Thursday, 30 December 2010

Is it 2011 yet?

We're finding the days drifting by as we relax in Wanaka, with not much happening. We're catching up with friends, but rather slowly, and mooching about the house reading and internetting.

Tomorrow is another year, and I hereby give it a warning; be a damn sight better than 2010, or I'll delete you from my calendar. (Oops, I was a bit ahead of myself! I meant "The day after").

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Editing posts with an iPad

A funny quirk of the iPad - the system doesn't recognise Blogger's edit window as being editable. The keyboard won't appear so you can't enter text. The answer is a bit clunky; click the Edit HTML button and type or paste text in there. So that's what I'm doing now. The font size is tiny but I can manage OK.

Monday, 27 December 2010

From there to here

After a really nice Christmas Day at Julie McDonald's (brother Ross's partner) cute heritage cottage in Invercargill, with lots of her relatives (I must be getting old when I can't tell blondes in short skirts apart - or was that the wine?) and a relaxed 62nd birthday yesterday visiting friends in Invercargill, we've arrived in Wanaka for a week of sun and relaxation. Except that it's pissing down.

We left Invercargill in light drizzle, which became steadily heavier as we headed west through Riverton, then to Tuatapere where we stopped for coffee and directions. Then to Clifden where we turned off the road to Te Anau to pass through the coal towns of Ohai (nearly a ghost town) and Nightcaps (only marginally better), before turning north to Mossburn and the main Invercargill-Queenstown road. We stopped for lunch at Kingston, then when we went to drive off we discovered the car had a flat left front tyre.

We emptied the luggage out to get the jack and the spare, and 20 minutes later we were mobile again, on a little yellow space saver spare wheel. We drove slowly up the lake to Frankton, where I discovered that the "service" in Service Station means "food and petrol service", not "service your vehicle". Oh well, it's a public holiday and they were frantic with queues of customers in pouring rain. We drove carefully on to the Crown Range turnoff, and after a quick debate we decided "We're driving slowly anyway, might as well take the slow road" and drove over the high pass to the Cardrona and Wanaka.

Now we're settled in at our second home (oops, third, since the quake) at Kristine and Eddie's house in Wanaka. It's been becoming a house for some years, and it's now close to completion; they are still living in the granny flat but the main house should be finished by winter. The shipping containers outside have gone, the garage is built, the lounge-living-kitchen area is ready for plastering, Heather's window is in place (it's a long story), and it will be a masterpiece. I'll do a photo essay when the sun comes out.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Apple reinvents the floppy disk

We've had two iPads in the office for a week or so, to test them with educational software and to evaluate their usefulness generally. As we have become more skilled in their use, and we've discovered more wonderful free apps, it's been dawning on us that it's changed the whole paradigm of how we interact with computers and software.

What we are noticing is that we spend time in various apps, e.g. The Guardian's wonderful news summary, and within that app we can't see anything else. In a web browser, we'd have multiple tabs across the top, a bookmarks bar, and various other distractions on the web page itself, so browsing can become a process of jumping from one link to another. For many of us, the web browser is where we spend our day, and Google certainly think this is the way the Chrome OS interface will work. I can have 6 or 7 tabs open in a browser (almost all of them Google applications like iGoogle, Blogger, YouTube, Google Docs, and so on) and my day is usually spent jumping around between these and Moodle.

iPad apps, though, are discrete small environments, hence my "floppy disk" reference. For those old enough to remember pre-Windows days, this was the way we worked; put in the word processor disk and do some writing, then save your file and take out the floppy disk. Put in the spreadsheet disk and do some spreadsheets. And so on.

Jess refers to apps as "walled gardens"; I think "floppy disks" also fits. I realise that iOS 4 devices have multi-tasking, but it's one at a time multi-tasking, returning to the Home page between applications, not that different from taking out a floppy disk and putting in another one.

I should point out that I don't dislike the iPad, in fact it is wonderful for some purposes, especially web browsing (in a single page) and viewing graphics & video. Both of us have become very used to taking iPads to meetings as note takers; Jess uses Google Docs, I use Evernote, and we've become pretty slick with the iPad keyboard. We still struggle with selecting text within words or sentences, but with practice it is possible to put the cursor where we want.

So - regardless of the hype around the iPad's introduction, I'm sure devices like this will become part of the computing landscape, but in selected niche areas. And we may all get used to doing our browsing one app at a time; but where is the floppy disk drive?

