Sunday, 30 January 2011

Sailing fun

We set off to Lyttelton this morning expecting that a north-west front would drown out the easterly, and then we'd drop the sails and motor back to the dock if the NW picked up too much. The wind around 8-10am had been 13 knots gusting to 17, but by the time we launched and got under way at 11.30, it had dropped to a steady 10-11 knots from east-north-east.

We managed to get from Cass Bay to Diamond Harbour in one tack, including clearing the east end of the reef against an incoming tide, so we were really pleased with our upwind performance. We then tacked over to Gollans Bay (a name I didn't know till now) just east of the coal wharf under some WW2 gun emplacements.

A third long tack took us past Parsons Rock to the southern shore of the harbour near Camp Bay, where we turned back down wind and settled down to have lunch. We happily munched sandwiches and drank a can of beer as we rolled down past Purau and aimed for Quail Island. I went down into the cabin and had a good tidy-up, putting clothes and sails into heaps, life jackets in a row, and generally making things usable.

Near Quail Island we rounded up and tacked back the harbour beside the reef, then down the channel to Cass Bay, where we dropped the sails and motored back to the club wharf to finish. We were back in town with plenty of time for me to prepare a roast chicken dinner and have an hour at the pub. That's what I call a good Sunday.

Friday, 28 January 2011


In spite of a series of crises, Friday has arrived; about time! We have a big important project about to go public (not one of our making, it was delivered on tablets of stone from Up There) and we have to make it happen.

I had a really good night's sleep, and a fast bike ride to work with a tail wind. Of course, it will be a head wind going home, but that's hours away. And it's Friday. But now we have a 4 hour planning morning, forget everything I just said about feeling good!

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Busy day...

But what did I do, exactly? Let's see.
  • Biked to work 7.30-8.00.
  • Logged in and answered emails while I cooled down, then put coffee on and went for a wash and a change of shirt.
  • One email from IT about closing down an unwanted system brought a phone call from a senior manager looking for a Plan B; could our system do this, this, and this? Checked with our developers and sent him a "Yes, mostly, but why not do it another way, like this?" That took 30 minutes.
  • Follow up a job about two year-old essays a lecturer wanted Turnitin to give back - because she'd lost them and some kind of appeal was going on. I think TII will come through with the goods.
  • A magnitude 4 aftershock at 9.15, just to let us know who's boss. Apparently there were several other smaller ones today but I didn't notice them.
  • Started to work through a software testing plan for an order form that will be part of our delivery of course reader booklets this year. Most students will download them from Learn, but some have to be printed, and the order form has to work properly. After an hour we worked out what to do, and started plugging through the tests and recording the results.
  • In between testing, dealt with half a dozen routine emails and phone calls from various people; lecturers, help desk, senior managers.
  • Received an email from an IT Dept tech who has been asked by a lecturer to install a peer-marking package. Tech thought it was a web application, but he hadn't looked very deeply, he was just looking at a sample web site. We are expected to install the web application on our servers, with no quality control or testing, not even a clue about who'll pay for the web traffic or what the URL should be - before the 21st of February, please. Hmmm, this should be a major project; I parked that for later and went back to testing the order process.
  • Made lunch and couldn't help carrying on with work while I ate. (I did watch a couple of Youtube clips linked from an email.) I should go and sit somewhere else and take my allotted hour, but I end up back at the keyboard nearly every day. I compensate by taking an hour and a half lunch break, with lunch and a drink, or maybe even two, at the Staff Club on Fridays, with a regular group of 8-10 people from the IT server group.
  • After lunch a visit from a new analyst from IT who is looking at systems used by a pre-university preparatory programme (not officially UC, so not in our Jade system) to see if we can take over some of the functions of their despised old system. Maybe, but it will take some custom programming by our developers and it's not exactly core business. To be continued.
  • More testing. By this stage all our test students had ordered everything they could find so we had to keep asking Paul, one of our developers, to delete the database entries so we could have another go. I know I should do it myself, but I'd take ages and probably make mistakes, and he does it in seconds.
  • Discussion with one of our learning advisers about ways to clone parts of a template course to many courses at once.
  • Met with our team leader to discuss conference bookings for the year. We are going to be lucky if we get one conference each this year, while our counterparts in other universities and polytechs are going to several. I just don't understand how Canterbury can be so poor compared to the rest. Or is it just management being grumpy?
  • More testing, eyes falling out by 4pm so I stopped and sent the results to the test consultant. We should finish it tomorrow morning, with luck.
  • Answered some final emails, had a cup of tea, went and changed into bike gear to go home.
  • Slow ride home, mostly into a strong north-east wind.
  • Cooked dinner; lasagne and coleslaw. With 1/2 a bottle of a pretty ordinary cab sav - I bought a case because it was cheap, now I manfully plug through it out of a sense of duty. Or dipsomania.
And that's it - another day in the wonderful world of e-learning. No wonder it's a bit hard to explain my job to people.

Monday, 24 January 2011

Faster and faster

I want a day out in an AC45 on Auckland Harbour! The 72ft big brother is going to be really spectacular.

