Friday, December 31, 2010

Here endeth the year

So as 2010 ends, the great thermometer of ish* on my back porch is showing a balmy 23 degrees in the shade, complemented by a sea breeze that is coming and going on a fine summers day.
* so named because I am not sure when, if ever, it was last calibrated.
So lasts for the year today. Last breakfast was at Shine Cafe with Fi and Charlotte in the Hutt (where they have a picture of my parents house on the wall we noted). Last ride of the year was a gentle amble along the riverbanks to get to the Cafe and back, on the way trying out the new cycling shoes which were my last major purchase of the year. Last meal of the year is looking to be at an untried Morrocan restaurant in town, followed by our last outing of the year with our co-mealers to see in the New Year in plans that are as yet unfixed, but will likely involve wandering around the waterfront, mingling with crowds, and having a good time.

Onward to 2011...

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Croc-ing we will go

After yesterday's meterological violence, today Wellington was fine and calm, and ended the day looking like this:
Earlier in the day Fi, Kate, Kirsten, Charlotte and I spent some time hanging out on the waterfront. We played tourist in our own town by ambling around in a hire-croc. They are more fun than they look, although since the helmsman is more used to pedalling something a bit more agile, if you had a near miss with a croc today it was probably us...
Along the way Charlotte had to be reminded that she can't swim, and jumping off the wharf to look at the stuff floating in the water wouldn't be wise.
Kate explained to Charlotte how towers work:
And Charlotte learned that pigeons really don't want to be her friend:

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Stormy Weather

Metservice were predicting Northwesterly gales gusting to 150kph last night and this morning and they weren't wrong. Mt Kaukau overlooking the city recorded gusts of 170+kph according to one source. We got woken in the early morning not only to the sound of heavy rain on the windows and roof, but also the house being shaken enough by the wind to make the bed shudder.

We went out for a drive in the afternoon when the winds had abated a little, but were still strong enough to make things interesting out at the airport. The first shot is an aborted landing about to happen. The crew got one set of wheels on the runway, but thought better of it and climbed out to try again. The next three shots are the same aircraft on its second (successful) approach.

The larger traffc wasn't having things all its own way either:
Part of me cringes at the thought of passengering in when it is like this, but another part of me remembers the times when I have done that, and how much fun it was :)

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Eve

First I'm going to throw these at you because they are made of awesome.

I love this, because its from NZ, and all the kids sound like kids I know, and it is generally hilarious, in addition to being beautifully executed:

And this is just fun:

And finally a pic of our humble Christmas tree on a still summer evening.
It's plastic. I prefer the purpose farmed real ones because they have more presence and smell nice, and I grew up with them, but Fi is allergic to them so plastic it is. One year we hung a pine air freshener on it, but it wasn't the same.

So Happy Christmas wherever you are. Have a good one, and remember that while Jesus may technically be the reason for the season, the early Christians nicked the date from the Pagans, so don't feel too guilty about not going to church :)

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Truth might be out there

Listening to: Something on Radio Active. Sounds like Dubstep.

Generating a bit of interest yesterday was the release by the Ministry of Defence of filed UFO reports and related documents going back to the 1950's (link). Amusingly the Defence spokesman yesterday claimed that the RNZAF had never investigated or published reports of UFO investigations, when they did exactly that for the Kaikoura events in 1978 at least. Today a different Defence spokesman was a bit more forthcoming (link). I don't see anything remotely conspiratorial in that by the way. It is far more likely that the reports of 30 years ago are so far outside the current PR remit that no-one thought of them.

The files themselves are available for viewing on line here. As you might expect, there is a considerable amount of chaff in the form of pet theories, miracle technologies, and obsessive correspondence from members of the public to the RNZAF or MoD. That aside, the bit I skimmed contained many brief descriptions of sightings, obviously filled out to a templated form. Most of them sound vague at best, but some of them at first glance, from credible witnesses, read as both calm and sensible, and genuinely unusual. Occasionally handwritten side-notes from investigating officers appear.