PS - In a piece titled "10 reasons why I'm dumping the iPad for Samsung's Galaxy Tab" I came across this; we'll see a lot more tablets on the market by this time next year!
"But I’ve had a love/hate relationship with the iPad from the beginning. I love the form factor and the ease of connecting to a network and setting up my Exchange email account. But I hate the lack of storage expansion, its frustrating inability to display Flash-based Web sites, and the difficulty of entering text on its keyboard. And it’s still just a tad heavier and bulkier than I’d really prefer for the uses to which I put it. Most of all, I hate Apple’s ironclad control over what apps I can install."

No comment.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Is it summer yet?

Yep, it's summer. Temperatures in the high 20s and even the 30s, and La Nina conditions across the Pacific, all point to a hot summer. Just right for sailing, anchoring, and swimming. Sailing season will commence immediately after our return in early January, now that my hip is nicely healed up.

Cycling is going well, but in the 30 deg days recently I've dropped my speed by a gear or so to keep down the sweat. Putting up the miles is bound to be doing me good, and my new route along Walters Rd avoids the hazardous QE2-Marshland roundabout. Trying to use the bike crossings is lethal if drivers turn left without indicating, which about 1/3 of them do, and in the dark of winter it would be even worse.
My old route in red, with the new deviation in blue. It follows narrow country roads, but with hardly any traffic, and there are no two-lane roundabouts to negotiate.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Counting down

Today was the last Friday of the working year, and what a year it's been! Biked through the Haast in April, sacked and re-hired on the same day in May, holiday in Rarotonga in June, missed the team leader job I'd been assured was mine when they sacked me (much to my relief, as events developed), got a new manager in July (a good thing), earthquake demolished the house in September, hip replacement in October, shifted office in December. That's probably not a complete list, but it'll do - there are enough of life's major stress events in there to keep my adrenal gland busy for a while yet.

Our usual IT lunch crowd went to the Staff Club for the big fancy Christmas lunch, which was very nice. We even had a second drink, to really live it up. Some people snaps follow.

Paul Nicholls (of Christchurch Quake Map fame, one of our Moodle developers), and Richard Hanschu, Data Centre Manager, playing with their phones while waiting for lunch.

Along the far side of the table: Sarah Fallow (Learning Resources Communications), Jess Hollis (fellow Educational Technology Consultant), Janelle Blythe (ex IT, now Internal Communications for the campus), Grant Bush (Senior Server Consultant), Paul Arnold (Server Consultant).

Sarah, Jess, Janelle, Grant, Paul

From the far end: Paul Nicholls, Richard Hanschu, James Daly (Desktop PC support), Tristan Boot (Service Delivery), Geoff Wain & Matthew Carr (Server Consultants)

Richard and James

Monday, 13 December 2010

Eventful morning

I biked to work, leaving the female side of our household still in bed - school ended last week. It was a good ride in cool overcast, though I still had a good sweat going at the end of the 12km. Once I cooled off and caught up with email I went for a wash and a change of shirt, and the day officially began.
The University of Canterbury's Central Library in 1973

At around 11.30am, we were just getting ready for a meeting, when with a loud bang all the power in the Central Library went off. Reports of smoke from the basement forced us to evacuate the building by walking down the stairs, and we milled about on the ground outside. It turned out that the smoke was a by-product of the blown switch and cable that caused the outage, so we trooped back up the stairs to the 7th floor. By that time I was hot and sweaty again! Power was restored at 12.30, and all seems well.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

The case against TC

I've been reflecting on my dealings with the telco sector this week, and here's a more well documented grizzle about TelstraClear.
TelstraClear said they'd do 4 things when activating our new account; transfer our landline, set up voice mail, move my cellphone to the new account, and set up HomePlan ADSL Internet.
The landline transferred OK but they lost the old Telecom alias, so now we have to tell the whole world to use our Telstra number (03-980-5277). Some of our more flaky contacts may never recover. So much for number portability.

If there's voice mail, I have yet to find it. However I haven't got around to looking up the pretty decent FAQ on their web site, so we'll give that one the benefit of the doubt.

Cellphone - no, it wasn't moved to the new account, very sorry, doing it now. Maybe. The end of the month will provide the proof; one bill or two?

Internet. Ha. On Friday 3rd I got an email saying it was being activated. My free modem hadn't arrived so I sat for a weekend alone with no internet. (Heather and Leanne were both out of town.) I survived, mostly by going for bike rides.

On Wednesday 8th I gave up and bought my own modem-router for $170, but still no luck. A 70 minute wait for tech support finally got to a guy who ran through everything he could think of to check my setup; it was perfect. Then came the vague mutterings about "...log a job with connections", and sure enough, they hadn't done the exchange connection. It was done on Friday 10th, and here we are, finally with an internet connection, after more than a week.

