Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Sailing again

Sailing again today, this time in a lovely 10-15 knot easterly with temperatures above 20o C and lots of sunshine. We sailed for an hour or so, then picked up Jill Schroeder and grand-daughter Morgan at Diamond Harbour. We motored about then put the sails back up and had a good sail up to Parson's Rock beacon (which is now unused, and rapidly falling to bits). Then we set off down wind to Cass Bay, where we downed sails and motored back to the club ramp.

It was marvellous, just what sailing should be. I had the camera, but we didn't take a single photo.

“There is nothing half so much worth doing as mucking about in boats. In them or out of them, it doesn't much matter."
— The Water Rat, Wind in the Willows

Monday, 28 December 2009

On the water

Schroeder and I rigged up the boat and started sailing about 11.30am, but the grey cloud and cool breeze didn't improve, and we got quite cold. At 2pm we pulled the boat out and came home. It was a good breeze, and the boat went well, but we didn't take enough warm clothing, expecting the cloud to burn away. We'll go again tomorrow, as the overnight rain and cloud should be gone by lunchtime - we're optimists!

I can't resist linking to The Onion's "Top 10 Stories Of The Last 4.5 Billion Years". It starts with "Evolution going great, reports trilobyte", moves through "Sumerians Look On In Confusion As God Creates World" and finishes with "Four Or Five Guys Pretty Much Carry Whole Renaissance". The Sumerians are probably the best - a tip of the hat to Logan Moss for that one.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Gregor's birthday barbecue

Some photos of the birthday barbecue are on Flickr. It turned into rather a long evening. Julian and Alma stayed here rather than pay for a taxi to South Shore, so we gave them tea and toast this morning and sent them home for another lie down.

Saturday, 26 December 2009

Birthdays of note

The usual excitement for my birthday; I'm up and about, while Heather and Elaine lie in bed reading. We had a good Christmas Day with the Crowther family; Heather's sister Pam's son Myles & wife Nicky hosted about 20 or so for dinner, then games on the lawn while adults snoozed in deck chairs.

Other birthdays today, beside me and Ruby Crowther (Myles & Nicky's 3rd daughter), are Thomas (Elegy) Gray, Charles Babbage, Mao Zedong, and Henry Miller. And the Internet turned 40 earlier this month.

Today is also Saint Stephen's Day; he was Christianity's first martyr. "Stephen was tried by the Sanhedrin (high priests) for blasphemy against Moses and God (Acts 6:11) and speaking against the Temple and the Law (Acts 6:13-14) (see also Antinomianism). He was stoned to death (c. A.D. 34–35) by an infuriated mob encouraged by Saul of Tarsus, the future Saint Paul." (Wikipedia entry.)

I don't think I'll attempt a re-enactment of being stoned to death; a barbecue with some friends is more my style. I might haul out my Grateful Dead collection, though...

This clip is from the truly horrible "Playboy After Dark" from 1969, with cool urban sophisticates and their beehived girlfriends taking a glimpse of these "hippies" that the news was always talking about. Something of a culture clash!

It was an interesting sky at 7am - sheets of mammatus clouds filled the sky. By 8am they had moved off, leaving high stratus.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

The end

I'm on holiday, as of 2pm today. We were really quiet, with only 10 people at work this morning. By lunchtime there were 8 of us, having lunch in the tea room adjoining our offices. Derek brought bread, cold meat, and cheese with pickles, so we made sandwiches. I provided fruit and some wine and beer, then a box of chocolates for dessert. A jolly time was had by all, then we tidied up our offices and sloped off.

It's been a huge year for the Flexible Learning Group. The Moodle transition project alone was going to make it one to remember, then Bill Rosenberg left in April, I took over as team leader, and we moved into The Restructuring. Now our department is being split up and scattered, and next year looks like it will be equally stressful.

So we're all well and truly ready for a holiday. I'm going back to work for the 11th - 15th January, then we're taking the following week off to go camping in the Molesworth Valley. After that, it's into 2010, hoping for a chance to settle down and get some kind of team together.

Sunday, 20 December 2009


Yesterday I did something I've been planning for a while. I installed a custom version of Ubuntu Linux, named EasyPeasy, on the little Asus Eee 901 netbook. It is working really well, but I need to organise the file system so that all my data is stored on the second solid state drive; at present the 8GB of disk space is visible, and I've mounted it in the file system, but my home directory (what Windows calls "My Documents") should now live on that drive. I'll get that sorted, but usermod is not being friendly at present.
The EasyPeasy user interface is a structured menu page.

