Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Sailing dream time

Since I'm in an Aussie frame of mind this week, I thought I'd show a bit of fun that caught my attention. To any yachtie, this display of perfection boat handling by the 18 ft skiff Nokia, winning the Worlds in Sydney a few years ago, is magnificent. And fun, though I doubt they were feeling relaxed at the time.

I don't think 18 footers are quite my cup of tea, but I am still nostalgic about Paper Tigers. Maybe, like guys my age buying Harley Davidsons, I should buy a PT to sail just for fun. But when would I use it?

Monday, 24 November 2008

Testing Blogger post by email

Just testing, on a warm and muggy Monday morning. If this works OK, I will try posting by email from Melbourne later in the week.

I will attach a photo, too – I wonder where that will end up?

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LATER: Blogger was a bit lavish with the line breaks, so I'll need to remember to not do two returns between paragraphs. And of course it added my signature block as well, so that will need to be removed before posting. Still, it worked fine.

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Out and about

We went sailing today, earlier than usual so we were ready to launch at 11.45am. The club hadn't announced the afternoon course, and our VHF radio is no longer operable, so we set off for a practice sail intending to contact a race committee boat to find out the course near start time. However, after sailing to Diamond Harbour and back, we were so annoyed with the conditions that we decided not to race.

The problem was that the wind was a northerly, swirling over the hills above Lyttelton and hitting the harbour as a series of eddies and rolling bubbles of air. We were subject to strong gusts 30 or 40 degrees off the prevailing direction, and wind strengths from 2 knots to 25 knots. In other words, not easy! Those gust bubbles with directions 40 degrees either way could be a header (instant flapping sails in irons, roll to windward, crash tack), or a lift (45 degree heel, vicious rounding up, sudden stop as it ends). It was like sailing on Wanaka or Wakatipu in a northerly, when the terrain can play similar tricks with the wind.

Although we get a bit tired of the usual Lyttelton summer easterly, it is a very reliable breeze. We have decided that to cope with the standard 20 knot easterly blast, we should reef the main, and today we used our playing-hooky time to practice this. It was a great success, and the boat is nearly as fast but with a lot less fuss. Reefing the main and shaking out the reef went very well, so we are a lot happier about battling the easterly.

We were back at the wharf at 2:30, and home by 3:30, much to Heather's surprise. She went for a swim, then I prepared dinner and sloped off to the pub for a pint and a chat while it cooked.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Getting closer

We'll be in Melbourne this time next week - that'll be a change! I'm attending (along with Jess and Alan, my work colleagues) the annual Ascilite conference. This is the biggest Australasian conference on teaching and technology, and is always a stimulating experience.

Heather and I are going a few days ahead, to have a holiday. We love Melbourne, and didn't want to just dash in, attend the conference, and dash away again, so we're going on Thursday 27th. On the Saturday, we're going to visit Phil Young, a friend from my early teaching days in Invercargill. He's lived in Melbourne for a long time, works in IT (I'll know more once we've met), and is still a very active folk-blues musician, with a show on community radio.

Other than that, we plan to bike up the Yarra River to Melbourne's north-eastern suburbs, go shopping, and explore the city a bit more. The conference opening reception is in the Melbourne Town Hall on Sunday evening, and there is a dinner at the Grand Hyatt on the Tuesday night, so it will be a fairly social affair outside the actual conference presentations at Deakin University's Burwood campus.

We're flying home on Wednesday evening, with the usual 1am yawn through customs and immigration, and back to work on Thursday morning.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Facts of life

I know I quote James Howard Kunstler a lot, but that's because he's so often right on the button. Here's a few extracts from this week's blog, prescribing a reality check for the US and its new president.
"The lame duck US economic posse so far has done everything possible except the two things that really matter: allow the fraudulent securities at the heart of the problem to be exposed to the light of day to determine their actual value; and allow those companies who trafficked in them to suffer the full consequences by going out-of-business. For the moment, they're content to shovel cash into the truck-bed of every enterprise in America that shows up at the Treasury loading dock. This can only have the effect of eventually destroying the value of that cash.

. . . . . . 

The Obama government will have to resist the temptation to prevent enterprises from failing. These failing things have to get out of the way before new activities can get underway. It will also require government leaders to tell the public the hard truth that it can't do everything we would like it to do."
I suspect that he's right - how will bailing out GM fix  anything? Sooner or later the car workers have to join wheelwrights and sailmakers in the world of outmoded trades, and artificially prolonging their existence is not going to help anyone. Though I wouldn't be surprised to see wind powered transportation return to the oceans - SkySails in Germany are already trying out some new ideas. 

Of course, a return to sea freight will mean some changes in our waterfront cities.
"One other implication of this is the necessity to use our waterways for moving things and people again. Has anybody noticed, for instance, that the once-bustling New York City Harbor, possibly the biggest and best sheltered deepwater harbor in the world, has next-to-zero operating docks left along its massive perimeter? While you're at it, have a look at the waterfronts of Louisville, Cincinnati, Kansas City and a score of other inland port cities on great navigable rivers. What you'll see are condo sites, festival marketplaces, picnic grounds, and plain old empty lots -- everything but the infrastructure for commerce. We can't afford this anymore. We have to put these places back to work."
Watch this space - and check out Jim Kunstler's blog each Tuesday. (Monday in the US.)

