Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Breaking the awesome barrier

Listening to: Everyone is Here - The Finn Brothers

If you have ever glanced at the sun or the moon and noticed a halo around it, or a seemingly random patch of rainbow in the sky (known as a Sun Dog), it's because a thin layer of suspended ice crystals is up in the atmosphere refracting the light.

So what happens when a rocket is launched and reaches supersonic speed (thus creating a shock wave) just before piercing one of these layers?

This does:
(the minties moment starts at about 1:53 when the rocket goes supersonic. I have no explanation for the naff music sorry)

Another angle that shows the Sun Dog better:

And embedding these just because I love the view from the hull mounted cameras, especially as the ground, and then the clouds get smaller and smaller, then suddenly you realise the camera is almost in space from a standing start a couple of minutes earlier.
Unmanned Delta Rocket. Check out the flexing as it accelerates:

Space Shuttle from a camera mounted on one of the booster rockets, that keeps transmitting as the booster is jettisoned and parachutes back into the ocean to be recovered:

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


As of you who know me on Facebook or in real life will know by now, I am currently in recovery and recuperation mode after a bout of probable viral gastroenteritis on the weekend. Fi and her mum got it first, on Friday (we thought Charlotte had it too, but I have my doubts now since she seemed to only have one chuck and was thereafter fine). After feeling no more than unsettled on Friday, I got my dose on Saturday, eventually dehydrating to the point that I wound up in the ED on a saline drip. I have never been in that state before (not really able to move, on the verge of delirious); it was an interesting (if quite unpleasant) lesson in illness management (Fi and her mum handled their bouts a bit better than I did, not requiring hospital treatment). The drip was magic though, and I went home after three hours reasonably physically recovered, if still somewhat wobbly. Sunday I had a stomach ache from all the unusual exertions.

I'm told from those who have been there it can take anything from a few days to a few weeks to get back to normal. I haven't felt properly hungry or thirsty since Thursday (or had a proper meal for that matter), and have to force myself to eat and drink, since whatever I do partake leaves me feeling slightly nauseous and unsettled still. It is an odd space to be in. I am smelling food and liking the smell (i.e. I'm not put off by it), but have no desire to eat at all.

I also have very little spare energy due to the lack of eating properly. In a bid to avoid cabin fever and withdrawal (plus because I don't like to let my teams down if I can avoid it), I got out for some exercise last night (ultimate frisbee and indoor netball). It was hard, and I played nowhere near normal, let alone my best, but I felt a bit better for it. I also have a newfound understanding and respect for the All Black team that lost the 1995 World Cup Final*.

Today though was pretty much the same as yesterday and Sunday, albeit minus the stomach ache. I did manage instant noodles and a bread roll for tea tonight though, so slow progress is being made toward normality.

*For those who don't know the story, the team was collectively hit by a bout of food poisoning two days before the final (the same match loosely featured in the recent film Invictus (wiki)), which no doubt had a significant impact on their perfomance in the game. Nevertheless the game had to go to extra time before it was decided. A lot of NZ rugby fans are still bitter about it, and while never proven, there are allegations the poisoning was a deliberate conspiracy by the host nation (who happened to be the opposition team in the final). I think this game is well overdue for reframing in the collective NZ rugby psyche. Yes we lost, but we should look at it as a magnificent and honourable defeat rather than something that was stolen from us. Yes we might have won had the team not been weakened, but even in that state, we still held the opposition to a full time draw, with the game won in extra time by an individual act of brilliance. Conspiracy or not, I don't think there is any shame in it, and after fifteen years we can probably lose the chip from the shoulder about it...

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Google Zombies

Except instead of "Graaaaah, Braaaaainnns", it was "Graaaaah, Faaacebooook".

Or to put it another way, "Welkom to da interwebz, pls chek yur branes at da doorz", or something like it, since that is what it feels like when you delve into this particular trainwreck.

I noted this story here doing the rounds last week (ironically, on Facebook mostly), but didn't get around to checking it out for myself until a few days ago (the real juice is in the 1700+ comments). And said 'Wow'. And 'Wow' again. And for a third time 'Wow'. Handy summary here courtesy of The Register (and source of the awesome "Google Zombies" tag).

I will not even pretend to be an expert web navigator, having picked up knowledge osmotically in the fifteen years or so I have been using various browsers, but I was dumbstruck by the apparent incomprehension of the various users who thought that Facebook had somehow transmogrified into ReadWriteWeb, not only that they mistook one site for something it clearly wasn't, but seemed not to have either the basic browser knowledge or critical thinking skill to figure out what was going on. It left me wondering how these users do anything on line.

I'm not going to call these people stupid since I don't think they are, but I can't quite get a handle on just how they got so confused. They google ‘facebook login’, get a LIST of matching results, but when they follow the first link on the list and arrive at a site that is obviously very different in almost every way to the familiar, do they think “hmmm, that’s not quite right” and go back to the list to check? Nope, they just assume this is the new facebook, ignoring the fact that the genuine facebook login is RIGHT NEXT TO the option they chose on the result list.

