Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Today's news

Last day of 2008, with lots going on. First some news from the US, then other stuff, in no particular order:

Sarah Palin is a grannie.
Bristol Palin, the 18-year-old daughter of former Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, gave birth on Sunday to a healthy 7 lb 4 oz baby boy in Palmer, Alaska.

"We think it's wonderful," said Colleen Jones, the sister of Bristol's grandmother Sally Heath, who confirmed the news. "The baby is fine and Bristol is doing well. Everyone is excited." The baby's name is Tripp Easton Mitchell Johnston, according to Jones.

The baby's father, Levi Johnston, is training to be an electrician. Bristol is taking correspondence courses to obtain her high school diploma. The couple has been together for three years.
I guess this will keep Bristol from attending her mother in law's drugs trial...

Study shows virginity pledges don't work.
Teenagers who pledge to remain virgins until marriage are just as likely to have premarital sex as those who do not promise abstinence and are significantly less likely to use condoms and other forms of birth control when they do, according to a study released today.
Illinois Governor Blagojevich names a former state official as the Senate candidate to fill Obama's vacant seat. Democrat senators say they won't recognise the appointment, but it's a shrewd move. This guy makes Winston Peters look a real rookie.

Israel considers a 48 hour ceasefire
- if Hamas stops firing rockets.
Israel is considering suspending its Gaza offensive for 48 hours to give Hamas militants an opening to halt their rocket fire, but the threat of a ground offensive remains if the truce does not hold, Israeli officials said Tuesday.
Elle Macpherson is 44, and went surfing at Byron Bay on her Christmas holiday.

Wedding of the year - my vote goes to 16 year old Missy Quinn, from a caravan park near Stoke-on-Trent, UK. Her driveway-contractor father somehow fronted up with £100,000 for this tasteful extravaganza. It goes to show, even if you haven't been to school since the age of nine, you can still do things proper.

I recommend the full photo essay for further perusal, especially the mother of the bride's outfit and the child prostitute costumes worn by the guests.

Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Eee tricks

In the quest for economical use of scarce resources (which caused the Y2K problem, but that's another story) I have been experimenting with Portable Apps.

This is a wonderful trick; a bunch of open source applications have somehow been reduced in size so they will fit into about 320MB, installed on a 512MB SD Card in the Eee's card reader slot. The applications include Open Office 2.4, the Mozilla Firefox/Thunderbird/Sunbird combo, and lots of others.

I have trimmed my selection a lot, as I already have Firefox and Open Office 3 installed on the D drive, but I'll probably add GIMP for photo processing. At present I'm using only 102MB, leaving 380MB on the card for saved files.

How do they do this magic? The explanation for beginners has some information, but I don't think I'm enough of a codefangler to venture into this side of things. I'm happy just being a user.

Monday, 29 December 2008

Happy holidays

After my birthday festivities (which were pretty civilised, as 60th birthdays tend to be) we've had a couple of quiet days hanging around the house, with occasional trips to the shops.

Birthday lunch; Nicky Sarson, Heather, John Roberts, Alice.

Today was beautiful, with no wind, so Heather and I went for a bike trip around Wanaka. We rode to the lake outlet where the Clutha River starts, then followed lakeside mountain bike & walking tracks all the way to town.

Near Beacon Point, with the best view in Central Otago about to unfold.

The road runs through large stands of flowering manuka and kanuka shrubs.

Heather had to have a paddle at Penrith beach.

After a lunch in town, we rode out to Waterfall Creek, took a look at the middle classes and their petrol powered toys, and biked back into the town - with a puncture stop on the way. We filled my backpack with nice light groceries (beer and apples) then cycled up hill around the Mt Iron track back to the house. By then it was 30 deg plus, so I had to have a sleep.

Tonight we've been to dinner at a friend's house, met other old friends and assorted children, and generally had a lovely day.

Saturday, 27 December 2008

Crisis management for beginners

In the news yesterday and today came two reports of aviation mishaps, illustrating remarkably different ways of responding to an emergency.

First a Cessna with engine failure ditched in the sea, and sank after the pilot exited the cockpit.

The Cessna plunged into the sea near Ruakaka Surf Club and the pilot managed to get out of the cockpit before the aircraft quickly sank. He was then picked up by surf club members who went to his aid. Police said that the pilot escaped unscathed.

The pilot had begun to swim towards shore, Mr Taylor said. "We got out there and he was just bobbing around in the water. He was saying 'I'm fine, don't worry about me'."

Mr Larimer added that the man was "remarkably calm". "He'd just put out a Mayday call, and he just wanted to make sure that was taken care of."