Speaking of people who are mostly right (but not in the political sense), Bob Cringely is offering his services as the US's first Chief Technology Officer. He will be available, as his long run as columnist and presenter with PBS is finally ending in December. I think he'd be brilliant as the US CTO; I wonder who Obama will really appoint?

Cringely has done some terrific documentaries on the history and impact of the personal computer, and has always made good sense. He's pretty much immune to silly fads and crazes, which is reassuring in this world of one-week celebrities.

Cringely's "Triumph of the Nerds" is a classic documentary on the beginnings of the PC - it documents such bygone wonders as the Altair, CP/M, and the DEC Rainbow, along with the rise of Apple and Microsoft.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Sailing weather

We were sorted out in good time yesterday, and managed to find the start line about a kilometre from where the race instructions said it would be - it's an aspect of club organisation that could do with a tidy-up, most race instructions assume that you've been sailing at Lyttelton for 30 years and that minimal information is needed. Just putting "Finish" as the last instruction is no help either - where? How?

Oh well, never mind - we had a great sail, though we didn't fly the spinnaker - mostly because of a lack of confidence after last week's epic. We successfully held off a Noelex 22 mostly by superior upwind performance; they weren't flying a spinnaker either, so we were very even downwind. But then we missed the finish line, so we just sighed and returned to the club.

The weather this weekend has been spectacular, with sunshine and clear skies, and temperatures in the high 20s - it looks like summer has arrived!

Friday, 14 November 2008

Interesting day

I had a long and tiring, but very interesting, day on Thursday. Along with 20 or so other staff from tertiary institutions around the country, I was attending a training day on Te Whanake, the new Digital Platform for "Te Ipukarea: National Maori Language Institute".

The Institute's brief is the "pursuit of excellence in scholarship, teaching and research in the Maori language" and it is hosted at Te Ara Poutama, the Maori teaching division of AUT. This entity is very similar in structure to another TEC funded institute, Ako Aotearoa - The National Centre for Tertiary Teaching Excellence, which my department UCTL hosts at the University of Canterbury - it is funded to run projects that lift teaching in all areas of tertiary education.

The day started at 5am, and I was at the airport by 6.15 for a 7am flight to Auckland. The country was covered in low cloud, except for a 40km clear circle around Mount Taranaki - the snow-clad volcano made a spectacular sight sitting up in its circle of green, within the blanket of low white cloud.
(Left - a similar, but less dramatic, image of this effect, found on Google Images)

The day began with a formal welcome at the AUT marae, which was interesting though somewhat mystifying. The speeches were obviously warm and entertaining, though I could only make out some words and phrases. I don't get to such settings very often, so it was a useful reminder that the world is not as English as we in Christchurch assume. 

The people were all extremely nice, and the Institute has done some excellent development work.  The resources were very well integrated into AUT's Blackboard courses - we will have to come up with ways to integrate them into our WebCT-Blackboard and Moodle systems, but that won't be too hard.

After another lengthy session of farewells, we were delivered back to the airport, to discover that the 7.30pm flight was delayed by an hour - I was finally home about 10pm, after a prolonged hassle with the parking ticket machines at the Christchurch Airport. It made a long day.

Today is a public holiday in Canterbury, so Schroeder and I will go and fix (hopefully) the spinnaker pole attachment on my yacht's mast. Our new crewman Darren is very useful, even though he will be in Wellington today; he runs a roofing business, and has provided professional grade tools to do the job.



And now for something completely different; looking like a Monty Python sketch, another advert from Michael Hansen appeared in today's paper. Mr Hansen made headlines during the local body elections a year ago by campaigning against the secret spy planes that "they" were sending to fly over his home and stop him sleeping.

Now he wants the National Party to "carry out door to door enquiries" to track down an "Electronic Cruelty Machine" which is some kind of X-ray making people miserable.

That looks like a regular cap he's wearing, but I wouldn't be surprised if it had a tinfoil helmet underneath. Usually these are worn to foil (excuse pun) aliens wanting to abduct humans for ghastly sexual experiments, but Mr Hansen sounds like he needs a double-thickness model to keep the machines away.

As for Mr Hansen's repeated claims that the Labour Party is somehow involved in the loss of his car, I applaud his request that the National Party investigate this. Here is the chance for John Key to show his concern for those who were treated unfairly by the previous government. Nothing less than a Commission of Enquiry will be adequate to sort out this troubling business.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Fast week

It's a fast week on the horse racing scene (and for the drunk girls in tiny dresses and wobbly heels) as Christchurch celebrates Cup Week

None of this horsey stuff affects my life, though a day off on Friday will be nice, after a long day flying to Auckland and back on Thursday. My wings will be tired after that.

