as Republicans, but as Americans, with resolve and with confidence.

"With that fundamental belief that here in America, our destiny is not written for us, it's written by us.

"That's who we are and that's the country I know we can be right now," he said.

Gosh coach, let's go and win one for the Gipper. How the hell does tosh like that actually help?
This bailout deal from the Senate may founder in the House anyway. Wait and see.

Week two

Progress report for Heather; she's now walking with a single crutch and able to stand for periods with no assistance. Getting in and out of the car is a lot easier, so she and Elaine are off to do some shopping today.

She needs to be more or less self contained by this time next week, as I will be in Napier from Wednesday to early Saturday, attending the annual Moodle Moot, and her sister Elaine will have gone. Alice will be at home in the evenings, so as long as Heather can organise breakfast and lunch, they'll get by.