A fleet of the 45s is being built in Auckland for the next Louis Vuitton Series. The fleet will be shipped around the world as the series moves on, like the Formula 1 circus. But better.

Gearing up

The University is getting visibly busier, as staff return from holidays. Our phones and email inboxes are definitely more active, with the usual queries about course maintenance and setting up of new courses. An added complication this year is that several large departments have renamed their courses, but not told us, so we are trying to identify the changed courses and rename them in the Learn(Moodle) system. If the course code in Learn doesn't match the course they are enrolled in, students just won't be added, so it's important.

The UC Communications staff have set up a really good Facebook page too; this should get a lot of student traffic and will be quite a help for those who are new to the campus.

Closer to home, Schroeder and I finally got out for a sail yesterday. We were in the water around 12, and sailed up to Purau in a fairly solid easterly, with a 2ft chop on top of a 6ft ocean swell (sorry, 60cm just isn't the same...) and tied to a mooring buoy to stop for lunch. Then a rain squall arrived, so we motor-sailed back to the club ramp with only a jib up. We were still doing 6 knots at times. Thankfully, we didn't get too wet.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011


Speaking as someone born in the year of the Series E Morris 8, I find these two developments amazing.

Here's Google Goggles doing a video recognition and pattern solving problem.

And Google Translate is not far from doing language translation on the fly;

Where will these two developments take us in the next five years? Think of GPS and cell phone applications of 2005, then what we have now. Who would be brave enough to predict the results of the synthesis of these two technologies, and the hundreds more under development in labs all over the world? I bet Samsung and Apple are working on it, and of course Google is still out in front - for the moment.

Approaching normal

The pace is steadily picking up at work, which wasn't helped by two separate computer problems. First was getting back my regular PC, which has been in the IT workshop since before Christmas. The desktop support person and I both thought it had a dying hard drive, but the workshop diagnosed a faulty RAM module and replaced that.

When I plugged it in, it started OK but Outlook just wouldn't run. Repeated attempts, with many hung programs, forced shutdowns and reboots later, I had some error messages about Office Communicator not connecting, so James from the desktop team showed me the way to disable Outlook plugins. You'd never find that on your own! Then it worked fine.

Then after lunch my Macbook Pro stopped working over the wireless network. It was assigning its own IP numbers, in defiance of the setting to use DHCP; that's odd. I'll see if it's OK tomorrow; I deleted all the wireless connections I could find, and turned the Airport off and on several times, and it's quite happily connected to the home network tonight. Computers are like that. How does Joe Sixpack cope, though - even with a Mac, supposedly trouble-free?

Monday, 17 January 2011

Back into it

My bike ride to work ended without getting wet, but only just; by the time I sat down at my desk, steady waves of drizzle were crossing the campus. They backed off at lunchtime, much to my relief. The drizzle was then replaced by a stiff northeaster, right in my face all the way home. Still, it's good for stamina and general fitness, I tell myself as I struggle along in lower gears at 18km/hr, jacket flapping in the breeze.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Daily stuff

A hot northwester developed today, thankfully after I did the supermarket run this morning. My wrist has improved to the point where it can handle biking, so I biked the 13km to the pub and back (otherwise known as the "penance ride"). Home to cook a pre-prepared meal of beef patties with relish, stir fried courgettes-onions-mushrooms-peppers, new potatoes with butter & parsley. Yum.

I have found a great wine - Benjamin Cabernet Sauvignon, from Argentina, $9.99 at Let the wind blow, I'm happy.

Friday, 14 January 2011

Week ends

This week has become noticeably busier. I've gone from 3 to 12 phone calls a day during the week, and lots of emails are coming in. Another academic year rises out of the primordial ooze, and off we go.

It's a nice way to ease back into work, actually. Matinee Idle gives way to speakerphone, Wikipedia is replaced by multiple Moodle admin screens, and out come the tools of the trade; text editors, Excel, LDAP lookup and so on - there are several more databases involved. It takes a level of skill that comes with practice, so a steady buildup of calls has been good revision.

My wrist is a lot better, but it will probably be a couple of weeks before it can take a full load. I've sprained a ligament on the outside of my wrist; Voltaren and time will fix it.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Medical matters

I seem to be having a medical week, with surgeon's 3-month check of my hip on Tuesday, and today I somehow sprained a tendon on the outside of my left wrist, right under the watch strap. It's a small niggle, but when I get it at the critical angle it's really weak and very sore. I think I did it by plugging in my laptop this morning; I reached over a screen and stretched awkwardly to plug in the cord, and about an hour later the wrist started getting more and more painful.

What a dumb little injury, but how debilitating it is; I can't lift a coffee cup or open a car door, chopping vegetables for dinner required planning to line things up, and so on. I'm treating it with Voltaren tablets and gel, and Panadeine - using my arthritis arsenal. I see the doctor tomorrow morning. This means no biking - I couldn't possibly support myself on handlebars at present. It may also mean no sailing this weekend. Bah humbug.