RNZAF investigation has apparently been limited to checking if any aircraft were aloft at the time a sighting was reported which is fair enough. A small force with a limited budget definitely has better things to do than spend a lot of time investigating UFO reports that will 99% of the time turn out to be unusual observations of normal things. The Kaikoura events were given a more exacting investigation by explicit direction of the Prime Minister rather than general policy, which was arguably reflected in it's fairly token and pre-concluded nature. I posted about Kaikoura here a couple of years ago. I'm still not convinced any explanation has been put forward that accounts for all of the observations, and in that sense I consider them genuine UFO's, although as time goes by and that term doesn't get any less loaded, I'm preferring the Unexplained Aerial Phenomena (UAP) descriptor instead. The witnesses involved remain massively unconvinced by both the investigations themselves, and the reports they produced.

Media coverage of this has been surprisingly restrained given the time of year, and mostly avoiding the classic 'little green men' angle. I'm pretty much convinced that UAP exist. I don't think it is terribly likely that they are alien spacecraft though, either casually visiting or reverse engineered :)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


I was planning to put up some pics I had taken of last night's Lunar Eclipse, but the stupid wet northerly we have had for the last little while put paid to that idea by rendering said eclipse invisible at my place.

Instead, here are some pretty pics of the illuminated Christmas Tree at Waitangi Park in the city on Saturday night.

We took Charlotte, and she enjoyed it as much as we and our wee assembled group of friends did. It is quite a nice way to spend some time just chilling out. Giant bean bags and pillows are provided for your viewing pleasure. You can design your own illuminations, which is kinda cool, although I suspect it might take a bit of trial and error to figure out what looks really good on a giant tree rather than small monitor.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Sonic BOOM!

Or alternatively, how to cause thousand of dollars worth of damage to a building without touching it (BYO supersonic aircraft).

A lot of low-level 'supersonic' passes on youtube aren't, mostly due to supersonic flight being restricted to areas where cameras/people/breakable stuff generally aren't around, due to the potential damage a sonic boom can inflict. This one is the real deal, and shows what a couple of supersonic F-111 fly-bys at close quarters did to buildings at an Australian weapons range.
Caution: clip contains swearing, so may not be safe for work

Maverick and Goose might have gotten away with it, but the story has it that there were career affecting consequences for those involved in this episode apparently...

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The really big spacecraft that could

The Voyager spacecraft in the previous post mass less than a metric ton, but to get each of them them on their way from the surface of the Earth required a Titan-Centaur rocket weighing around 630 tons. In contrast the Saturn V (V said as 'five') rockets used to get the heavier Apollo hardware off the ground for the moon missions in the 1960's and 70's massed around 3000 tons each at launch, most of the weight being fuel. There is an excellent wiki page on the Saturns here.

At lift off, the first stage (of three, the Saturn being essentially three rockets put together sequentially) generated more than 7 and a half million pounds of thrust. Even the most powerful jet engines have thrusts measured in thousands of pounds only. I came across this video the other day which shows and describes what happens when all that thrust hits the launch pad, filmed during the Apollo 11 launch in 1969:

As filmed the sequence is only 30 seconds long, but when you are shooting at 500 frames per second you get a lot of room for slow motion, hence the 8 minute clip length. The narration is a bit dry, but full of cool info about what is happening on screen. The first stage seen here would fire for nearly three minutes before being jettisoned with nearly empty fuel tanks (that held nearly 2,000,000 litres of propellants). By that time the Saturn V would be nearly 70 km high and travelling at nearly 2.5 km per second, at which point the second stage would take over. Ultimately only the third stage carrying the actual payload and astronauts would reach orbit.