(Photos from The Press...)

Sunday, 9 November 2008

The people have spoken

Well, sort of - maybe I should say "The people have shrugged their shoulders". As most commentators predicted, yesterday's election was a National landslide, and National is almost able to govern alone - though they do need Act to nudge them into a majority. Be prepared for "management" of the economy amounting to sawing off large chunks of it - as sectors go under thanks to the world financial collapse, Act will be advocating slashing at the public sector. There will be hard times ahead.

Nothing I can add, really, except to say that Helen Clark's resignation as Labour leader was a smart move, and it will enable them to start a three year comeback with a new leadership team.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

You win some, you lose some

It was a great relief to see that Barack Obama's lead didn't evaporate when voters entered the voting booths yesterday. Now he's just got to fix the economy and get them out of Iraq. Hmmm...

The New Zealand election is not likely to bring smiles, though. I must confess to a feeling of doom about this Saturday's poll, and a birthday party for a strong Labour supporter on Saturday night might just be a bit of a fizzer.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Racing away

There is a definite "heading for the finish line" feel about this end of the year. University exams are on, we are finalising budgets and payments for renewals of software licences, annual reports are being written, and so on. Out in the real world, the US election is happening today and the NZ election is on Saturday. 

More to the point (though I'm not greatly interested) the horse racing season is happening; yesterday was the Melbourne Cup, where yet again I invested in sweepstakes at the office and my local pub, and won nothing. Mark Schroeder was dressed for the day, though, as the photo shows. I suspect it was a practice run for the annual shenanigans of Cup Week next week, leading up to Canterbury's Show Day - the provincial anniversary holiday.

Left: Mark Schroeder dressed for the Melbourne Cup. The binoculars helped him see the TV at the far end of the bar.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Big week for politicians

The US election happens today (allowing for time zones) and we're four days away from the New Zealand election. It looks like the right guy will win in the US, and a bad joke will be foisted on the public in NZ.

Watch for Murray McCully, Tony Ryall, Maurice Williamson, and Lockwood Smith in Cabinet, perhaps along with Rodney Hide - and Roger Douglas! Maybe they'll make Ruth Richardson the next Governor General. How that bunch of nincompoops will handle the coming economic shit-storm (no, it's not here yet) will be a worry. And as for climate change or peak oil, forget it - these clowns won't even admit they are real problems.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Weekend news

Well, Alice has moved out to her very pleasant and comfortable flat in Upper Riccarton - we got the trailer at 8am, and had it loaded ready to go soon after 10. By 12 we had it unloaded, and I was ready to go sailing - but discovered I didn't have a crew. Mark Schroeder had got himself involved in household and garden matters, and domestic politics prevailed.

So I went for a 25km bike ride, up through Marshlands to Prestons Rd then across through Burwood to North Beach and New Brighton, and back home along the excellent cycle tracks on the banks of the Avon. Now I'm quite tired after my physical day.

Some sad news today; Morgan Saxton, an ex student of ours from Wanaka, who has achieved a certain reputation because of convictions for stealing greenstone near Haast, has somehow crashed a helicopter into Lake Wanaka on a ferry trip from Haast to Wanaka. Bits and pieces of wreckage have been found, but no body so far. This is terrible news, and will be especially bad for his father Dave, who has been through the greenstone charges with Morgan - now he will face an appeal alone. Morgan was a terrific teenager, with a lovely nature, and he had grown into a handsome and interesting young man - 31 is far too young to die.

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Short and sweet

Considering that Monday was a holiday, this 4 day week has had a lot crammed into it. On Wednesday night we awoke about 11.15 to the sound of a screaming motorbike and a police siren; the noise suddenly stopped with a thud, then silence - right outside our neighbours' house.

The 52 year old motorcyclist had been chased for about a kilometre, before skidding on greasy piles of seeds from the trees by the river. (These seed pods pile up like snowdrifts at this time of year.) The bike hit a lamppost and flew through the air to land near our place in the centre of the road. The rider was not visible from our gate, but we could see the police and ambulance staff beside him - his helmet had been torn off and was in the road in front of our house. There was nothing we could do, and we didn't want to appear ghoulish, so we went back to bed.

On Thursday we had drama of a different sort, as the final decision of the Learning Management Review was made. It will be officially announced by the University's Senior Management Team on the 11th, so I'd better not say anything public until then. We're in for a busy time next year, I will say that.

Heather went with Nicky and Merv Sarson to a country garden fete in Hawarden on Friday, and managed quite a long time walking around, which is encouraging. Alice is shifting to a flat in Upper Riccarton tomorrow, so it will be a busy weekend.

A final question; why on earth do some drivers think that keeping the left wheels in the road shoulder is a good idea? I followed this guy back from Lyttelton this morning, at 80kph on a 100kph road - maybe he thought I could pass him? If I did have a passing opportunity, his leftward tendencies would be no help, so I can't figure it out.