Sunday, 31 January 2010

Thought for the day

Spotted on a centre-city wall.

Saturday, 30 January 2010

Dee Dee did it

It was inevitable, I suppose - Abraham Shakespeare, the poor guy who won $US17,000,000 cash prize in a lottery, was murdered. Police have identified his body, found buried at a house connected with Dee Dee Moore, his "financial adviser" - who's living in the fancy house Abraham bought.

Dee Dee is "a person of interest" to the police, but she hasn't been charged - yet.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

The week of techy stuff

Apple's big product launch produced a tablet computer just as beautiful as we thought it would be, and with a very nice user interface.

Now come the questions.
  • Will it work OK in the real world, with dust, glare, and rain?
  • Is the battery life REALLY 10 hours?
  • Who will buy them - kids wanting a cheap multimedia computer, housewives, businesses?
  • What's it FOR?
The e-learning possibilities of a gadget like this are fantastic, but they need to sell for less than $200 to become universal. In the nature of things, the open source version will be about two years away; I'm betting on Android. My idea of a perfect platform is an A5-sized version of the iPad; that would be as easy to carry as a diary, and a zillion times more useful.

In our office on Planet Earth, we are wrestling with Microsoft's Live@Edu and its interoperability requirements with Moodle, hoping to have it ready for enrolment, less than a month away. The hardware for our lecture video trial is being installed now, with a similar timeframe. And today we discovered that the lecture capture/broadcast software doesn't like the brand of HD videocam our AV Dept has just purchased - 20 of them! Our secure online test environment has passed final system testing, and the quizzes for the new intake assessments will be trialled next week. Just in time...

Oh yes, and we're starting a programme of training workshops for the Moodle latecomers, and setting up their courses before classes start on the 22nd of February. Plus seminars/talks on Turnitin and Respondus - oops, that's me, I'd better get organised!

We live in interesting times...

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Wimped out

It was drizzling lightly as I went to leave, so I took the car instead of biking. If I'd waited 15 minutes it would have been OK, so I felt guilty driving home. I'll bike tomorrow, no matter what.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Up and about

At 9am I was on my bike, heading for Dyers Pass on the Port Hills, via Hackthorne Rd. It's a solid climb, but I managed it comfortably enough. Next time will be easier, and on a nice day I'd like to continue along the Summit Rd to Evans Pass, returning via Sumner.

Dyers Pass and the Sign Of The Kiwi tearooms. The road from Christchurch enters at the lower right corner, continuing over to Governors Bay in Lyttelton Harbour. The photo is taken from the Summit Road, which crosses at the pass.

I didn't climb the 320m at the same speed as the lycra brigade on their carbon fibre bikes, but I was about the same pace as some of the older mountain bikers. (Anyway, that's the speed I go, there's not much I can do about it.) The hills are very busy on a Sunday morning, with walkers, runners, cyclists of several flavours, and optimists who think it's a quick way to drive to Governors Bay.

Evans Pass, between Sumner and Lyttelton, viewed from the Summit Road (centre right, below the pines on the ridge).

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Encouraging signs

According to Ars Technica, the Open Source movement is a beneficiary of California's budget crisis. The State's CIO has said that he has no problem with the use of Open Source software, and San Francisco's mayor says that city departments must consider OS in future projects, to save money.
"Neither policy mandates a preference for open source software. San Francisco's policy appears to be a stronger endorsement, however, because it requires consideration of open source solutions, whereas the state policy merely reminds IT purchasers that open source solutions are acceptable for consideration."

About time, but will Microsoft fight back? Expect large doses of FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt) in public statements from Redmond.

Friday, 22 January 2010

Molesworth - the evidence

Photos of our Molesworth trip are at Flickr now. This is about 1/4 of the number I took, it's a pretty spectacular place. The skies were even more impressive than the landscape at times.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Back in civilisation

We emerged from the Molesworth today, after a demanding two hour drive down the Awatere valley to Blenheim. It's staggering how remote an area can be in a country this size. I have 100s of photos, I'll post a selection after we get back to Christchurch on Thursday.

Friday, 15 January 2010

Round the Horn

Jessica Watson has rounded Cape Horn, in "only" 40 knots of wind and "only" 3m seas.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Templates again

Back to the trusty Tekka template, it's clean and simple.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

A well lived life

I didn't know she was still alive until she died; Anne Frank's friend and helper Miep has died, at 100 years of age.

One day at a time

Today at work was busier than yesterday, but I enjoyed it more. I spent some of the morning with Library staff working on research questions for an introductory Law course, then carried on with writing our submission on the latest restructuring plan. Twice during the morning I was phoned by lecturers wanting to run suspicious material through Turnitin; for one-off cases I just do it for them, so those took another hour by the time I'd uploaded them and produced PDF reports on the results.