Couple of points for perspective: There is another 360+ feet/110 metres of rocket assembly above what is visible in frame. For Wellingtonians a comparable reference is the TV mast on Mount Kaukau, which is about the same size. Each of the rocket exhaust nozzles visible from about the 2:00 minute mark is 12 feet/3.8 metres across. The Saturns were epic vehicles on a scale not seen before or since.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The little spacecraft that could

The original Star Trek had the Enterprise on a 5-year mission of exploration and discovery. Which sounds like a long time, but not compared to a pair of its real-life equivalents, which despite not being human, are possibly the greatest explorers of all.

The Voyager 1 and 2 probes have been on task for so long they accomplished their primary mission more than twenty years ago. 33 years after beng launched, they are still discovering things in places people can't get to. Together with their immediate predecessors, among others the Pioneers (wiki), and their subsequent followers they represent one of those amazing technological accomplishments that has been taken for granted and almost forgotten about. To put it another way, the Voyagers accomplished something in my lifetime that had been dreamt about for centuries, if not millenia in their explorations of the outer planets.

Initially planned only to explore Jupiter and Saturn, they were designed for a five year operational life. Due to the planetary alignments at the time, and a carefully planned trajectory that used the various planet's gravity to not only attract the probe, but bend them and boost them on their way to the next encounter, a 'Grand Tour' was on. With the Voyagers still going strong it was decided to extend the programme and exploit the opportunity to explore Uranus and Neptune as well. Pluto wasn't part of the alignment so missed out, but the New Horizons probe is on its way there now.

I was a bit young to catch the Jupiter and Saturn fly-bys between 1979 and 1981, but remember the Uranus (1986) and Neptune (1989) encounters well. Two of the encounters nicely co-incided with my birthday. The scientific knowledge pay-off was enormous, both in expanding and confirming what was previously known or thought, and providing completely new discoveries and questions as well. Voyager 1 was deflected off the tour route to explore Saturn's moon Titan, but Voyager 2 completed the tour, performing way beyond expectations, and still transmitting data to this day. It's awesome for a machine designed and built in the mid 70's and about the same size and weight as my car.

I'm bringing this up now because Voyager 1 has now apparently reached one of the boundaries that separate the Solar System from interstellar space (story). Space being really really big, it is expected to take another few years to cross it, even travelling at 17 kilometres per second.

Voyager 1 is currently about 116 Astronomical Units from Earth (1 AU being the average distance from the Earth to the Sun). To put it another way, it takes a little over 8 minutes for light to get to us from the Sun. To get to Voyager 1 right now that same light will take more than 16 hours, with the Sun now appearing merely as an extra bright star rather than the disc we are familiar with. There are roughly 63,241 AU in a Light Year. And that isn't even moving beyond the front door in interstellar terms. When you start to look at numbers like this it quickly becomes apparent just how almost incomprehensibly vast the universe is. The next time either of the Voyagers will be within a couple of light years of a star will be in around 40,000 years from now.

Contact was lost with the last Pioneer a while ago, but the Voyagers are expected to remain in communication for another fifteen years or so. They are already the farthest flung human artifacts, and could potentially outlive humanity itself. If any machines could be argued to have souls, these travellers out in the cold and silent dim should surely qualify. With the main mission accomplished most of their systems are powered down now to extend the life of those still in use. Before the cameras on Voyager 1 were shut down for the last time in 1990, they were turned back toward home.

The result was the 'Family Portrait' image (wiki background, and detail). Earth, and all it's history, everything you have ever experienced, and everyone you have ever known, measures less than a quarter of a pixel across :)

Monday, December 13, 2010

In the future all albums will be listened to this way

I really have no idea why I find this so funny (with apologies to those already subjected to it on Morgue's blog), although all things considered any possible emotional reaction might be appropriate:

Do you need a reason? If nothing else for once it ensures the youtube comments are worth reading...

Although I was at the dentist today, and 'Honesty' came on the radio and it reminded me of this and I had to not start laughing since I was mid examination. It was a tricky moment.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Family Portrait

My footprints on the left, Fi's on the right, and Charlotte's in the middle. Breaker Bay, October 2010.