Anyway, enough of my aches and pains. Today was Heather's mumblety-thump birthday and she's had presents, flowers, lunch with her sister Pam, and a dinner of crumbed gurnard, new potatoes, and carrots and beans, followed by a raspberry and yoghurt dessert. Not bad for an old sheila.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Political "debate" in the US

The tragic shooting of Gabrielle Giffords and others in Tucson is causing a secondary debate about the mood of US political discussion. It was only a few minutes after the shooting before people were pointing out Sarah Palin's "gunsight" advertisement.

By a strange coincidence, the ads disappeared rapidly, though Palin's people still insisted that it was harmless, didn't advocate violence, and that the "gunsights" were actually surveyor's location markers. (Though Palin herself called them "bullseyes".) Palin's Facebook site suddenly oozed condolences, in an example of barefaced hypocrisy, though not all cartoonists believed her.

Other comments on the cartoon site include this gem; "If a Detroit Muslim put a map on the web with crosshairs on 20 pols, then 1 of them got shot, where would he be sitting right now? Just asking." - Michael Moore.

When TV commentator Keith Olbermann suggested that this event may trigger a turn for the better in US political debate, and that violent images and vitriol are no longer acceptable, guess what happened? Comments on websites suggesting that he should be shot, hanged, or worse, for being a wuss!

Of course, the shooter was not directly obeying an order from Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, or Rush Limbaugh - but these people influence the mood of the community, especially in a city like Tucson, where illegal immigration already has the populace in a lather, and the state government is enacting ID card laws that rival the Pass Laws of South Africa's apartheid era.

Later - this link was circulated on Twitter by Russell Brown of Public Address; The growth of right wing rhetoric and loony exaggeration is very scary, and obviously their followers are not going to be swayed by reason and common sense.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Back to reality

Car to garage tomorrow, for a new right rear shock absorber; not simple, as the car is a Toyota Camry 4WD diesel, and the rear shocks are actually front shocks. Or so I'm told.

In the meantime, my boat trailer had a flat so we couldn't launch the boat today. Blah.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

THE PLAN - Or how to save the South Island economy

  1. Tell Tiwai aluminium smelter that they have 5 years to close down and go away. May have to pay some compensation for the building, but it can be re-used.
  2. Start a 5 year project to double-track and electrify the South Island main trunk railway line, from Picton to Bluff. Including freight handling terminals on the way, and passenger services.
  3. Arrange a major engineering project for Invercargill & Bluff to absorb the Tiwai workforce. Ship building? Rolling stock design and construction?
  4. Beef up SIT and other regional polytechs to cope with workforce training.
  5. Phase in incentives for retail and transport sectors to move from road to rail.
  6. Follow with penalties for using road, till they get the message.
If you do that, they'll think you're a genius - or a dictator. And maybe the trains will run on time.

Monday, 3 January 2011

Wanaka houses

Heather and Jigga King walk in the courtyard of Jigga's new house.
The snowy mountain is Fog Peak, in the Harris Mountains.

Some house photos from Wanaka. First a view of Jigga King's (and her partner Carl's, of course) new house high above Beacon Point. The concrete block forms were filled with gravel the next day, making a level lawn and floor once the concrete is poured. The views will be spectacular; the price is the force of the northwest wind, though more neighbours and trees will alleviate that in time.

It reminded us of our house down on Beacon Point Road. In fact, as I pointed out, you could ski the fall line from Jigga and Carl's place and end up in our back yard. But their house is 50m higher elevation, and the view is that much wider.

At the other end of the spectrum is the hand crafted masterpiece being constructed by Eddie Jones and Kristine Logan; it's been five years in the making, while living in the granny flat, though the end of the project is getting closer. They have all their gear in the new garage so the shipping containers are gone, and inside work is now mostly plastering and electrics. I'll do a full slide show on Flickr one day soon, but these will give you an idea of the individualism and care that Eddie is putting into the build. UPDATE: Flickr set here.

Beams and ceilings in the kitchen.

This wing has the dining and living rooms, with kitchen on the far side.

Making use of found materials; discarded pallets from Mitre 10 make bins for drying loads of driftwood brought down the lake by summer storms. The road sign is a legacy of Kris's horse trekking business.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

A good drive back from Wanaka; we avoided SH1 and drove via Mt Hutt, Rakaia Gorge, and Hororata. The wee Mazda did 6.6 l/100km, 42mpg!!! That was at a steady 100-110 pretty much all the way.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

Big night out

By 11 pm on New Year's Eve, only Kristine and I were awake and prepared to go down town. We passed through a very impressive police breath testing stop and parked at the top of Ardmore St, then walked down to the lake front, to find a rather disappointing sight; a small crowd, consisting largely of kids between 13 and 18, all doing the adolescent "walk around in groups" form of social interaction.

A pretty decent band was playing on a stage by the beach, but the excitement was sadly lacking. The big party scene was at the Hawea Tavern, where the drinking age crowd had a no doubt raucous time, but the liquor ban and family-friendly setup in town had created a safe, but dull, environment. Kris and I didn't last till midnight, boredom drove us home about 11.45pm, so we missed the fireworks. Maybe we're a bit old for the change of year to be a big event in our lives, we've certainly seen a fair few of these celebrations over the years. Never mind, I'm sure the kids all had a good time.