The pilot was well, and walked from the ambulance into the hospital. "He was fine. He apologised for wasting our time."

Contrast that with an Air New Zealand ATR twin engine airliner which had one engine shut down, and returned to Wellington. The passengers were distraught and upset, even though they were never in any danger.

The headlines were a clear hint at the panic and exaggeration to come.
  • Passengers `freak out' as engine stops.
  • "Oh my God, I'm gonna die."
Ane Swart, 19, said the delay in telling passengers what had happened made her think the worst. "We were like, oh my God, what the hell?"

If that wasn't clear enough for you (it certainly didn't help my understanding);

Another passenger, Natalie Edwards, also 19, said she could see one engine had stopped but the other was still going. "I wasn't saying anything, I was just trying to concentrate on not flipping out."

An ambulance spokesman said, ""They were a bit shaken up more than anything."

Friday, 26 December 2008

Over the hill

Well, I'm definitely not a kid any more - I turned 60 today!

A generation earlier, I'd have been lining up for Muldoon's superannuation-for-60s bribe. Mind you, in doing this he ruined the NZ economy by canning Labour's super scheme, according to Brian Gaynor. Remember the Dancing Cossacks TV ads, portraying the scheme as a state takeover of all business activity? And now Key and English seem to be doing it again with KiwiSaver, bringing to mind George Santayana's famous statement; "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

December 26th, Boxing Day, is also St Stephen's Day. "St. Stephen was one of the first Christian martyrs, being stoned to death in Jerusalem around A.D. 34-35", according to Wikipedia. "Stoned to death" sounds rather inconvenient; I think I'll settle for a lunch with friends and nice wine.

I have been given some great holiday reading - another volume of Jeremy Clarkson's rants, and a lovely book of Grahame Sydney's Antarctic photos. He found that fingers and paints froze in the cold (no, he does not do finger painting!) so he resorted to photography - and still managed to give the photos the Sydney touch. They are sparse, beautifully framed, and strangely seem to be more than the sum of their parts. Very nice.

Thursday, 25 December 2008

Made it!

We had a grey damp drive all the way to Wanaka, but it's not actually raining here at the moment. The car was severely tail-heavy with all the gear in the boot - and three bikes hanging on a rack from the towbar. A couple of times we hit small bumps and the suspension completely bottomed out, so we didn't have much travel left!

Eddie & Kristine's house has been dramatically transformed, with the main house and the small flat now joined by a sunny atrium. Nothing is 100% finished (bare wall boards awaiting plaster, etc) but it's becoming liveable very quickly. Just the lounge and kitchen-dining to go!

Later: I took a photo in the pub yesterday - this is the epitome of cool style. I wonder if it's comfortable?

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Christmas cheer

This sight certainly cheered me up when I saw it on Wired today. It's a water powered generator, designed to be dropped into a river (and anchored securely, I hope). This one is going into the Mississippi near St Paul, Minnesota.

The article says, "Hydrokinetic turbines like those produced by Hydro Green and Verdant capture the mechanical energy of the water's flow and turn it into energy, without need for a dam." It also says the two barge-mounted units produce 35 kilowatts each, so that probably means they are trial units. The French have been developing very large tidal-flow units, which produce much more than that. That large piece of machinery will only power 17 two-bar heaters!

This could be the answer to Auckland's power crisis; drop these into a tunnel under Onehunga, and harness the back and forth tidal flow between the Waitemata and Manukau Harbours. Or in a tidal stream near Rangitoto, or ...

The installation process is certain to be a bit warmer than the scene above, in Minnesota in December, which would be nice.

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Big snow for Christmas

The US has been getting lots of snow. Those burgundy dots are 40 to 45 inches of snow - 120cm odd - in 24 hours!  

"Weather service meteorologist Dana Felton said from Seattle, 'This is probably one of the worst storms since 1990. This is definitely a once-in-a-decade type of storm.'

He said the last big storm of this scale was on Christmas Day, 1996."

And getting to work has been difficult in some areas. This chap has worked out his transport very sensibly.

And it's goodnight from him... the Two Ronnies used to say. (Try this for a nice Christmas Sketchbook, made early in the year that Ronnie Barker died.)

I've tidied the office, cleared my desk, ticked things off lists, and eaten my lunch. That leaves pretty much nothing to do, so I may slope off early once I've set my out-of-office email and put an update on the voice messages.

Tomorrow will be an odd jobs and packing day, ready for a trip to Wanaka on Christmas Day. we are going, with Alice, to house-sit for Kristine Logan and Eddie Jones at their 3/4 finished house in Wanaka. We'll feed chooks and collect eggs, feed cats and fish, and catch up with old friends. I'll have my real 60th birthday there on Friday, hopefully do some sailing, definitely some mountain biking, and lie around thinking what to do next. 