The little machine is miles faster running Linux, and it's been given a new lease of life. Running Windows XP was too much overhead for the 1GB RAM and Intel Atom CPU, and the endless updates and system restores ate up all the available disk space; in recent months it was stuttering when playing audio, and that also meant it was running short of resources. Last night I peeled the "Made for Windows XP" sticker off the case and threw it away; a symbolic act, but quite satisfying.

Now I have a decision to make whenever I want to use a computer; Windows, Linux, or Mac? I don't really mind, they all get the job done - and these days I spend 90% of my time in a web browser, "in the cloud", so the OS is less important than having Firefox set up with my shared bookmarks and other goodies.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

UCTL Christmas lunch

rachel jess john
Originally uploaded by gregor_ronald
Some people snaps from our last Christmas lunch as a department. Where will we all be this time next year?

See more photos at my Flickr page.

Giving Lhaws the nhews

An excellent piece from Russell Brown; the annual Public Address "word of the year" contest has produced many variations on the Wanganui/Whanganui row, with most of them somehow taking the piss out of Mayor Michael (the H is silent...) Lhaws. Most entries are based on the idea that Lhaws is a whanker, but I think we already knew that.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Soldiering on

Since I've been sacked and resurrected, weird stuff is happening all over the campus. We had our Christmas lunch today, which was really nice - then I went back slightly squiffy to the Teaching and Learning Committee final meeting, just in time for their drinks and nibbles. A lift right to my door from my imminently-unemployed workmate John finished a really nice day.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Speed wobbles and Project STAR

Just as the whizzy Project STAR (Supporting Teaching And Research) changes were announced, the wheels fell off the bits in our vicinity. We were called in to individual meetings and told that our jobs were "disestablished", which is Newspeak for "You're sacked".

In my case, the blow was softened with "...the responsibilities should be assumed by the proposed new position of Electronic Learning Media Team Leader." However, I'm not convinced; the role includes some people we've had nothing to do with, and assumes that what we do is to "produce media" - in spite of six weeks of haranguing various managers telling them that we advise teachers, and we don't produce any media of note in our own name.

The real fun came late in the day, as I was about to leave; I was suddenly summoned to the TEU union office, where an HR official informed me that they'd made a dreadful mistake and I wasn't sacked after all; only my Team Leader job was gone, my basic Educational Technology Consultant role was going to carry over to the new structure. That changed the game entirely; I can ignore the new Team Leader role if I wish, I still have my day job. (Though with the change to Moodle there is less to do at the GUI-admin level, and we'll need to fill that gap with innovative projects - hardly a strain, it's what we love in our game.)

Some questions spring to mind at times like this;
1 How come you didn't notice my job status in the first place?
2 How many other mistakes have you made, due to the huge rush of this "project"?
3 Why can't people understand what our group DOES? Teachers understand it just fine, it's people with MBAs who struggle.

Anyway, I'm a lot less inclined towards applying for the Team Leader role, now I don't have to. It seems that they need me more than I need the job, so I can think about some conditions on this role. If I don't get the job, I still have the best job in the world, playing with new educational gadgets and software, so why would I want the hassles of people management, performance reviews, and budgets?

Monday, 14 December 2009

Getting nearer

The Academic Development Group of UCTL was dismembered today, and tomorrow the Flexible Learning Group (my lot) learn their fate. We have 1-1 meetings with HR early in the day, then a group meeting at 10am and a full all-staff briefing at 12. That will be a nice way to celebrate our 34th wedding anniversary. "Happy anniversary Heather, I've been fired."

As a pathetic demonstration of my ability to actually control something, I've changed the template for this blog. Take that!

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Mental diversions

Trying not to dwell on the possibilities for the Machiavellian set of meetings over Monday and Tuesday - is the timing close to Christmas a superbly crafted conspiracy, or just a bunch of overworked people running late? And have they got it right? These are nervous times around our office.

If I was looking to foster the standard of teaching, I think I might have approached it a bit differently, but we don't have the details yet. Just the suspense.