That's 3 fails and a maybe. How do they make a profit when they have to do everything twice, and piss off their customers in the process? They've decided to cut costs, and outsourced the once excellent Helpdesk to the Philippines. Not a winning business strategy, I'd think - how about giving better service from a NZ helpdesk, and doing connections properly the first time to save duplication of effort? You might even get some new customers!

Internet at last

We survived a week without home internet fairly well, although it was revealing to see how often I thought "I'll check that out on the web" then had to correct myself. It's definitely become as normal as electricity and running water. Good thing we could do email etc from work. (In the lunch break, honest!)

Anyway, TelstraClear sent me an email on Friday 3rd saying our connection was activated, then we waited for our free modem. In the end I went and bought a modem-router and set it up, and still no ADSL lights were glowing. Hours on the phone to their Helpdesk, listening to piano versions of Carpenters hits (sic) finally resulted in a rueful promise to have it set up at the exchange on Friday 10th. And the modem arrived!

So now we have a connection with reasonable speed (though nothing like the lovely 10Mbps cable connection at River Rd), and a spare ADSL modem (still in its packaging) plus a Netgear 4-port wireless/ethernet router left over. Selling them on Trademe is an option, but keeping them as spares also makes sense. I'll watch Trademe for a few days and see what price I can expect to get for the gadgets, then make my mind up.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Zone map

We haven't had our letter from EQC about our land zone yet, but this map site they have set up certainly shows us in Zone C. That black dot at the top loop of the river is us. (Well, it was on the 4th of September.)

Our block has lots of lateral spreading, as does most of Avonside, on the inside of the centre loop, and the south half of Dallington, the lower loop on the right. All the magenta Zone C land will need to be remediated, with underground structures to hold the river banks in place; the sections will need to be filled, but not compacted, as the quake has already compacted the subsoil.

The EQC juggernaut is either grinding on slowly, or is hopelessly stalled, according to who you ask. I'd just like the official letter. I guess I'll have to phone again.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Better and worse

Things that are better - biking. On Saturday I rode into town and did some shopping, then put the bike on the bus to get home from my local. On Sunday I rode my MTB around Bottle Lake for 2 hours; it was supposed to be one hour but I got lost!

Things that are OK - our new office. (Photos here.) It is roomy, and has a great view, but access is only possible with a swipe card, which means that friends - and more importantly, staff - can't visit us. I doubt that this can be changed until all the earthquake repairs on the Central Library are completed, as they don't want stray people wandering around. But until it is changed we can't use our seminar room, as nobody can get to it.

Things that are worse - TelstraClear's ability to manage simple requests.
  1. They moved our phone number to Leanne's line, but not the old Telecom number which had been aliased. Now we have to notify everyone we know that our number is changed.
  2. Broadband was activated yesterday, but the promised modem for ADSL broadband was only ordered today, and could be 3-5 business days before arriving - and even then they didn't note the address for delivery, though the first operator read it back to me at the time. So I'll buy an ADSL modem/router on the way home and when theirs arrives I'll sell it, along with my router, on Trademe.
  3. My mobile phone was going to be put on the new account, according to the original person I spoke to, but today that hadn't happened and we had to go right through a big hassle to start this process again.

If this is the efficiency of the business world, contrasted to the inefficiency of the public service, it's a joke. Our public servants planned and executed the move of a whole department but the lean mean efficient private enterprise system got one thing right out of 3 - and that was only part right.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Bike news - again

I was away from home on my bike at 7.15am, and I rode the route across town beside QE2 drive, then the cycle paths by the rail line. It was safe being away from cars, but the north-south rail path is a pain because it crosses roads that run east-west. There are 7 roads in the 3.3km of the track from Northcote to Glandovey Rd, and while each has a traffic light for safe crossing, the constant stopping and waiting is a significant nuisance. Next time I'll take Innes Rd and compare the potential traffic hassles on that road with the stop-start nuisance of the rail path.

Anyway, it was great, and this really marks my return to normality. I've only taken panadol once this week, and that was because of too much wine the night before, not because of a hip operation. And I've found myself realising that I've gone several hours without even thinking about my hip, or walking, and other hassles. Almost normal!

We've spent the last day packing our office, ready for Monday's shift to Level 7 of the Central Library. Jess and I have each filled 4 or 5 large plastic moving crates with stuff from our office, and we're now packing quite a lot of the kitchen & catering items; coffee perk, sandwich toaster, cups and bowls, and so on. We thought we had a lot of wine glasses, but found that the academic group had grabbed most of those when they moved three weeks ago. There's a moral there somewhere...

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Biking's off

Steady drizzle settled in at breakfast time, so I accepted Leanne's offer of a ride to UC, as she was going to a course at the College of Education anyway. Biking can wait for another day.