Friday, 31 July 2009

The death of reason

This is hardly a new topic, but a story in today's Press today has got my rationalist muscles inflamed.
UK study says no nutritional advantage in organic food.

What's got me cross are the reasoning processes of the organics crowd. Marian Chick, of Christchurch's Piko Wholefoods thinks it can be solved through faith; "I do truly believe that organic food has a higher nutritional value than non-organic".

Then there's what Sir James Frazer (of "Golden Bough" fame) called "Sympathetic Magic", like eating the brain of a vanquished foe to get his bravery; "If you're growing food in land where you're returning nutrients to the soil, then that soil is going to grow food with more nutrients." That's the argument for glucosamine in arthritis treatment too; if you've lost cartilage from joints, eat some cartilage - it will magically flow back to your hip or knee. Yeah, right.

To clinch the argument, there's always Marian Chick's appeal to a higher power; "It's not how our planet is supposed to live". I wonder who told her?

Then came the organic version of impartial scientific debate;
Canterbury Organic spokeswoman Gilda Otway also questioned the British findings."There's been a lot of studies and research done contrary to that," she said. "It depends on who has prepared the data." She doesn't actually identify this research, though.

And a chef gets the last word with this gem; "There may not be much nutritional difference, but I can tell you right now there'll be a whole lot of additives and preservatives in non-organic food that will eventually kill you or turn you obese".

What are these additives that can "turn you obese" - without much nutritional difference?

So we have a useful scientific study given two paragraphs, and a lot of unscientific, emotive, verbiage occupying the other 15 or so. I suspect that a lot of this rubbish can be blamed on the backgrounds of today's reporters; they've dropped sciences after the 4th form in most cases and done Arts degrees, so they don't even understand percentages, let alone peer reviewed scientific research.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Winter continues

Lots going on at work, more worries about Heather's sister Elaine who is back in hospital with an infection, but the mornings are definitely lighter and the frosts are less harsh. Of course, all this is subject to change in an instant.

Saturday, 25 July 2009

Mount Hutt today

Alice and Heather about to traverse onto the Towers Face.
More photos at Flickr
Today at Mount Hutt was gorgeous, one of the best days in years. There was 15-20cm of chopped up dry powder on a firm base, a big but well managed crowd, and perfect cloudless weather. You could see Mounts Cook and Tasman like they were 50km away. We skied with Alice so it was like old times - and she was first to stop!

The crowd wasn't a problem; we got there at 9am after leaving town at 7.30, so we had a good parking place, the lift lines were 5 mins on average, and we found a table for lunch with no problem. I think it was value for the $89 a person they charge - I guess they feel obligated to deliver a good experience for that price, so it works both ways.

The Camry diesel 4wd is a gem on skifield roads too - one of our more sensible purchases! We were home by 5, in time to cook dinner. That's one of the advantages of skiing from Chch, you're home in time for a shower and dinner.

We'll have an early night tonight, I suspect.

Friday, 24 July 2009

To the hills

We're off to Mount Hutt in the morning, with probably every other skier in Canterbury. Anyway, it should be a terrific day, with 15cm of new snow and clear skies with no wind. A sunscreen day, that's for sure. The early bird gets the turns.

Want to know the secret of skiing? Legendary American instructor Weems Westfeldt had it summed up. "Turn the left one to the right, and the right one to the left." Simple.

Today I came across the work of Ron LeMaster, who specialises in high speed photography of ski racers. His shots are mostly used by coaches and skiers to analyse technique, but some are lovely flowing works of art in their own right. It conveys the lovely feeling of high speed carving turns, and inspires the racer inside every skier.

Monday, 20 July 2009

It was 40 years ago today

One Small Step Day, 40 years on. I was in my third year at Otago University, living at 103 Union St, Dunedin, in a 2 bedroom flat with Jim Guthrie. We had some entertaining and artistic types in the basement flat, actor Simon O'Connor and operatic tenor Patrick Power.

I was having a bath listening to my transistor radio in the morning when the Lunar Module landed. During the day while I was at university they did the "One small step" walkabout, and we wanted to see the TV footage - so Jim and I rode up on my Suzuki 250 to a friend's parents' house in Helensburgh (I think, near Wakari Hospital) to watch the pictures that evening.

That's two days (JFK and Moon Landing) that rank as "Where were you when...?" days. Maybe Diana Day is another. Interesting that two are American, from the 60s. Hmmm...