We return to Christchurch on the 3rd or 4th of January to do more lying about, some house maintenance, and prepare for the Big Party on the 17th. We have 50+ people coming, from Invercargill to Fern Flat, and dating from several lifetimes; Invercargill & Dunedin in our youth, Wanaka from the 70s to the 90s, and Christchurch for the last 13 years. We are semi organised, provided I talk to Tom the Butcher today or tomorrow, and I have yet to do final ordering of drinks. It will fall into place just before we fall over from the drink and excitement, I'm sure.

Next year will be a big one, as we roll out our Moodle system and prepare to shut down the Blackboard one. I hope the academics don't follow the classic "wait till the last moment then panic" method that so often happens with changes like this, but I don't have any evidence that this time will be any different, so far. Never mind, that's in the future, not worth wasting brain space on at the moment.

Now, when can I decently get on my bike, without looking like a slacker? I think about 2.30 should do it...

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Modern political philosophy

I've just read a splendid rant from Jeremy Clarkson about our modern tendency to call emergency services, which he somehow morphs to a rant about global warming - oops, climate change; then a reader responds.

". . . I assume that global warming became climate change when the temperature refused to rise, and of course climate change can be justified by everything from the odd autumn gale to hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico."

He's got a point - if the evidence was a bit thin, it's getting darn near transparent by now. The modern world is full of people who think three years make a trend (in fashion and TV, it's two years) but the planet itself is not that simple.

Bits and pieces

I got the Eee and my cellphone communicating via Bluetooth - it was easy once I read the instructions! That meant I could clear a whole lot of photos off the camera, including this one of our IT gang at the last Staff Club lunch on Friday. It was an early birthday shout for me too, as I won't see them again till late January.

L-R; Vladimir Mencl, Jess Hollis, Grant Bush, Andrew Lorenc, Sean Lowry, Richard Hanschu, David Whale.

This morning I came across some news snippets that intrigued me:
Funny old world...

Saturday, 20 December 2008

More fun

Lots more fun with the little Eee PC; I've used the webcam to capture a 40 sec video, then saved this as a WMV movie. (Windows Media Player doesn't do more generic formats, surprise surprise.)

I then uploaded that to MediaConvert, a wonderful free file conversion site, specified conversion to MP4, and a few minutes later I was able to download the converted file, ready to go to YouTube. However, this piece of babble won't get posted there, as it is just a test; but it's nice to know that it's possible.

There's been a body found in the river, just a block from our house; it seems the corpse is a prostitute with a drug-user past. It's just three years since a similar gruesome find.

Friday, 19 December 2008

Toy time

A great improvement in my Eee today; thanks to the techs at Insite Technology, it has working speakers and Bluetooth. So I now have a working RadTech BT500 mouse, and the computer is so much easier to use.

Now the sound drivers are fixed, I also have control over the built in microphone, so I should be able to use Skype for video calling. More later.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

New toy

An Asus Eee 901 mini notebook arrived on my desk yesterday - it really is tiny, as this picture shows. That's an A4 magazine underneath, for comparison. 

It is totally solid state, with 12GB of "disk" space - Win XP takes 3GB, and various other programs are installed on drive D:, leaving about 4B of storage. It has an SD card slot, so I'll put a 4GB card in that as a third logical drive. Storage is not really the point of these machines, though - they are all about portability, and any files can be removed to a "mother ship".

I've installed Open Office 3.0 rather than Microsoft Office, and I'll make a lot of use of Google Docs for storage. At least that's the plan...

Friday, 12 December 2008

Big day

Today's been full-on for a Friday. I started with a bus ride to work (you'll find out why later) then a 9.00 - 10.30 meeting with other tertiary IT and elearning folk, planning a Christchurch Moodle consortium of some shape.

At 11am Bill Rosenberg and I went for a Segway ride, an annual treat put on by the security and mailroom staff. It was fun, but they're too big to be really useful in a city.

Some rapid work had me free to go for lunch at the Staff Club (right), where I heard a sad tale of a dead web server at the IT Dept. I'd wondered why I hadn't been able to access departmental websites all morning...

An hour's work after lunch was followed by a very long and interesting phone conversation with a software company in Australia selling course conversion services. It may be too expensive, but we'll follow it up for sure.

Then into town for drinks, tasty nibbles, and lots of chat with Rod and Margo McKay, along with my workmates Sally & John, and John's wife Marion who arrived at the end after another social occasion at her work. Heather came too; she knows Rod well from various adventures, including the Great Vic in 2004, and Margo used to be the Deputy Principal at St Margarets College when Heather taught there part time for a few years.
Sally Hunter, UCTL researcher - she's known me since I was seven!