It's been a nice weekend; Schroeder and I did a good amount of boat maintenance on Saturday, but we didn't sail because of the gusty northwester. Today I had a major tidy up in the vege garden, and bought my Christmas/birthday present - a Uniden Atlantis VHF handheld radio, to replace the previous one which died. Then we had the first barbecue of the summer - though we ate inside.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Back to earth

Lots happening back at UCTL in my absence, including a scary request from high up in the Registry for figures on our operations. We're frantically trying to prove that we've been doing lots of things - and shelving real work to do so...

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Conferencing on

At about the half way point, it's easy to suffer from conference fatigue. You get so many interesting ideas in a short time frame, and the brain starts going "la la la, I can't hear you". I've started getting picky about the sessions I attend; about 3 years ago Ascilite started grouping presentations together with 3 or 4 on related topics in the same 1.5hr session, which makes it hard to be selective. I've been sneaking out between presentations and sneaking back - or into another room - for a later session.
Monday evening, dinner hosted by Blackboard at the Harbourside seafood restaurant on the Auckland waterfront. L-R; Tom Bowring (University of Western Sydney - UWS), Ben Carmichael (Blackboard), Colin Lowe (University of Sydney), Rhondda (???), Lynnae Rankine & Kathie Goldsworthy (UWS)

It's been a good conference so far, on the whole. There are lots of presentations on Web 2.0 applications in education, with course design a close second in numbers. I have to do a short presentation tomorrow as part of a 4-way "How we went to Moodle" session with Waikato, Massey, and Canberra, then I'm going to miss the final lunch and plenary session in favour of meeting up with an old friend who works in the central city, for a late lunch. My flight doesn't leave till 6.30 so I have the rest of the afternoon to get myself to the airport.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Ascilite under way

The first morning of Ascilite is under way, after a couple of interesting keynote addresses. I suspect that the true benefit will come from the personal networking, but the occasional presentation will no doubt be helpful and interesting. I've been invited to dinner tonight by Blackboard, which is jolly decent of them, considering that we switch off our Bb server in two weeks!

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Powerful magic

I've been experimenting with remote control software, to control my Mac from my PC or vice versa. The first I tried was VNC, which is a tried and well known application. As expected, it works fine to control my Mac - I had trouble connecting from Mac to PC, but in the middle of the night I woke up saying to myself "Windows firewall". I bet that's the key, though I haven't tried it yet. (Update - yep, that was it - now I can control in either direction.)

In the meantime, I have come across LogMeIn, which also allows remote control between machines. The neat trick is that it's web based, and the remote window opens in your browser. I had to install a Firefox plugin, but apart from that and a quick user account setup, it worked first try.
Screen shot shows my PC running Firefox. In a Firefox tab is the screen of my Mac. I have full control, once I've passed two levels of authentication. (Logmein.com and the Mac account.) I guess Logmein do some clever protocol translations on the way through, but surely the traffic doesn't go via a server in the US - it has to be RDP direct between machines. More investigation required...

If you have a home PC and a work machine, it's worth setting up some way of connecting the two, and Logmein is easy to set up. I frequently get to work and remember a file I want from my home PC - now it's easy to connect and email the file to myself at work.

I suppose that soon we'll be storing data in the cloud, but somehow I think that will be an extra, not our primary data store. I could be wrong, though, habits are changing rapidly at present.

UPDATE - It turns out that LogMeIn's free version is a 30 day trial. An ongoing registration will cost you over $US60 per machine - per year. It's a nifty trick, but I think I'll stick with VNC, thanks.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Christmas goodies

I wonder if you can buy buckyballs in Christchurch?

They are neodymium magnets, apparently.


Here comes the US winter, and as a confidence booster, Elizabeth Warren, Chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel created to oversee the US banking bailouts, tells it as she sees it.
"Today, one in five Americans is unemployed, underemployed or just plain out of work. One in nine families can't make the minimum payment on their credit cards. One in eight mortgages is in default or foreclosure. One in eight Americans is on food stamps. More than 120,000 families are filing for bankruptcy every month. The economic crisis has wiped more than $5 trillion from pensions and savings, has left family balance sheets upside down, and threatens to put ten million homeowners out on the street."
The price of natural gas is going up, so the thermostats will be going down. Or off. How would you fancy being unemployed in Bismarck, North Dakota, in January, when the sub zero prairie winds howl across the stubble?

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Fun in the sand

Decay in Dubai

The truth about Dubai, in photos. (Choose Full Screen)
Very illuminating. I wonder how many people will be living there in 50 years.