This is so me

Metservice weather radar for Wellington.

We don't get thunderstorms around here that often. Even the hint of one is cause for excitement :)

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Ataturk sunset

Some friends and I gathered one evening last week at the Ataturk Memorial above Tarakena Bay last week for a picnic of sorts (if eating chinese takeaways on the grass counts as a picnic). It is a place I found years ago, and have been trying to get people to gather at for a while. The day had been quite windy, and while calming as the evening drew on, there was still a lot of haze in the air. Combined with a layer of cloud extending to but leaving a gap at the horizon, and the angle of the sinking sun, it made for some interesting light play out in Cook Strait.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Cycling Illustration

Close Up is normally pretty drivelous, but this piece is actually a pretty good illustration of what road cycling is like in Wellington and the Hutt;

Interesting in that the road footage focuses on areas I know very well, some of which I ride frequently and others I wouldn't dare to. This is my local cycling turf for lack of a better term. I realised lately that one of the reasons why I like using a mountain bike instead of a road bike is that not only can I take the unpaved river trails on the way home at will, on the road the tougher tyres let me ride that much closer to the kerb without worrying about damage, and keep me an extra inch or few away from the traffic.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Obligatory fuzzy bubby pic

Our new sibling to be for Charlotte from the 20 week scan today*. I love technology :)
*to aid the captions, baby is facing away from viewer, right arm held up to head as if on phone. We think.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

This is interesting

Verrry interesting.....

This platform/vehicle has kind of snuck under my radar a bit; I don't know as much about it as someone in my line of interests perhaps should. I wonder what they planning for it, remembering that a certain number of Space Shuttle missions also carried classified military payloads, and there hasn't been any white-world platforms with comparable abilities since the SR-71 was retired (black-world on the other hand is anyone's guess, depending largely on whether or not you believe things like the Aurora or Black Manta actually exist, or if they are smokescreens for something still secret). This thing as far as I can tell represents a generational change in space based surveillance capabilities, with much more flexibility and usefulness than traditional satellites. We may even find out a bit more about it in ten or twenty years depending on what it gets used for (it is a safe bet that this will have real airtight classification applied to it rather than anything Wikilieaks can get its hands on). Then again we may not. A lot of the SR-71 mission related stuff is still secret, and that platform has been retired since the mid 90's.

Post Jovian thoughts

Listening to: WMA player on random. Right now it is Glenn Frey's "You belong to the city" from the Miami Vice sountrack. The 1980's Miami Vice.

Mental notes from last nights concert:

- I think there is a rule somewhere that no Hutt boy or girl's life will be complete without seeing Bon Jovi play a stadium on a hot summer night. Kind of like muslims needing to go to Mecca, but less classy.

-I haven't seen so many drunk bogan rock chicks since the Fleetwood Mac concert last year.

-I wonder how many were in the audience just to perve at the frontman.

-I also wonder how many thought 'Pretty Woman' was a Bon Jovi song they hadn't realised was a Bon Jovi song.

-The appearance of various punters cause several utterances along the lines of "Is that a wig?", "I think thats a wig", "I hope thats a wig".

-Due to certain demographics the number of people at the gig I recognised was way higher than normal.

-At times the crowd around me was loud enough to drown out the actual music which was fun. Not so fun was the woman screaming behind me, which hurt my ears more than any loud music could. Screaming was alternated with cries of "Owh huees sooo suxay!" (say out loud for better accent approximation) and imaginings of what she could do with Jon Bon Jovi's fingers after his hand was shown in close up on the big screens.

-Speaking of the big screens, the half second lag between live audio and visual was distracting. There were a couple of sound issues early in the show, and I was wondering if there were vision issues as well.

-Jon and Ritchie both saying "Wellington, New Zealand!", instead of just "Wellington!" made me wonder if they were suffering from the "Where are we tonight again?" syndrome, even if reassuring us they did know where they were, even if they didn't know much about where they were.