I have to assume a couple of things. First they don't know the significance of the address bar on the browser, or how to use it. Second, they don't understand what the 'forward' and 'back' buttons are for ('back' in particular). Third, Google is omniscient to an almost Skynet-esque degree, since it is apparently infallible.

I wasn't dumbfounded so much for the lack of browser nous. What disturbed me more was the seeming lack of simple common sense (or maybe the extent of conditioning), and the apparent numbers showing it (even given my suspicion that more than a few commenters complaining about the new facebook on the original RWW story would have been trolls), combined with the probably larger section of non commenting befuddled users. Confounding this was the common phenomenon of people only reading the first page of a comments thread before adding their own, and thus missing explanations further down the discussion.

This is wierd to me, since it looks like a regression in basic net skills rather than the familiarity you might expect given the massive growth in everyday web use over the last decade or so.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Then and now

The house we lived in when we lived in Rotorua, ca. early 1982. (click to enlarge)

The HQ Holden Kingswood (wiki) on the forecourt wasn't ours (it belonged to a family friend). The white XD Falcon (wiki) and the brown Mazda 929 (wiki) on the left were our cars. The Falcon was dad's company car (I think, I was 5 at the time), and had spotlights on the mounted on the front. This made it the coolest car ever (so cool not even having its windscreen shattered on a trip to Tauranga (again I think; I remembered the road it happened on when I traveled it last year) could dent its aura. It was a cool house. Very modern (the house on the left was built while we lived there), and spacious and fun for a kid to live in. Having a farm across the road to play on helped as well. I remember it being topdressed once by one of these (link). We were at the end of one of its passes and I thought it was going to hit our roof. The letterbox was an enormous and sturdy consruction of stained driftwood, sturdy enough for me to sit on with no problems except for my parents telling me to get down.

And the same house in February 2009. The cars have changed, the letterbox is long gone, the farm was subdivided years ago and is now covered in houses. It's still my house though.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Random Pic #3

Click to enlarge
Eiffel Tower from the Palais de Chaillot on a cold, damp and grey afternoon in mid December of 1989. The Sacre Coeur Basilica is visible in the distance on the left. Taken by a much younger me on my first trip overseas, with my first proper camera, a very simple fixed focus point and shoot. We only spent a couple of days in Paris, but my memories of the place are still vivid two decades later. We had just been to the top of the tower, and headed toward the Palais in search of lunch (which we found in a nice cafe nearby, featuring both a cute waitress and a resident alsatian). The tower was celebrating its centenary, hence the "100 Ans" sign above the second level.
I forgot about this photo for many years before rediscovering it recently. I like the way the cloud is sweeping across the frame, enveloping the upper reaches of the tower but leaving some blue sky for contrast. I like that I took this when I was thirteen, but would be happy with the image if I had taken it yesterday.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Don't go there!

Had an interesting experience with online news and information site Stuff this morning. I normally check in first thing to do the daily trivia quiz, then have a poke around to see if anything interesting is making news today (then go to a slightly less sensationalist source for more information if required. Truth be told, I mostly read Stuff for the comments threads).

While not breaking, this story concerning the release of previously unseen images of the Twin Towers collapse (link) caught my eye. Like many others, I have an interest in what went on that day (my memories of it, while I'm not going to retell them here, are still clear), and the aftermath, the full extent of which will not be apparent for many years to come (the world is still dealing with the legacy of the Second World War, and that ended more than six decades ago).

Unfortunately (and I'll get my bias right out in the open here), the events have attracted a coterie of at times bizarre conspiracy theories (like reality isn't complicated enough). I'll admit I was open to and intrigued by the idea of a conspiracy once, but seeing the insult to my intelligence that was Loose Change convinced me otherwise (I was genuinely offended by it, since besides the numerous demonstrable errors of fact, it and its proponents sought to convince me that poorly researched allegations, based on out of context quotes, assumptions and presumptions were unarguable truths, and that I would be an ovine fool and a tool not to believe in them). I get frustrated by the '9/11 Truther' movement, since as far as I can tell, almost all of their basic founding arguments concerning the attacks are deeply deeply logically flawed. They initially look plausible (and this is the frustration point, since the veneer of plausibility entices otherwise smart and reasonable people to accept them), but only take the tiniest amount of first principles investigation to demolish, a lot like the 'We didn't land on the moon' conspiracy, which also seems to have gained far more popular currency than it is worth. To me anyway, the fact that these theories have gotten to the point where they become part of popular culture and need serious debunking is a source of despair, since it represents a triumph and celebration of ignorance (and at heart, they arise from ignorance in the literal rather than insulting sense) over hard earned knowledge and achievement. I'm not saying there aren't any conspiracies, or that motives for them don't exist, but as far as 9/11 (and the moon landings) go, and like I have stated here, there and everywhere in the past, the 'evidence' just fails to convince me on any level once I start assessing it seriously. Of course, in the best scientific tradition, show me a convincing and irrefutable smoking gun and I will alter my position to match.