After lunch I got another lecturer with two suspect pieces - one of these scored 100%! It was the same student, trying to re-submit an essay he'd used before. Then I cleared the waiting list of course setup requests, including several phone calls to check details, dealt with more questions about the double plagiarist, caught up with a colleague at Lincoln and talked about a get-together for e-learning staff, and introduced the office ladies to buckyballs. Not a bad day.

Monday, 11 January 2010

Day one

Back to work today. Dentist at 4.30pm. By 3.30 I was looking forward to the dentist; sad, eh?

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Lucky man

An interesting story in the news, about the recent death of Tsutomu Yamaguchi, who on 6 August 1945 went on a business trip to Hiroshima, Japan. He survived the atomic blast and went home to recuperate -- to Nagasaki, where he survived the 9 August follow-up a-bomb. The only known survivor of both blasts, Yamaguchi died January 4 from stomach cancer at age 93.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Carl Hiaasen's next book

I honestly thought I was reading the plot of Carl Hiaasen's next novel when I read the story of Abraham Shakespeare. (Left) After all, it was Hiaasen himself who said, “I wait for the headlines to inspire me.”

The case, of a poor guy who won $30,000,000 in a lottery and may now be dead (or in the Caribbean working on the next plot twist), has all the elements of a Hiaasen comic thriller; set in Florida, with a harmless but hapless protagonist, a sheriff named Grady Judd, and a mysterious woman named Dee Dee (Right), who has been involved in financial transactions with Abraham and who's now lying low. Maybe she's hiding out in the Everglades with the ex Governor?

I look forward to the next episode, but I do have fears for Abraham's welfare.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

More thoughts

More thoughts about the Internet as a brave new social frontier: this is an answer to the previous post, and I wish it was better known today. It's from "A Cyberspace Independence Declaration" by John Perry Barlow, dated 1996. It makes depressing reading in the era of the corporate internet and blundering government interference.
Cyberspace consists of transactions, relationships, and thought itself,
arrayed like a standing wave in the web of our communications. Ours is a
world that is both everywhere and nowhere, but it is not where bodies live.

We are creating a world that all may enter without privilege or prejudice
accorded by race, economic power, military force, or station of birth.

We are creating a world where anyone, anywhere may express his or her
beliefs, no matter how singular, without fear of being coerced into silence
or conformity.

Your legal concepts of property, expression, identity, movement, and
context do not apply to us. They are based on matter, There is no matter

Our identities have no bodies, so, unlike you, we cannot obtain order by
physical coercion. We believe that from ethics, enlightened self-interest,
and the commonweal, our governance will emerge . Our identities may be
distributed across many of your jurisdictions. The only law that all our
constituent cultures would generally recognize is the Golden Rule. We hope
we will be able to build our particular solutions on that basis. But we
cannot accept the solutions you are attempting to impose.

Sorry, pardner, the good old Wild West is gone, and it's Google, not The Well, that's setting the agenda. It would have been nice, though.

An after-thought: what would the Internet have been like if it hadn't been taken over by porn and spam?

Deep thoughts about the internet

To everyone who's ever Googled "Paris Hilton", this message from 140 years before the World Wide Web may have some resonance:

We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate. Either is in such a predicament as the man who was earnest to be introduced to a distinguished deaf woman, but when he was presented, and one end of her ear trumpet was put into his hand, had nothing to say. As if the main object were to talk fast and not to talk sensibly. We are eager to tunnel under the Atlantic and bring the Old World some weeks nearer to the New; but perchance the first news that will leak through into the broad, flapping American ear will be that the Princess Adelaide has the whooping cough. (Walden, Henry David Thoreau, (1854),p.43)

Bloggers, beware! Memorise this; "As if the main object were to talk fast and not to talk sensibly." Think on that, as they say in Lancashire.

Now we know

Who REALLY runs New Zealand's Parliament? Google Maps knows...

More sailing

We had plans for sailing with some others on Wednesday, hoping to sail out to the Heads.
Darren Armstrong and Mark Schroeder, sailing into Purau Bay.
After a somewhat delayed start we assembled the crew at Lyttelton and set off for a great day's sailing. High tide was 10am so we had a strong outgoing tide to carry us along, and we soon arrived at Purau to meet up with Chris Hutching, who had gone over to Diamond Harbour by ferry then walked over the hill to Purau. He was just getting ready (so much for all our pub planning for an early start) so we tied up behind him and sat for a while, eating lunch and chatting.

Mark Schroeder jumped ship to sail with Chris in his little bilge keeler, Henry Salad (apparently the name comes from Monty Python, but I can't track it down). Darren and I were a lot faster in Impulsive, so we would head off upwind for a while then run back down and circle around them for a chat before heading upwind again.

Chris and Mark didn't go far from Purau, deciding to head in to Pile Bay, just east of Ripapa Island. We were a bit unsure about the water depth so we stayed at the entrance to the bay, tied to a large pile, while they sailed in for a better look.

When they came back, we decided it was time to head back down the harbour and into Purau, where we would collect Chris and deliver him back to Lyttelton. Darren and I went for another sail to avoid arriving miles before them, then we started motoring into Purau. To our surprise, about half way down the bay we gently ran aground, and had to wind the keel half way up.