The Lunar Reconnaisance Orbiter is photographing the Apollo modules left on the lunar surface. Once it settles into its working orbit, the resolution of the photos will improve by a factor of three or so.

Problem? What problem?

Bruce was back today, and soon identified the problem; the ICTS server has now had some settings changed and a test run this afternoon synchronised well. We'll still be watching nervously at 7am, though.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

An eventful week

On Wednesday the ICTS dept commissioned a new LDAP server, supposedly the same as the original - and the daily sync with Moodle started setting our 30,000 users to "nologin"! Oops.

Until we can get the relevant staff together to troubleshoot this, we are logging on to the database server each morning at 7.15 and running a SQL command to set the accounts back to "ldap" as the authentication method, and all is well. It has caused us some anxious moments this week though, not helped by the impending departure of our web developer; now I have to start the hiring process again, and finding good LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, & PHP) developers willing to work for university pay rates won't be easy.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009


We expected to be snowed under with calls yesterday and today, as we started the semester with two LMS systems running. It would have been nice to be able to say "All Semester Two courses are now on Learn (our name for Moodle)" and that only whole-year courses were left on Blackboard, but human nature has meant that lots of courses are still using the old system. (Well, 2007 actually.) They can't avoid the inevitable switch-off, though - our licence expires on New Years Eve.

Anyway, we haven't been too bombarded; it's been busy, but it's not mad, and the start of a semester is always busy for the first week at least. Once all classes have met once, the majority of problems have been dealt with, so life gets easier. The big problem is that students are not being told by lecturers which system they should use to find their online course material, but they'll learn (excuse the pun) pretty quickly.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

It's an ill wind...

Some people see a flu epidemic, and others see an opportunity to make a buck out of worried people. Like Kleenex tissues, who now have an "anti-viral" brand in the shops. (Apologies for the cell-phone photo quality, I don't think it has a macro lens.)
The Kleenex Australia web site claims that "The centre layer has an anti-viral formula which is moisture-activated and is scientifically proven to kill 99% of cold and flu viruses* in the tissue, before they spread." Hmmm...

Great day out

Heather and I were away early on Saturday, and arrived at Porter Heights at 9am. Even with their total shambles of a ticket office, we had tickets and gear together swiftly, and we were riding the lifts at 9.15. We expected a big crowd as it was a Saturday in the school holidays, but the queues remained short and we skied non stop till lunch at 12.30. Heather was worried about her new hip, though of course it was fine. Her new 155cm skis looked like toys, but she loved them, and they seem to perform well in all snow conditions.

By lunch time we were seriously tired, and we were fading further by 2pm, when the top t-bar broke down. We skied down to the base again, intending to take a coffee break, then agreed that we were so tired that we might as well quit. We had skied hard and fast for over 5 hours, and with only t-bar lifts we hadn't had a chance to sit down between runs.
A nice woman offered to take a photo of us at the top of Porter Heights, with Lake Coleridge and the Southern Alps as a background.

The day was perfect, with a mixture of groomed snow and chopped up powder, and views all the way to Mt Cook. We didn't feel at all guilty about stopping early, and we're resting weary muscles today while a new southerly front brings more snow.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

And so it goes

Heather is back from Dunedin, and the cats are happy. We may go skiing one day soon.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Today's find

I really like this little movie:

See more at their YouTube channel. Like this endearing little gem, about love through Post-It notes.

Saturday, 4 July 2009


Spotted at the supermarket today, on a Toyota Carib 4wd station wagon. But what does it MEAN? Why is Toyota telling us this?

Friday, 3 July 2009

Long wet week

I managed to bike to work yesterday, but it's back to driving today as the rain returns. This is a really wet winter for Christchurch so far. At work we're really busy as we get close to "go live" day for the new Learn system (Moodle with makeup) on the 13th of July.

A funny thing on Wednesday night; I woke at 2am to flashing lights from a tow truck winching a car out of the river. I don't know how the car got there, and it seemed that the occupants had fled; my guess is that after doing whatever they'd stopped for, they tried doing a 3 point turn, and lost traction on the steep wet grass, sliding backwards into the water.

Reports from Dunedin are up and down; Elaine is getting a lot more attention now, and they've found stomach ulcers, which should be easy to treat. That might explain a lot of her continuing stomach problems. She's healing quite well from the surgical wound, and her appetite has returned, which is good news. Heather will return next Tuesday or Wednesday after Elaine's daughter Bronwyn arrives to take over nursing duties.