Like a lot of Stuff stories, this one was open to comments from readers, and by the time I got to reading it, 32 people had already left their opinion. As you'd expect, a fair amount of truthers and conspiracists were among them, as well as a refreshingly healthy amount of counter points. Seeing some oft quoted 'facts' (that weren't) in amongst the comments, I got set to add my voice and try some reasonable and polite counterargument (I don't troll. Trolling and ad hominem BS is for amateurs and children). Probably in vain, but what the hey, it would be a fun engagement anyway.

Except I couldn't. The 'Post Comments' box had mysteriously disappeared. Scrolling up to the top of the story I looked for the usual 'Comments on this story have been closed' note left by the moderators when threads need shutting down. No note, and while the seeds of a robust discussion were definitely present, no real flaming had taken place yet, and nothing worse than the arguments and accusations that rage daily across the Stuff comment threads.

Thinking it might be a bug, I left it for a while, and checked back a couple of hours later. Now not only was the 'Post comments' window gone, so were all the comments, like the story had never been opened up for comments in the first place (nevertheless, the story remained in the 'Most Commented' sidebar for the rest of the day).

Not all Stuff stories are comment enabled, and closing comments threads on the site isn't unusual, but this is the first time I have seen an active thread completely removed from existence on the site. I wonder what editorial line got crossed, and how many other readers noticed?

The thought has crossed my mind some might see it as part of a continuing conspiracy.....:)

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Twaaaaang! #2

Well, more of a crack than a twang if I am honest. After this recent misadventure with a gear cable, on Friday I managed to do this to my rear derailleur gear cassette (click to biggify):

Yup, pretty sure its not supposed to look like that.......

This was incurred after I stopped and u-turned on my way to work to help a motorist with a flat tyre. I felt the bang as the cog was dismembered, but wrote it off as mere a mere chain crunch/slip. I suspected something might be awry when I couldn't keep it in top gear for the rest of the way to work, and confirmed that suspicion shortly after. Ironically, the previous day we had a free cycling maintenance workshop at work (as part of Bikewise month (link) ) where it was noted that my chain was worn and at risk of damaging a gear...

This weeks handy cycling hint: Don't get out of the saddle from a standing start and stand on the pedals with all of the power your mighty legs can put through the chain with your gears at extreme opposition. I had the gears set on the smallest and innermost front chain ring (low) and smallest and outermost rear cog (high). This puts the maximum sideways load on the rear cog, in this case enough to tear a piece of it clean off.

Funnily enough (now that I have belatedly looked it up), setting your gears like this is not recommended by the guru's :)

Monday, February 08, 2010


Some shots of the scrub fire across the valley from my place yesterday (brief and slightly out of date story here). Compared to some of the big fires on the same slopes I remember from my youth this one was pretty small (although probably plenty big enough for those whose assets were threatened), but still the closest and most visible scrub fire we have had for a while.

My helicopter likes to hide in shrubbery (with apologies to the authors of "My cat likes to hide in boxes" (link)).
Uplifting a monsoon bucket (link) to give the Rural Fire Service team on the hill a hand.

The yellow dots on the right are the firefighters helmets.

Aftermath with the fire out this afternoon.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

How to write a Blog post

So that's what I have been doing wrong.......

Warning: the links below may contain satire, with substantial concentrations of parody for good measure.

Found at The Dim Post here, with the original longer demonstration here. Dim Post discovery courtesy of the ever lovely and interesting NotKate.

The comments on both posts are well worth reading in a picking-up-the-theme-and-running-with-it sort of way.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Burning Rubber

When an aircraft tyre doing 250 kilometres per hour (135 knots) or so hits a runway that isn't moving at all, there is a bit of friction. Some days I go out to the airport and photograph for the hell of it, in eternal pursuit of the perfect shot. I was out there one day last winter and noticed the late afternoon sun was catching the tyre smoke just so, and the light winds were letting the smoke hang around for longer than usual, so I started going for the artistic angle and shooting that instead.

All at Wellington International Airport, 30 July 2009.

Air New Zealand Boeing 737
Enlargement of the above. I love digital....

QANTAS B737. I like the way the slipstream has started to curl the smoke here.
Air New Zealand Airbus A320.

The airport being so close to Cook Strait means you can frequently compare ancient and modern means of getting around the place. I liked the idea of getting them both in one shot.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Random Pic#2

What was the interior wall of the foodcourt at the old Wellington Central Market, after demolition, 30 July 2009. Used to be able to get really nice roti there.
I like seeing interior walls become exterior ones, especially when they are well decorated. It takes away their old context and gives an entirely new one.