John Ogier, UCTL survey administrator - who lives a block from our place.

Around 7pm, Heather and I walked a block to Hay's Restaurant, where we had a lovely dinner of lamb rack (me) and salmon (Heather); more expensive than our usual Friday night dinner, but as our 33rd wedding anniversary is on Monday we called it a celebration. It's OK to spend money when it's a celebration.

Then we walked through the Oxford Terrace strip (getting busy at 8.30 on a Friday) and the City Mall (depressing and scruffy, with quite a few empty shops), and caught buses home, first to Eastgate Mall then the Orbiter heading north, to a block from home. We didn't drink all that much, but using buses certainly avoided the breath-testing roadblocks that the Police are doing frequently as the Christmas drinking season is on us. It's been a busy day!

Thursday, 11 December 2008

A look around Outlook

Or should I have said "Look out for Outlook"?

John from IT Support called with a couple of good ideas about my archive failures, so I followed his suggestions and ran a repair tool over my archive.pst file - it reported around 500 errors, then claimed it had fixed them. That did no better, though, so we figured that folder permissions within the PST file were screwed up as a result of my reinstall; I then renamed the existing archive.pst and restarted Outlook, which complained a few times (more than I'd want to wish on your average amateur) then eventually archived to a new pst. So we're sort of OK, I suppose.

I don't expect this has impacted Microsoft's bottom line, though.

Monday, 8 December 2008

What's in a title

I looked back at previous posts - "There and Back", "Home Again" - jeez, who writes this stuff? Oops, I do! Anyway, after a quiet weekend I had a frustrating morning at work, courtesy of Microsoft Outlook.

My mailbox had a message saying "Mailbox over limit" so I deleted everything I could think of, then set my auto-archive interval to 3 months instead of 6, and kicked off an archive. It seemed to finish OK, but generated a heap of errors saying "Error copying folder X - folder already exists". Hmmm...

I decided to save a backup of my archive.pst file but Windows said the file was locked, so I shut Outlook and tried again - still no good. So I rebooted to clear the file locks and permissions, copied the file, and restarted Outlook - or so I thought. It wouldn't start in Safe Mode, the Repair utility crashed, and an hour had passed. Nothing for it but to reinstall Office 2007 (eventually, I won't bore you with the other things I tried first) and finally I had a working MS Office. By then it was 11am.

The rest of the day went fine, but this has not increased my love for Microsoft products. Especially when the OS and the application gang up to lock files and generally crash things. Bah, humbug.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Home again

Thursday was predictably blah, as I had only 5 hours sleep after arriving home. Both Jess and I sloped off from work a bit early, as we'd run out of energy by late afternoon. Friday was good, though, as I'd caught up on sleep and enjoyed my bike ride more than I had the previous day.

We had a long planning meeting in the morning; I don't know how much of that will be translated into action, although it's always worth talking about how we work together, and keeping communication lines open.

On Friday I ordered a Flip Ultra mini video camera, to start trying some educational ideas with one. it should be a very interesting gizmo - not at all hi-def, which mystifies the video purists who like to throw codec numbers at each other. Rather, the Flip is the Instamatic version of the VCR, and incredibly simple to use. It is to HD video as blogs are to novels. Not that I've got anything against the Instamatic, even the later 110 Pocket Instamatics with the tiny negative size. They and affordable colour prints made a revolution in mass photography.

I might go for a sail tomorrow, but after a big week of rushing about, I'm actually glad of a chance to just sit still for a bit. What will be, will be, to quote Doris Day, but first there's a barbecue to organise, if the easterly stops blowing enough to get outside.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

There and back

I haven't posted as much as I expected to, because we've been pretty busy. The tram ride to Deakin and back is an hour each way, so we're on the go from 7am till 6pm each day, there was the dinner last night, and now we're close to leaving for the flght home. 

We have to sneak out of the last presentations at 2.30pm, then take a tram back to the hotel to catch an airport shuttle by 4pm. We should be at the airport about 4.30, ready for our 6.20pm flight; that arrives at 11.40pm NZ time, then there's customs and immigration before we drive home.

Heather has been enjoying herself, alternately shopping and being a tourist - today she's catching up for lunch with Katie King, the daughter of our old friends in Wanaka, before coming back to the hotel for the shuttle.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Where am I?

I'm in several places at once, depending on your definition:
Deakin has provided brilliant wi-fi access, so I'm listening to a keynote address and catching up on email.