-Parts of the show were sheer classic arena rock theatre, always slick, often cheesy, and occasionally downright silly. Some parts I think were meant to look spontaneous, but clearly weren't. Meh. I can know these things and not care, it didn't make it any less fun.

-The use of fan videos for 'Living on a Prayer' was pretty cool.

-The encore performance comprising of 'Wanted Dead or Alive' and 'Living on a Prayer' was probably worth the price of admission alone. The whole stadium singing along was a nice moment to be a part of.

It was a lot of fun, even if I was only familiar with at best 30 or 40 percent of the material. It was never going to be sophisticated high culture, even by rock standards. Not the greatest gig I have ever been to, probably not even top ten, but I am still glad I got to it and enjoyed it. And I got a T-shirt.

Rich was there with me too, his observations are here.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

December 4th

Today is Saturday December 4th. Tonight I'm going to see Bon Jovi rawk the stadium ("YEAH! HELLO WISCONSIN!" etc). I wouldn't say I'm a huge Bon Jovi fan. I don't own any of their albums, or any singles for that matter. I am going mainly for the hits of my youth. And really, how often are Bon Jovi going to play my city? I'll probably want to be able to say I was there. I might even buy a T-shirt. Also I am going with a bunch of my friends, and the fun they will make will make up for me not knowing a lot of the material.

The date and day is interesting though, because a long time ago, on another Saturday December 4th, I went to another big concert. This was in 1993 when U2 played Auckland on the ZooTV (wiki) tour. I was reminded of it last week when they played Auckland again and a friend of mine made the trip up to see them. I was talking with her about the time I saw them and realised it was almost exactly half my lifetime ago.

Here I am on the ferry to Waiheke the next day (the concert merch people having clearly seen me coming), 17 years old and never been kissed. Or something to that effect.
Note the lack of Skytower on the Auckland skyline. It is funny how that structure almost feels like it has always been there, when really it hasn't been there that long.

It was a hell of a weekend. It ended our last week of high school exams, and effectively high school itself since 1993 was my last year of school. The trip being long planned (me and two schoolmates, you know who you are if you are reading), we finished up our exams and headed off to a couple of end of year parties. I remember staying out until around 3am, and not going to bed because our driver (Dad, providing both car and piloting for the adventure) wanted to get on the road early (like 6am early). I hadn't yet acquired the knack of sleeping in cars (and who needs sleep when you are 17 anyway?), so stayed awake the whole way to Auckland, arriving mid afternoon. Dad promptly disappeared to his motel (muttering something about "any fool can be uncomfortable") and promised to pick us up in the morning, leaving us at a campsite to pitch our tent and head to the gig. I quickly found a tent peg with the sole of my foot and cut it open, resulting in a limp for the rest of the occasion, not helped by it being a 40 minute or so walk to the gig.

And what a gig it was. After all this time, it is still easily in my top 5 for sheer spectacle. They might not be fashionable or relevant (although in 1993 they were still considered to be doing interesting things musically, and the show concept itself was a big-picture statement), but they do know how to put on a show. Setlist for the night is here.

I remember cars mounted above the stage, the whole stage rig lit by dozens of strobe lights for the climax of "Until the end of the world", Bono phoning a house overlooking the stadium to ask what they thought of the gig, a single guy using the video confessional to display his phone number to 60,000 people at once, singing as loud as I could to the songs I knew (which was most of them), the great visuals that accompanied the songs on the many screens, and a thousand other details. It was epic.

I was and remain an early-mid u2 fan in terms of output (they kind of lost me and got less interesting after 1997's 'Pop'), so the ZooTV tour and era was probably the perfect time for me to see them live.

And I still have the T-shirt and cap. And it still fits :)

I couldn't quite get the enthusiasm together to go back to Auckland to see them last week (if they had played Wellington it would have been a no brainer). Fi and I actually got tickets to see them the last time they were here in 2006, but wound up never getting to the concert. That though is another story....