Moored up to Henry Salad in Purau.

Henry Salad sails back out of Pile Bay.

Chris took his dinghy ashore, then we collected him from the end of the jetty, and motored back to the Naval Point Club jetty, just on low tide at 4pm, to pull Impulsive out and pack up. It was a great day out, with lots of sunshine but no dolphins, and I had a huge sleep last night.
Chris steered as we motored back from Purau to Lyttelton.

More photos at my Flickr site

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Sailing and dolphins

Darren and I went for a sail this afternoon, after Schroeder made a tactical mistake and admitted that he was at work - we keep telling him that clients are for hiding from, but anyway...

We put a reef in the main and happily sailed up to Camp Bay near the heads, then set off down wind and found a pair of Hectors Dolphins, which loved our pressure waves and played with the boat for some time. I decided that trying to get a photo would be futile, so we just watched and enjoyed it.

I think we have a group keen on sailing a few boats tomorrow, so we may have to do it all again.

Simple, really

I love this diagram, it explains a lot.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

The Rapture is nigh

The world will end on May 21, 2011, according to Harold Camping.

Camping realized that (5 x 10 x 17) x (5 x 10 x 17) = 722,500.

Or put into words: (Atonement x Completeness x Heaven), squared.

"Five times 10 times 17 is telling you a story," Camping said. "It's the story from the time Christ made payment for your sins until you're completely saved.

"I tell ya, I just about fell off my chair when I realized that," Camping said.

Others think he may have got his sums wrong. I'll make a note in my Outlook calendar, just for fun. Maybe we can all write to him on May 22nd 2011 asking him what went wrong.

Of course, we could ask Peter Cook, Rowan Atkinson, and friends, they investigated this in 1979.

From The Secret Policeman's Ball, 1979.

Keeping up with the times

How the internet has come to dominate lives; a brother-sister spat erupts on Facebook. Sad but true.

Standardised tests lift student achievement - Yeah, right

Here's a story that will not be quoted by Education Minister Anne Tolley as she continues her controversial "measuring it will make it better" testing regime for primary schools. The story is 10 years old, from the period when the Americans started doing the same thing. (They've mostly moved away from standardised testing, once they realised that if you want a pig to grow, feeding it is better than constantly taking it out and weighing it.)
"An internal auditor has found that teachers and administrators at 32 New York, N.Y., schools helped students cheat on standardized tests. In some cases, test proctors filled in answer sheets for the students. At P.S. 234, the principal would point out incorrect answers and demand that students “do that one over,” said Edward Stancik, who oversees 1,100 schools. With that kind of help, P.S. 234's scores for third graders, which measure what percentage of students read at the appropriate grade level, dramatically rose from 29 percent to 51 percent. (AP)"
(Thanks to Randy Cassingham's This Is True for the link.)

I have a question for Ms Tolley - if your testing works, and all those lazy do-nothing kids and teachers suddenly start working hard and raising their performance, what happens next year? The average score for the class will rise, but half the kids will still "fail", after all. I remember another great National Party educational thinker, Keith Holyoake , saying in 1969 that it's not good enough that "half our children are below average", so this kind of statistical muddlement seems to be a tradition among the Tories. Maybe Ms Tolley could take a lead from Garrison Keillor's home town of Lake Wobegon, where "all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average".

Friday, 1 January 2010

Here comes 2010

We saw in the New Year at Mark and Jill Schroeder's place last night, in a small party of 10 or so. Then we biked home, very carefully.

Now it's 2010 - but is it the start or the end of a decade? I prefer to view the 0 year as the tenth of a series beginning "1, 2, 3...", as only assembly code programmers count "0, 1, 2...", but I admit that I'm in the minority. The rest of the world is so keen to get to a milestone that they'll conveniently ignore common sense, and pretend that we really do start counting at zero. So we have lots of magazines and web sites doing "The decade in review", and declaring that 2010 is the start of a new decade.

And of course, a decade on from Y2K, a bunch of clever-dick media commentators are looking back at 2000 and wanking on about "The Y2K hype" - I wish the IT industry had just let a bunch of systems crash, to prove that it was real, but they were professional and fixed the systems so the problems mostly didn't happen. Now the chattering classes, who didn't really understand the problem anyway, are calling it a fuss about nothing. Bah, humbug.

While I'm having a grump about counting and dates, what's with American calendars starting the week with Sunday? Haven't they read Genesis? And how do they explain the word "weekend"? Double humbug.

It's a fantastic day, and I'd like to go sailing, but the forecast is for a 28 degree northwester, which is a terrible wind for sailing. Maybe a bike ride to the beach, and even the possibility of a swim...?
As it turned out, we did bike towards New Brighton, but only as far as Anzac Ave. Heather's shoulder got rather tired so we decided it was wise to turn back before it got worse. Still, she's doing more every day.